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Record Number Of Prep Prospects See Pros Of Turning Pro In 2020

After helping lead Camas (Wash.) High to the 2020 state 4A football title, Tyler Forner and his teammates had their sights set on adding a baseball title.

In the process, Forner hoped that his speed, athleticism and developing power would pay off with him being drafted in baseball.

The coronavirus pandemic interrupted those plans. Camas High’s spring season was shut down just before it started. Then Forner started to hear that the draft might be cut from 40 rounds to 20.

Then it was 10.

It ended up actually being five rounds.

In a five-round draft, Forner had zero hope of hearing his name called. But he was a player who truly wanted to turn pro. He had planned to play at Lower Columbia (Wash.) JC if going pro didn’t work out, but his focus and desire was to get his career started. When the Giants called as soon as they were allowed to contact Forner, it wasn’t a particularly difficult negotiation.

With all nondrafted free agents, teams were limited this year to offering $20,000, which is $105,000 less than they could offer in previous years. The $125,000 limit in past years was a soft limit as well, and teams could use any money left over in their bonus pool to go beyond that number. This year, teams were strictly limited to $20,000.

That was enough for Forner.

“I wanted to start my career out of high school. It was my goal,” Forner said. “Now I look back at it. I love the situation I’m in. God has me here for a reason. You look back and it’s crazy. It’s 40 rounds and you think, ‘I have a good senior year, I can help my draft stock’ . . . Then it goes to five rounds and you’re left not knowing what to think.”

Forner has plenty of company among nondrafted free agents. While the majority of nondrafted free agents were college seniors, Forner was one of 16 high school graduates to opt to sign by July 20. Another nine junior college players also had signed as nondrafted free agents. Overall, teams had signed 187 NDFAs this year, a number that is likely to go up.

That was roughly double the number of NDFAs signed in 2019.

Major League Baseball’s decision to cut bonus limits likely took money out of players’ pockets because many of them would have been late-round picks in normal circumstances. But the lure of playing pro ball is strong, and for high school and junior college players, the possibility of receiving a full college scholarship to further their education also was appealing.

One of the reasons some of the 16 high school players opted to sign as NDFAs is the scholarship program that can be negotiated on top of the $20,000 bonus. Division I college baseball is largely a partial-scholarship sport—with 11.7 scholarships for up to 27 players, it has to be.

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A player who signs to play pro ball can receive a full scholarship as part of their signing package. The amount that the scholarship will cover is subject to negotiation.

Typically, teams agree to cover four years of undergraduate tuition as well as costs of attendance, including room and board plus books, at the school the player was committed to attend. For a player already in college, the negotiated scholarship usually covers the remainder of time needed to finish his degree.

But a few years ago the rule was changed to allow MLB teams to also include graduate school as part of the scholarships. So if the team agrees to it, a player can have up to six years of education covered.

It can be a valuable scholarship benefit. A player could negotiate for four years tuition at an elite university as well as two years of graduate school at a top university.

Because of concerns that teams were using large scholarship numbers to help sway players to sign with them, MLB sent a memo to clubs warning them to not offer “exorbitant” amounts in the continuing education scholarship program when trying to sign NDFAs.

It’s hard to fully discern what the memo was trying to prevent, because the scholarship only pays for the school that a player ends up attending. A player can be offered a $400,000 scholarship, which is equivalent to six years of schooling at one of the most expensive universities in the U.S. That would only become payable if the player was admitted to that school, attended and then completed six years of schooling. If he ended up at a less expensive school and/or ended up opting for only a bachelor’s degree, that $400,000 could quickly turn into $150,000 or less.

The amount a team negotiates to provide for schooling as part of MLB’s continuing education program can be thought of as the maximum a player may receive. How much a player can receive is dependent on where he attends school, how long he goes and even when he begins his college career—the living allowance expires 10 years after a player’s pro baseball career begins.

In Forner’s case, he had been taking college classes in high school, to the point where he had almost finished his two-year associate degree. Instead of going the college route, Forner was happy to sign as an NDFA with the Giants—his favorite team growing up.

To woo Forner into their organization, San Francisco used calls from scouts, front office officials and even past Giants star Will Clark. Because he was born in the early 2000s, Forner’s Giants fandom stretches back to the Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Buster Posey days.

“(The Giants) stayed in contact with me so well,” Forner said. “They just kind of kept trying to see what I was thinking and they knew I was signable. I couldn’t go to college thinking it was all to maybe get more money and boost the draft stock . . . On the professional side of things, I can jump right into it (and) get trained by the best. I couldn’t pass it up. I knew I wanted to go pro.”

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