Players Share Their Favorite MLB Draft Stories (From Phenom To The Farm)
In our bi-weekly podcast From Phenom to the Farm, we’ve talked to current and former professional baseball players about their experiences going from high school to professional ball. Nearly every player shared a unique draft day story of their own. We’ve compiled a few of their draft day memories to enjoy, as we approach the 2020 MLB Draft. To check out the draft day experience of every player in the series, subscribe to From Phenom to the Farm wherever you get your podcasts.
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Eric O’Flaherty – (2003 – SEA – 6th Rd)
In the spring of 2003, Eric O’Flaherty entered his senior season at Walla Walla HS in Washington with early round buzz. The previous fall he’d popped up on the radar of scouts as a LHP who could touch 94 at a tournament in Arizona. However, at that point in his career, he wasn’t yet in tune with how to build up his arm into baseball shape, so when his season debut rolled around, O’Flaherty‘s fall 94 turned into an early spring 86.
“I’m peeking up at the scouts, and I notice they’re kinda looking at their guns and hitting the side of them, like you would with an old TV or something that’s not functioning right,” said O’Flaherty recalling that outing. “Most of them start to leave in the second inning.”
By the tail end of his senior season, O’Flaherty had restored his velocity and salvaged most of his draft stock, but the advisor he’d committed to when his star was shining a bit brighter hadn’t communicated much with the likely 4th – 7th rounder on how to approach the June draft. “When my stock started falling, I think he lost some of that interest,” O’Flaherty would remark later.
With no advisor checking in and both parents at work on draft day, recent high school graduate Eric O’Flaherty was sitting on the couch alone operating as a one-man draft war room.
As his projected draft slots neared, O’Flaherty started fielding calls from organizations gauging his signability. When the Braves called to offer him $300,000 to be their 5th round pick, O’Flaherty gave them the go-ahead with gusto. He then watched the Braves spend that pick on Alabama HS RHP Chris Vines.
Despite passing in the 5th, the Braves called back offering the same bonus figure to be their 6th round pick, and again it seemed as though O’Flaherty would be joining Atlanta. Then he got a call from his home state Seattle Mariners, who picked 11 spots ahead of Atlanta but were offering just $155,000.
Without hesitation O’Flaherty replied, “Yeah … let’s do it!”
The Mariners came through, making O’Flaherty the 176th overall selection and offered the promised $155,000 bonus. Thinking back on the larger figure offered by Atlanta, O’Flaherty figured there might be some room for negotiation. His advisor, back in the picture post-selection, informed him otherwise.
“He goes, ‘Well, you told them on the phone you’d sign for $155.’” That was that, so O’Flaherty took his $155K and headed to the Mariners’ complex in Arizona.
Acting as his own draft liaison might’ve cost Eric O’Flaherty six-figures on draft day, but paid off in the long run, as three years later he debuted in the Seattle bullpen en route to a 10-year big league career.
J.P. Ramirez – (2008 – WAS – 15th Rd)
Simply put, J.P. Ramirez had an exemplary amateur career. The outfielder from New Braunfels, Texas put on a hitting clinic from the moment he entered high school, culminating by hitting .395 for the U.S. junior national team during the summer of ’07.
Per his BA draft scouting report, Ramirez was “arguably the best hitter among Texas’ draft prospects.” This alone would’ve seemingly made the high price tag needed to buy him out of his Tulane commitment a no-brainer for clubs, but scouts worried that he lacked the power needed to play corner outfield or the speed to play center. He entered draft day uncertain of where he might land or if a team would be willing to meet his asking price. Ramirez spent most of the first day the draft taking phone calls and declining offers.
“[My advisor] had called me during the first day of the draft asking if I would take slot for a certain pick,” said Ramirez. “I told him no … I wanted seven-figures, that was the only [bonus amount] that was going to take me away from going to school.”
Even as he held firm with his decision, Ramirez couldn’t help but lament his draft day fall. “I was disappointed at the time, even though I didn’t mind going to school.” He’d performed well everywhere he’d played -- high school, summer tournaments, and Team USA. “I felt like that was enough to maybe get picked up in the first couple rounds.”
