BARNEGAT, N.J.—If things play out the way many feel the MLB First-Year Players Draft will go down Thursday night, there are bound to be questions.
Questions about whether Jason Groome, the consensus No. 1 baseball prospect in the nation when he departed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., made a mistake by returning to Barnegat (N.J.) High School for his senior season.
According to MLB.com’s database of contracts signed by players in last year’s draft, there was a $4.7 million difference between the deal inked by the No. 1 pick last year and the sixth pick overall, which is where BaseballAmerica.com’s latest mock draft has Groome being selected.
If he goes No. 3 the Atlanta Braves, the difference is $2.4 million.
But money isn’t everything.
When I went to Barnegat High School on a rainy morning in March, before the season had even started, Groome maintained that he wanted to return to play alongside his friends and win championships. That mantra remained constant throughout the season, and you can only take the young man at his word.
So regardless of when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred calls the 6-5 left-hander’s name, it was the right move to return to his hometown to close out his high school.
Because a 16 or 17-year-old should still be allowed to play for the love of the game, and not be saddled with such weighty financial decisions.
“He’s going to get life-changing money on Thursday,” said Barnegat coach Dan McCoy, who did an admirable job helping everyone navigate through a season he now describes as “stressful.”
“From a maturity standpoint, he goes out and pitches, he’s expected to strike everyone out, no one is expected to get a hit. And then good or bad or indifferent, he’s got to stand up in front of a mob of reporters and explain himself. I think he really did that every well, because that is tough to do at times. I thought that Jay really handled it well, and being in spots like that is really going to help him after the draft and moving forward as a professional baseball player because he’s going to have to answer those questions.”
What Groome and his teammates got were experiences you can’t put a dollar figure on.
The charity game at Campbell’s Field along the Camden waterfront last month, when more than 6,000 fans showed up to see Groome face Gloucester Catholic’s Tyler Mondile square off in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge, while raising money for great causes, was a night no one will ever forget.
And the energy and atmosphere every time Groome walked to the mound was something special for the program, and the town.
No, it didn’t work out quite as everyone had hoped.
Playing in the spotlight all season, in front of big crowds and a large number of scouts whenever Groome was on the hill, Barnegat faltered as a team.
When the school misinterpreted the NJSIAA’s transfer rule, it resulted in Groome, who pitched at Barnegat as a freshman and sophomore, being declared ineligible for two weeks and the team forfeiting two games, including a no-hit, 19-strikeout gem Groome tossed. It turned the whole thing into a circus, while costing him valuable time on the mound.
“Scouts were going to watch him wherever he pitched,” McCoy said. “My whole take on the IMG thing is, ‘He’s going to be an adult, so why would you want to speed up the process?’ But everybody is different. He went down there to get bigger, stronger, faster. He did come back bigger and stronger. Did it all work out well for him? We’ll see on Thursday.”
There still figures to be plenty of money on the table whenever Groome gets drafted. And gaining a sense of normalcy before his world gets turned upside down forever might turn out to be priceless.