The transformation from high school to professional athlete can be a blur, particularly in baseball.
One moment, you’re going to the prom, taking selfies with a hairstyle and tux you’ll laugh at years from now, and the next moment, you’re a professional athlete, with grown-up decisions to make.
After talking to two 2017 high school players who went in the first round, this is what’s in store for this year’s crop of draftees.
- The decision to sign will come pretty quickly.
The money’s good. First-round draft choices will get a minimum signing bonus of $2,275,800 with the maximum being $8,096,000. However, thanks to baseball’s slotting value system for draft choices, agreed to in the last collective bargaining agreement in 2016, there’s not a lot of haggling over bonuses.
“I was drafted and I agreed to a number that night,” said Shane Baz, a right-handed pitcher from Concordia Lutheran (Tomball, Texas) who was selected No. 12 overall in 2017 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. “That was what my agent handled, but I had given him a number I would accept. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
The same was true for Austin Beck, an outfielder for North Davidson (Lexington, N.C.) who was selected No. 6 last year by the Oakland Athletics. He’s hitting .283 this season with the Beloit Snappers of the Class A Midwest League.
“I think I had a conversation back and forth with my agent about the signing,” Beck said. “It was no longer than five or ten minutes.”
- They’ll fly you to the parent club
This is officially the honeymoon stage. The top picks will be flown out to the city of the parent club, will be poked and prodded with a physical, sign their contract and do interviews with the local media. If the parent club is in town, the draftee will also take in a game and meet some of the big league players.
Last year, three days after he was drafted, the Pirates flew Baz up to PNC Park and his father Raj, mother Tammy and sister Mariah made the trip.
“I got drafted on the 12th,” Baz said. “The 15th I flew up to Pittsburgh and the next day, I did my physicals, a lot of paperwork and then went to a baseball game that night. The next day (his 18th birthday), the 17th, I signed my contract, did my press conference and went to the game that night. That was it, I went home and a few days later, went straight down to Florida for the GCL (Gulf Coast League) season.”
- You find out baseball is a job
At this point, most high school draft choices are assigned a rookie-level team and they have to figure out how to live on their own.
“They sent me down to Arizona for the Arizona League and assigned me an apartment and I had a roommate,” Beck said. “Arizona had the heat, so that was tough, plus working out every day was an adjustment. Off the field, you had to figure out how to get to the ballpark and back because I didn’t have a car. You are on your own eating-wise, but luckily, you can get a couple meals a day at the facility.”
Beck started as a freshman at North Davidson, but may have had 200 at-bats in his whole four years there. He already has 343 professional at-bats early in his second season.
“You’re playing every single day,” Beck said. “It’s very physically demanding. It’s not easy. Mainly, you need to have a routine that you do every day because you don’t want any injuries.”
A few days after he signed, Baz was sent down to Bradenton, Fla., for the Gulf Coast League last season.
“They put us up at Pirate City, which has dorm rooms for all the players,” Baz said. “It’s kind of like a hotel setup. The big adjustment was living on your own, where to get your food and what to do on your off time, so you’re not developing bad habits. You have to make sure you’re treating your body right. You’re away from your family for the first time. It’s a really quick, fast transition.”
As a pitcher, Baz wasn’t playing in games every day, but still his workload increased dramatically.
“You’re doing conditioning every day, you’re throwing every day, at least playing catch, which is different from what just about every high school guy is doing and a lot of college guys are doing,” Baz said. “You’re on a five-day rotation, and along with throwing every day, that’s a real big transition.”
- You have to adapt to a much higher level of competition
Players who are drafted in the first round are accustomed to dominating high school competition. Beck hit .590 his senior year. Baz struck out 90 batters in 46.2 innings at Concordia (Tomball, Texas).
“It was tough getting used to the velocity of the pitchers,” Beck said. “It took me to the end of rookie ball to get used to it. I’ve been hitting well ever since. You have to get an approach. At first I didn’t have an approach. I was just up there free swinging, trying to prove myself.”
For Baz, who’s waiting for his assignment this season, it’s about staying healthy and learning a healthy respect for his opponent.
“A lot of guys get hurt their first season, so it’s a constant struggle with that but you have to also deal with the fact that even if you throw 100 (mph), they’re going to crush it,” he said. “You have to really learn how to spot up and you have to spot up your off-speed too. I’m still learning a lot and have a lot to learn.”