In the days before bonus pools, dropping out of the top few rounds didn’t make landing a top-tier bonus as unlikely as it would be under the current draft rules, but as the rounds passed with no selection he knew that he was more than likely headed to Tulane in the fall. By the time the Nationals made Ramirez their 15th round selection, he wasn’t even paying attention to the draft.
He spent the rest of his summer playing with a competitive team out of Houston (alongside fellow draft holdout Robbie Grossman, who went in the 6th round to the Pirates) and preparing to head to Tulane. Ramirez’s signing trajectory only changed when Nationals 1st round pick Aaron Crow indicated that he wouldn’t be signing.
Under the current structure, the budget they’d allocated to Crow would’ve just been a lost opportunity, but in 2008 it became money that needed to be spent in order to salvage a draft class. Ramirez became the beneficiary, agreeing to a $1,000,000 bonus, just before the August 15th signing deadline.
Ramirez spent four seasons in the Nationals system. After being released during Spring Training in 2013, he finished out his career playing in the American Association and Mexican League.
Chad Durbin – (1996 – KC – 3rd Rd)
Chad Durbin’s draft day came long before the early rounds were televised, and even if it had, he likely wouldn’t have been able to watch it anyways. Durbin spent the days preceding the draft on a senior class trip to Cancun, trying to balance enjoying the trip with prep for the impending draft. In retrospect, making extra effort to enjoy that vacation was probably a smart move for a guy who soon was going to spend most of his summer toiling in the Gulf Coast League, home of early mornings and long days.
From the lobby of his Cancun hotel the right handed pitcher fielded calls from a few interested organizations but didn’t have a true sense of where he might end up (so much so that his scouting report in the BA 1998 Royals Top 10 Prospects noted that he was “an obscure third-round pick”) . On draft day the LSU-commit boarded a plane back home to Baton Rouge, still in a bit of a daze from his trip, likely saving him from any draft day nerves. He didn’t have to wait long post-flight to learn the news.
“I got off the plane in New Orleans … and my dad was holding up three fingers,” recalled Durbin. He was still fighting through a post trip haze and didn’t understand what his dad’s gesture meant right away. “[I] finally got closer to him, and he said, ‘Third round, buddy. The Royals.’”
Negotiations would wrap quick enough that Durbin was able to accumulate 44 innings in the GCL that summer, and he debuted in Kansas City three years later.
Zack Dodson – (2009 – PIT – 4th Rd)
It was about midway through his senior season that Medina Valley HS (TX) LHP Zack Dodson realized that there was a pretty good chance he wouldn’t be honoring his commitment to Baylor in the fall. Per his BA draft report, he’d been “inconsistent” during his final high school spring, but even accounting for that inconsistency and a high asking price, there was enough positive feedback from organizations that Zack wasn’t planning on double checking which date his freshman orientation in Waco was.
Dodson’s parents put together a family & friends draft party for Day 1 of the draft (at that time containing rounds 1-3), after getting enough of an indication from a few organizations that there was going to be reason to celebrate that day. “The Nationals called [before the draft] and asked ‘Will you sign for this in the 3rd round?’ and we were like, yes absolutely let’s do it.”
The Nationals continued to follow up in the days leading up to draft day ensuring that Dodson was still on board with the amount he’d agreed upon to be their 3rd rounder. On draft day, surrounded by family and friends, Dodson eagerly awaited the announcement of the Nationals’ 3rd round selection.
“The 3rd round comes up, and the Nationals have the first pick, and we’re like alright here it is, we’re about to get drafted,” Dodson remembered. “The Nationals drafted [Georgia right-hander Trevor Holder].”
Dodson ended the day unselected.
“I felt so dumb.”
Fortunately for Dodson, one of the other teams that had taken interest in buying him out of Baylor was the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2009 the Pirates’ draft strategy revolved around taking a safe college player that would sign under slot in the first round (Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez at #4) and then going over-slot for high school pitching (which would end up netting them little big league value, as the most notable of the Pirates’ ’09 high school arms ended up being the punter on LSU’s 2020 National Championship team, Zach Von Rosenberg).
