Going Deep: Mark Teixeira

If anyone is qualified to give a “draft preview” to this year’s top prospects, it’s Mark Teixeira.

In 1998, as a Maryland high school senior, Teixeira was considered first-round material, but after rumors spread about his soft body and signability he dropped to the ninth round. He enjoyed a standout three years at Georgia Tech–complete with a scary broken ankle as a junior–before entering the draft again as one of the marquee talents available. He signed a whopping $9.5 million deal as the No. 5 overall pick by Texas, and has quickly established himself as one of the American League’s most fearsome sluggers.

Teixeira’s draft ups and downs have left him eager to share his pointed thoughts with other amateurs and their families–so we let him do just that while sitting down with him at Yankee Stadium.

Alan Schwarz: Kids and parents ask you a lot as they go through the draft process how to handle it. What do you tell them?

Mark Teixeira: I think the most important thing as either a high school draft-eligible player or a college draft-eligible player is that you do your job on the field. What happens with the scouts and the GMs and the teams is out of your control. You can’t hit any more home runs than you already hit, you can’t go out and pitch better than you already pitched, so don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about what happens after the season, don’t worry about what’s going to happen in an office somewhere–because if you do that, then your play is going to suffer.

AS: Scouts are calling them up. They get out of their car, literally, and a scout is there asking about signability. How can an 18-year-old block out those types of distractions?

MT: You have to set up a buffer, whether it’s your high school coach, guidance counselor, principal, your parents–there’s got to be buffers between yourself and the scouts. Never allow a scout to call you directly and talk to you. Always set up meetings, always make sure that it’s on your terms. I think I did a pretty good job of that, which allowed me to go out and do my job on the field.

AS: Then again, it kind of backfired on you. You wanted to sign out of high school, but teams got the impression you weren’t signable, and you fell to the ninth round.

MT: I thought I wanted to sign. The day of the draft I realized that I didn’t. I realized that I wasn’t ready to go into professional baseball. I wanted to go to college. I thought as a young, naive, 18-year-old, because I played well and because I was honest with everybody, I would just be a first-round pick, million bucks, and start my career. Because of the way things occurred, it occurred to me–you know what? I don’t want to be a professional baseball player, I do want to go to college. It really was a blessing in disguise.

AS: But the Red Sox offered you $1.5 million before the draft, which was pretty darned fair in 1998.

MT: They said take it or leave it. It was a decent bonus, but it wasn’t what we were looking for, and we didn’t want to cap our negotiation before the draft even happened. It’s unfair and illegal to go to a kid and say, “We haven’t drafted you yet, we may or may not draft you, but if you don’t take 1.5 we’re not going to draft you.” What would you say? There’s 29 other teams out there–why would I ever cap myself before the draft even happens? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s unfair to those kids. Say, “Draft me and I’ll let you know.”

I have a very cynical approach toward the draft. I was naive. It was my first realization to the business in baseball. The Red Sox told everybody that I wouldn’t sign, and when it got to a late enough round, they said, “Let’s take a flier on him.” So they spoiled me for everyone else–the only one that would draft me was them.

AS: Let’s assume for the moment that scouts honestly are trying to evaluate a kid, this potential investment on the part of the club, and they want to see where you stand. What kind of questions should you answer and not answer?

MT: I think you should answer questions about the game. Scouts want to ask about your family: “Hey, what does your girlfriend do?” “How much money does your dad make?” Those aren’t things that people need to know. If a scout comes up to you, and says, “Do you think you’re a guy who can steal 20-30 bases a year?” Yeah, talk about it. Talk about the different pitches you want to develop, your velocity–that’s baseball. They don’t need to know, “How much money are your parents going to have to live on if you don’t sign?”

AS: What if kids are getting a fair offer, everything’s fine, and they still aren’t sure if they want to sign or not?

MT: If you’re not sure, then you should go to college, because you’re never going to get that chance back. If you’re going to make it, you’re going to make it out of high school, out of junior college, out of college. You’re going to make it because your talent is going to shine through. I know people who are 26, 27, 28 years old that are living with their parents because they signed out of high school, didn’t have the opportunity to go back to college or didn’t want to go back to college. They feel like they’re stuck.

My thing is if you go to college, you’re good, you develop, you’re going to get drafted again. You’re going to be ready to go.

AS: That’s easy to say because it worked out for you. But some kids who break their ankles junior year, like you did, can really hurt themselves, at least financially.

MT: There are very few instances of position players getting hurt to the point where they can never play again–especially a power hitter.

AS: Should families consider the organization that drafted them?

MT: I don’t think so, because chances are you’re going to get traded than get your roots in the organization anyway. I think what kids need to consider is what’s important to them. If baseball is No. 1 in their lives and they can’t think of anything else they want to do now, OK, well, maybe that’s the right thing for them to do. But for everybody else you have options.

AS: I know that part of your thinking was to minimize your time in the minor leagues.

MT: Definitely. The minor leagues is no fun–it is absolutely no fun. Three years in the minors would have been torture for me. When I decided not to sign out of high school, there was almost a plan set out–go to college, have the three best years of your life, which I did, be a high first-round pick, get a huge bonus, which I did, play one year in the minors, get yourself honed with a wood bat and professional baseball, which I did, and go to the big leagues and everything.

AS: But you’re the shining example of how well it can turn out. What if it doesn’t?

MT: Well, that’s the thing–if it doesn’t work out, wouldn’t you rather have a college education than have nothing? That money, I don’t care how much you sign for, it’s going to be gone eventually. I’d rather be happy with a college education and not have a bonus than be unhappy without a college education and saying, “What did I do with the last eight or nine years of my life?”

I talk to kids at Georgia Tech. I talk to kids in my high school, kids all over the place, parents. Because when it comes to the draft, I’ve been through the worst of it and I’ve been through the best of it.