Carl Stajduhar was arguably the best high school hitter in Colorado as a senior in 2014.
After winning a state title with Rocky Mountain High School, Stajduhar was picked by Atlanta in the 27th round of the MLB draft.
He opted to go to college instead of signing a pro deal with the Braves.
Why? He had a list of pros and cons, and near the top of the list of concerns was his ability to hit at the pro level. This coming from a kid who had a .494 average with a state-leading 13 home runs and 51 RBIs as a senior.
“I tended to have a problem hitting velocity off good pitchers. I knew jumping into pro ball that would’ve been a tough transition for me,” said Stajduhar, who is now a junior at the University of New Mexico. “With it being such a business, if I’m not performing and I get released quickly, then I’m done with baseball and I couldn’t play in college.”
Stajduhar’s path illustrates the unique scenarios created by the Major League Baseball draft. Players are eligible to be drafted out of high school but don’t have to sign and can opt to attend college. College players are eligible to be drafted after their junior and senior seasons.
Currently, eight locals are playing pro baseball. Six of them are in the pros after being selected out of college. Of the six college draftees, two also were picked out of high school but opted not to sign. Two were picked out of high school and went straight to pro ball.
Three locals — Jake Greenwalt, Julian Garcia and J.D. Hammer — were picked in June’s draft and all three signed quickly and entered the pros. The deadline to sign or play college next year is July 15.
Stajduhar is likely to be picked much higher next year than he was in 2014, after being named Mountain West Player of the Year and an All-American as a sophomore.
The decision to go pro or not is a stressful one, especially for those with college eligibility remaining when they get picked,
“It’s no joke. It’s not something you can take lightly,” said Rocky Mountain grad and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Marco Gonzales. “It is fun and exciting, but it ages you fast. You get thrown into the real world and you hit the ground running really quick.”
Gonzales was picked by the Rockies in the 29th round out of high school. He opted to play three years at Gonzaga, where he turned into a first-round pick for St. Louis in 2013 after his junior year.
He said the lessons learned in college were vital in his growth as a player. He grew stronger on the college weight program and adjusted to a longer season. More importantly, he said, is he learned how to take care of himself.
“I think the biggest thing I took away that helped me become a better baseball player is the things I learned off the field in college. A lot of people are surprised when I say that. Obviously, competition is great in college,” said Gonzales, who is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. “But the things I learned off the field in college helped me become better because it’s part of being on your own. Being able to pay rent and grocery shop for yourself. That’s a lot to handle if you haven’t gone through a transition period like college.”
Money from draft positioning certainly plays a part.
Selections in the first 10 rounds have a projected slot of bonus money, usually more than $100,000. Most players picked out of high school also have written into their contracts money the club will pay for college if their baseball careers end.
But salaries for low-level pros are less than $15,000 a year and bonus money can dry up quickly with taxes and living expenses.
“They’ve got to have a pretty significant number on it for a high school kid (to sign), for me,” said Frank Gonzales, father of Marco and manager of the Grand Junction Rockies rookie league team. “You better have your college education taken care of by the pro site, for sure. It could be a three-to-five year process to start pushing that higher level (of the minor leagues).”
Marco Gonzales frequently receives calls, often from Rocky Mountain players, seeking advice on the draft. He admits he’s strongly in favor of attending college, but mostly he tells potential draftees to carefully consider the decision and take the emotion and excitement of being drafted out of it.
That’s what Rocky Mountain’s Cole Anderson did. After his senior season with the Lobos, he was selected in the 10th round in 2015 by the Rockies and opted to pass on college baseball at New Mexico to sign. He received a $150,000 bonus.
“We went over pros and cons and in the end, I was like ‘the pro route is the route I want to go.’ It was my decision,” said Anderson, who is in his second season playing with Colorado’s rookie league team in Grand Junction, where he plays for Frank Gonzales. “I said ‘this is what I feel, what my heart is telling me, so I’m going to go for it.’ ”
Similarly, 2016 Windsor graduate Jake Greenwalt prepared for the possibility of being drafted. When the San Francisco Giants took him in the 23rd round in June, he already knew he wanted to jump into pro ball.
For others, the development in college is the path to the pros. Fossil Ridge graduate Julian Garcia was a strong high school pitcher, but wasn’t drafted.
Heredshirted his first year at Metro State in Denver, before playing two seasons. He was a 10th round selection by the Philadelphia Phillies in June. He signed for $80,000 and is now playing for the Williamsport Crosscutters, Philadelphia’s rookie league team.
Being drafted is a marquee moment for an athlete, a celebration of a lifetime of commitment. The key, though, for Marco Gonzales is to make sure that no matter what path is taken to the pros the journey doesn’t end there.
“We put getting drafted on such a pedestal that when it happens it’s the be all and end all of your accomplishments. That can’t be the mentality if you want to be successful,” Marco Gonzales said. “You don’t make it by being drafted. You make it by pitching for 15 years in the big leagues. I think a lot of kids take the satisfaction of getting drafted but then don’t want to take what comes after that.”
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle.
Locals in the pros
J.D. Hammer (RHP) — The 2016 24th round pick by the Colorado Rockies has a 3.38 ERA in 5.1 innings for the Grand Junction Rockies (rookie league).
Cole Anderson (OF) — The 2015 10th round pick by the Rockies is hitting .255 with the Grand Junction Rockies (rookie league).
Julian Garcia (RHP) — The 2016 10th round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies has a 2.25 ERA in four innings for the Williamsport Crosscutters (short season Single A).
Jake Greenwalt (RHP) — The 2016 23rd round pick by the San Francisco Giants has a 4.15 ERA in 4.1 innings for the AZL Giants (rookie league).
Andy Burns (INF) — The 2011 11th round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays made his MLB debut earlier this season and is currently hitting .241 in Triple A.
Marco Gonzales (LHP) — The 2013 first round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals is out for the season and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Jess Amedee (RHP) — The 2014 27th round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates has a 3.86 ERA in 21 innings for the West Virginia Power (Single A).
Jordan Piche (RHP) — The 2014 28th round pick by the Los Angeles Angels has a 3.96 ERA in 38.2 innings for the Inland Empire 66ers (advanced Single A).