MLB Should Invest In College Scholarships
BOSTON—Last year, Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman and Dansby Swanson all reached the majors in their first full seasons as professionals. The same was true of 2014 draft picks Michael Conforto and Kyle Schwarber, who opposed one another in the 2015 National League Championship Series.
While high school products like Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Corey Seager and Mike Trout developed into major league superstars, the odds of finding another player like them in the draft are remote. No matter how promising this year’s high school class looks—headlined by Hunter Greene, Royce Lewis, Austin Beck and MacKenzie Gore—they won’t all turn out to be stars.
Agent Scott Boras has his ideas on the subject of high school players turning pro, and they’re ideas scouting directors and Major League Baseball may not like. Boras has long argued that baseball would be better off and economically more efficient if teams would limit the number of high school players they signed. Let all but the elite preps go to college so that they can mature in a disciplined social setting, further their education and play games where winning actually matters, unlike the minors.
A number of organizations work diligently to find ways to create a maturation and development atmosphere for teenagers. But by the time prep players reach the age where they would have three years of college discipline and maturity, many of them have burned those years on 10-hour bus rides, flea-bag hotels, the health hazards of McBurger Kings, groupies and six packs.
Take the case of Swanson. Would he be starting at shortstop for the Braves had he signed as a 38th-round draft pick out of high school rather than going to Vanderbilt? In college he won a national championship with Tyler Beede, Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Ben Bowden, all of whom are prospects who could be reaching the MLB city limits by the end of this season.
Would Benintendi have been better off signing as a 13th-rounder out of high school or getting two years at Arkansas?
Would Trea Turner be a major league star today had he signed out of high school and not attended North Carolina State?
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Take North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth, a likely first-round pick this June. He could have been drafted and signed out of his Lake Brantley, Fla., high school had he not made it clear that he was going to UNC. As a freshman he batted just .246, but as a sophomore he batted .337 with four homers, then seemingly improved by the week in the Cape Cod League.
Warmoth earned a reputation not only as a hard worker but as a model of reliability. Right now he is considered the top college middle infielder in his draft class. Scouts compare him with J.J. Hardy in terms of his consistency and character.
To understand the decision high school players face, understand that the NCAA couldn’t care less about baseball. College teams have 30 players spread over four classes, and because schools are limited to 11.7 scholarships per year, fewer players can afford to pursue college baseball.
College basketball and football provide more opportunity for players from lower-income families. Thus few college baseball teams have minority players.
Urban baseball academies have tried to tie together baseball and academics for high school players. Greene is a product of the Los Angeles MLB Academy. Brewers outfielder Corey Ray, a first-rounder from Louisville last year, is a product of Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Program. Bowden attended Boston’s The BASE, which last year had more than 50 graduates playing college ball.
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Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager and Chris Taylor are all free agents after the season.
Doesn’t it make sense in terms of business efficiency or widening the talent base for MLB to take some of the money allotted high school draftees and help pay for scholarships to lower-middle-class and at-risk high school kids who want to play baseball but cannot afford college? I have heard a number of general managers and international scouting directors say that because of the educational levels in the Dominican Republic—and soon in fractured Venezuela—MLB can broaden its talent base by finding ways to support those nations’ educational systems.
What this involves is not simply continually building MLB’s profits and franchise values, but investing in the sport, its people, its expansion. The players’ union can and should get involved in finding ways to help their future members and attract young people better prepared for the bus rides and the frightening social development faced by Latin American teenagers in the U.S.
The capital is there. The game will be far better if the development ladders are from colleges rather than profit-based showcases.
— For more from Peter Gammons, go to GammonsDaily.com