Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam)
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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If ever there was a player who would’ve been as ready as possible for life in the minor leagues, it was Tyler Watson.
The Georgetown, Texas-born lefthander grew up in the game—his father Gene worked in baseball throughout his youth and is currently a Senior Advisor to the GM for the Angels. A parent working in baseball gave Tyler a natural leg up on understanding the professional game, but a bumpier road than he’d hoped for to pro ball gave him a taste of the grind needed at the next level as well.
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Watson signed with the University of Kansas to contribute on the mound right and also kick for the football team. Turner Gill’s firing nixed his chance to kick, and Tommy John surgery early during his freshman season sidelined him for all but 3.1 innings while in Lawrence. Facing a long rehab process at a school that he no longer felt as warmly toward as he did when he signed, Watson made a move.
He transferred to McClennan Community College, located in Waco, TX, trading in the comforts of playing Division I baseball for the more hard-nosed life of junior college.
“I say this every day: I will forever be grateful I went to a junior college,” said Watson. “When you get to junior college, it’s a grind. It’s a big-time grind.”
He worked his way back from TJ, and by draft day he’d shown enough on the bump for the Angels to take him with their 38th round pick, hoping to woo him away from returning to Division I following his Juco pit-stop. Watson was ready to move on.
“I was so tired of the elbow rehab, the school—you don’t know how many years that elbows going to last, and I wanted to chase that dream of playing professional baseball,” said Watson.
At least, he thought he was ready. Growing up in the game combined with the ups and downs of his amateur career had given Watson a solid idea of what it took to make it in minor league baseball. What he learned quickly was that there’s not really a way to fully prepare for life in the bus leagues.
“I don’t know if all those years with my dad traveling could’ve gotten me ready for it, not even junior college—it’s a different cat, different animal,” said Watson.
Pro ball wasn’t going to be smooth sailing, but like in his amateur days, Watson grinded. He toyed with different arm angles (sometimes due to unwanted pressure from an organization), and battled arm injuries and surgeries throughout his time as a professional, constantly working to make adjustments that would be the key to continuing success.
Perhaps most importantly, Watson learned about the mental strain that MiLB players can endure.
“You’re having to deal with real-life problems, thousands of miles away from home,” said Watson. “That’s one of the things I feel like Minor League and Major League Baseball could do a better job of taking care of these kids—providing them with a better lifestyle.”
He lost a teammate and close friend, Aaron Cox, to mental illness in 2018, and after retiring and enrolling at the University of Alabama to finish his degree, Watson dove into the research about what’s being done regarding mental health treatment in baseball. His senior paper was titled “Factors of Stress and Anxiety on Professional Athletes,” and a now-graduated Watson plans on using his experience to further the normalization of conversation regarding mental health in baseball and for a better lifestyle for minor leaguers.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former MiLB lefthander Tyler Watson joins to discuss his time in professional baseball. He talks the benefits of going to junior college, when to stand up for yourself with an organization, and the importance of mental health in baseball.