The Pirates called the Dodson family after the 3rd round, letting him know they’d meet his bonus demands if he fell to their pick. To fall to their pick, he had to be passed on again by the Nationals.
Admittedly upset by being bypassed by Washington, Dodson did his best to make sure he fell to Pittsburgh. “We told the Nationals ‘Hey, [I’m] going to go to school.’”
The Pirates didn’t make Dodson wait long, taking him with the 4th pick of the 4th round. He’d spend six years in their system and is still currently active, pitching in foreign leagues.
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Michael Main – (2007 – TEX – 1st Rd)
One of the main differences between the MLB draft and its NFL counterpart is that the highest ranked players in terms of talent don’t always necessarily come off the board in their ranked order due to signability. Players entering the NFL have no alternate option, and in the early rounds are generally taken where their talent suggests they should be. An MLB draft top round talent can slide down the board due to a perceived strong college commitment or a bonus asking price that doesn’t reflect the prospect’s talent.
Due to a perfect harmony of talent level reflecting his bonus expectations in terms of the slots that he was projected to be drafted at, Florida high school product Michael Main was able to enter draft day as a top NFL prospect might; simply wondering which team in the first round was going to grab him.
“Everything we had kinda heard was middle-to-late first round,” said Main when asked about his pre-draft thoughts. “We knew what the slot money was on that…If that was the reality of where I was going to go, it was going to be a pretty easy decision for me and my family [and] that was probably the route that we were going to take.”
The bigger question for Main was if he’d be leaving his bat at home when he signed.
The right-hander was up to 97 on the mound as an amateur with good feel for pitching, but per his ’07 BA draft report, “some teams see him as a safer pick as an outfielder.” Main himself didn’t have much of a preference, but admitted there was a “split camp” as far as the scouts that came to see him.
“I was just excited to be potentially a pro guy,” said Main. “For me I didn’t really care too much if it was pitching or hitting, I liked doing them both.”
Draft day for Main was as much of a wait to determine his future position as it was his future organization. Although the Rangers, who took Main 24th overall, let him know that he was drafted to pitch, his life as a position player didn’t end right away.
“They let me get some bats as a DH, while I got my arm back into pitching shape in rookie ball,” recalled Main about his introduction to pro ball. “After my first outing, they said, ‘Turn in your helmet and bat, because you ain’t gonna use them anymore.’”
Main would go on to pitch for five injury-riddled seasons in the Rangers and Giants organizations before returning to the outfield for two seasons with the Marlins.
Lane Adams – (2009 – KC – 13th Rd)
Every year hundreds of potential MLB draftees will watch or listen to the draft, waiting for their name to be called, hoping to get a chance to play their favorite sport at the next level. Lane Adams did the same; during the draft he sat in school, watching on his laptop to see if he’d end up having the opportunity to continue to play his favorite sport at the next level.
Except for Adams, that favorite sport was basketball, and the school he was sitting at was Missouri State, where that fall he’d be beginning his first season of college basketball. The toolsy outfielder from the Oklahoma high school ranks watched pick after pick, knowing that if his name came up he’d likely be leaving his basketball dream behind and heading to professional baseball. He’d already resigned himself to the fact that it’d be too good an opportunity to pass up; one he didn’t want to regret passing on down the road.
“I didn’t want to get drafted, because I knew that [if I did] I’d be walking away from basketball,” said Adams. “That [was] such a hard thing for me to do, I didn’t want to have to make that decision.”
When rounds 10-12 passed without him being selected, Adams thought he might be spending the next few years on the court after all, until the Royals called to let him know they’d be making him their 13th round pick.
There was no draft party to head to for Adams, only a long walk over to Missouri State head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s office to let him know that there might be a change of plans. Martin could’ve made that a difficult conversation, but he did the opposite.
Said Adams of Martin, “He was great…I couldn’t ask for that situation to be better than the way it went…He supported everything I did, he encouraged me to go play.”
He might’ve been leaving his favorite sport behind, but on the bright side his negotiations with the Royals went well.
“My mom handled all my negotiating…she got an above-slot signing bonus so she did a pretty damn good job.”
Adams has spent ten seasons in professional baseball, including big league time with the Royals and Braves. He’s currently a member of the Minnesota Twins organization.