For 45 years, the United Negro College Fund has used the slogan “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” to promote its efforts to help students attend college.
For Major League Baseball, the slogan might as well be “A pitching arm is a terrible thing to waste” — except its goal is the exact opposite.
With the 2017 amateur draft complete and the July 7 signing deadline less than three weeks away, MLB teams have begun an annual, behind-the-scenes ritual: Offering ballplayers money, sometimes millions, not to go to college. It’s a custom that angers NCAA coaches and enriches player agents, but it’s been part of the game for far longer than the draft itself.
“It’s part of the dilemma that [draftees] face — how much [money] is enough to take you away from an education that will carry you way past baseball?” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, who faced that very decision in 1974, when he didn’t sign, and in 1977, when he did. “I don’t know how much that has to be. In a lot of cases, it probably depends on how well off the family is.”
For first-round picks, the choice isn’t difficult. Royce Lewis, the Twins’ top pick Monday, broke the franchise record for an amateur contract when he accepted a bonus of $6.725 million.
Experienced college players may be more valuable and less of a risk to the teams that drafted them, but the bonus system works counterintuitively: The option to go to college gives the teenagers far more leverage than college players, particularly seniors, who have nowhere else to go.
That’s why Blayne Enlow, a high school righthander, will receive a reported $2 million from the Twins after being drafted in the third round, about the same amount as sandwich-round pick Brent Rooker, the SEC Player of the Year, despite being chosen 41 picks later. Enlow was planning to play for LSU, and would only give up that dream for first-round money. Rooker’s only leverage was returning to Mississippi State, but even if he had another stellar season, he would probably have less leverage next year as a senior.
The later rounds of the draft are filled with high school players called “draft-and-follows” — players teams might or might not make an offer to, depending on budget, other signings or sudden development. Bonuses get as low as $1,000 sometimes, little incentive for players to skip college.
Molitor was offered $4,000 by the Cardinals after they took him in the 28th round when he graduated from then-Cretin High School, for instance, so he picked the Gophers instead. “If it was $10,000, I might have taken it,” he said. Three years later, the Brewers made him the third overall pick, offered him $70,000, “and I was ready to go.”
Then again, Twins lefthander Nik Turley was expecting to attend Brigham Young when he graduated high school in 2008. He wasn’t highly scouted but could throw 92 mph as a 17-year-old, and was told he might be taken as early as the 10th round. Instead, the Yankees used the 1,502nd pick — two before the 50-round draft ended — on him. Turley believed he was headed to Provo.
Then he pitched well a couple of times after the draft, and the Yankees made a startling offer: $100,000, or roughly sixth-round money at the time. “That definitely changed things. It wasn’t clear-cut, I had to think about it, but I called [then-BYU coach and ex-big leaguer] Vance Law and told him the situation,” Turley said. “He wished me well, but some of the other coaches weren’t too happy about it.”
Was it the right call? “Absolutely. I never second-guessed myself. I met my wife the next year at Yankees camp,” Turley said.
Baseball reporters Phil Miller and La Velle E. Neal III will alternate weeks.
Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins
The Twins made headlines by taking Royce Lewis with the first pick, but the rest of the division added talent in the draft, too. Here’s a look:
Indians: They forfeited their first-round pick by signing Edwin Encarnacion but still got first-round talent at pick No. 64 by choosing Quentin Holmes, a 17-year-old outfielder from Queens. Holmes was judged by many scouts as the fastest player in this year’s draft, though some question whether he will hit enough at the next level to use that speed.
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Royals: They already know their first-round pick, Nick Pratto of Huntington Beach, Calif., can come through in the clutch: He delivered the title-winning walkoff hit in the 2011 Little League World Series. The 17-year-old first baseman, taken 14th overall, is lefthanded and already displays good command of the strike zone, scouts say.
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Tigers: It’s no surprise they used the 18th pick on Alex Faedo, a righthanded pitcher with linebacker size — they have wanted him since he graduated from high school. The Tampa, Fla., native turned down Detroit three years ago in favor of the University of Florida, where he polished his mid-90s fastball and late-breaking slider.
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White Sox: Chicago fans figure to love Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger, taken with the 11th pick, especially if his 22-homer power for the Bears (the alma mater of Ryan Howard and Bill Mueller) transfers to the majors. According to the Chicago Tribune, Burger is an amateur hockey player and outspoken Blackhawks fan.
This season is the 40th anniversary of Rod Carew’s memorable chase of a .400 batting average, and June was his greatest month; he entered July batting .411. Here are the greatest one-month hit totals in Twins history:
54 Rod Carew, June 1977
50 Tony Oliva, July 1965
49 Tony Oliva, May 1964
48 Zoilo Versalles, Aug. 1965
47 Paul Molitor, Aug. 1996
46 Delmon Young, July 2010
46 Kirby Puckett, Sept. 1988
46 Lyman Bostock, July 1977
46 Rod Carew, July 1975
46 Tony Oliva, July 1964
Ervin Santana doubled and Jose Berrios singled in San Francisco a week ago, a rarity for Twins pitchers. Here are the franchise leaders in hits by a pitcher since the designated hitter rule was adopted in 1973 (plate appearances in parentheses):
7 Johan Santana (25)
4 Joe Mays (10)
4 Eric Milton (13)
3 Brad Radke (6)
3 Kyle Lohse (8)
3 Scott Baker (8)
2 Jose Berrios (3)
2 Kyle Gibson (4)
2 Francisco Liriano (4)
2 Scott Diamond (6)
2 Carl Pavano (8)