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Power Drop Clouds Mayberry's Status

By Casey Tefertiller
May 24, 2005

STANFORD--It was the unthinkable, in these modern times. John Mayberry Jr. turned down first-round money--not to bargain for more cash, not to get a better deal--to attend college and get himself educated.

That happened with some regularity a couple of decades ago, but with the big money being thrown at this generation’s high picks, education becomes a lower priority against the immediate gratification of a huge paycheck.

Mayberry is different, though, and that becomes apparent quickly by talking to the articulate 21-year-old who is coming back into the draft after three years at Stanford. He has the immediate goal to become a successful major league player. But he also has the long-term goal to remain in the game, possibly as a general manager or other top executive. The John Mayberry Jr. who emerges in 2005 will be one of the most intriguing and enigmatic selections of the year.

There is talk that Mayberry will go high, possibly as high as the third pick overall to the Mariners. There is also talk that he could drop to the end of the first round after a mundane season on The Farm, where he had six homers in his first 37 games this spring, a severe power outage after hitting 16 in 2004. There is no question his name will be discussed by organizations from now till draft day as they try to predict whether he will become a big league power source in the future.

“Everybody has bad years. You’ve got to try and put the numbers out of your mind, put the stats aside, and look at the upside,” said one area scout for an American League team.

The upside on Mayberry gives you a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter with superior defensive ability both in the outfield and at first base. Whether that is a realistic assessment has scouts stirring as the college season winds toward draft day. He stands a lean 6-foot-5 with the kind of live body that prompts lust from a GM. He is the son of a former major leaguer, so he has a pedigree with his potential. And this guy is flat-out smart, smart enough to prosper at Stanford and articulate enough to become a community spokesman wherever he plays. The question remains whether his junior struggles are a fluke or a precursor. Will he become another Carlos Pena, who falls short of predicted stardom, or will he be another, well, John Mayberry, the former all-star first baseman who sired Junior.

Work In Progress

At Stanford, coach Mark Marquess is frank about why he believes his big slugger has endured hard times. “I think both he and Jed (Lowrie, another prospect for this year's draft) are on a different team from last year. This is not nearly as good an offensive team," Marquess said. "Last year, they had to pitch to both Jed and John because of the people behind them. I think it’s just a matter of the supporting cast around them. They’re not getting the pitches to hit. Last year was a very strong offensive team with a lot of protection for Jed and Junior. This year we’re young, so they’re not seeing the same pitching.”

Mayberry agrees that he has been pitched differently. “Last year I had a lot of pitches that were centered over the middle of the plate. Those have come few and far between this year. I’ve seen a lot more breaking pitches.”

In addition, he has been on a two-year quest to shorten his swing. The long-armed Mayberry knows that long swings do not prosper in a world of wood bats and inside fastballs.

“I’ve tried to work to shorten my swing up,” he said. “One of the biggest things I need to continue working on is getting to that inside pitch. I’ve got long arms. I’ve constantly been watching tape of Richie Sexon, Derrek Lee, those kind of guys who have the kind of taller frame to see how they approach that pitch. When I get into pro ball, I’ll work on that extensively. I really haven’t found that groove that I had last year.”

“I see a guy who’s in search of his swing,” the AL scout said. “It looks like he’s trying to find something. I kind of like that about a player who’s trying to get something to work. If he had 16 bombs, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”

Mayberry said he began shortening his swing after his freshman year, when he hit four home runs and batted .299. “It wasn’t really a decision. My freshman year, I think the results spoke for themselves," he said. "I just wasn’t getting to that (inside) pitch, and obviously a change had to be made. Last year, I think the results spoke for themselves. I was able to get the barrel of the bat on the ball. The biggest thing I’ve been trying to work on is to be able to stay inside the ball more.”

The other big question about Mayberry concerns his position. He has played first base most of his time at Stanford, but pro organizations place more value on outfielders and multi-position players. Marquess, a former first baseman, places a premium on good defense at first base, and Mayberry is outstanding. Both Marquess and the scout say Mayberry has the arm and speed to move to right field, however.

“No question,” Marquess said. “He’s not a blazer, but he’s not slow. He runs well enough, and he’s got great arm strength. He’s a great athlete.”

Mayberry is up for the move, too, if that is what is requested. “I definitely like to play outfield. It’s something different from first base. You get to run around a little bit more.”

Big League Background

Mayberry is clearly ready to move into the professional ranks after his three years at Stanford. He has granted the Mariners redraft rights, and he would be delighted if they call his name. “I would obviously love to get an opportunity to play there again. It’s a great organization. Mariners baseball is on the rise, and I’d love to be part of it,” he said.

Seattle selected him with the 28th overall pick in 2002, but he decided he would rather pursue his education. “It goes back to wanting to be a well-rounded individual,” he said. “My thinking was to play three years here and hopefully be in the same spot. It was very difficult. It’s one of those things where you’ve dreamt of being a professional player your entire life, and to pass something like that up for three years was very difficult.”

Mayberry grew up around major league clubhouses, enjoying the benefits of talking to big leaguers and picking up advice. His father finished his 15-year playing career in 1982, the year before Junior’s birth, then became a coach for the Royals.

“It was great. I was probably one of those kids who was always in the locker room," he said. "Players were probably saying, ‘This kid won’t leave.’ It was definitely a great experience and one that really shaped my feelings about major league baseball. It’s a lifestyle that’s second to none. I can’t imagine anything that would be better.”

He attended Rockhurst High in Kansas City and now is a quarter short of a political science degree at Stanford, and he plans to return in the fall to earn his diploma. His next big exam comes on the baseball field, where he needs to show power to make the grade.

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