The MLB Draft Experience and My Story

Today’s MLB Draft marks the beginning of a long road for hundreds of MLB hopefuls. Our own David Roberts – a 2008 fourth-round pick – offers some advice for the young men who will get one step closer to their dream.

The 2015 MLB Draft begins today, and for those fortunate enough to be drafted, the anticipation has been building for weeks. Being drafted and getting the opportunity to achieve the ultimate goal for all players is getting closer and closer. College and high school players alike have been dreaming of the day their name appears on the reader board. The day you get drafted is one that needs to be cherished, because you’re part of a select few that gets an opportunity to earn a roster spot for a Major League Baseball team.

If you are part of the 5.6 percent of high school players to play collegiate baseball, you have a 10.5 percent chance to be selected. It’s even scarcer for high school players going straight to an organization, only 0.5 percent of high school players hear their names called (High School Baseball Web). When that day comes, young man, be prepared for the longest, most egregious grind of your entire life. Welcome to the biggest roller coaster ride you’ll ever be on.

05 JUN 2014:  Grant Holmes,RHP who was picked 22nd by the LA Dodgers during The 2014 MLB First Year Player Draft puts his name on the Draft Board at MLB Network in Secaucus NJ.

Adding your name to the draft board is an opportunity only a tiny fraction of high school and college players are afforded.

Coming into my junior year at Long Beach State, I was excited to build off the success I achieved as a sophomore and to advance further than we did in 2007. The draft was in the back of my mind, and of course I was anxious to see where I would be taken, if at all, that year. I wasn’t on a lot of teams’ boards coming into the year; at least I didn’t think so.

That all changed after a trip to Hawaii to square off against the Rainbow Warriors. During that series, I was throwing better than I ever had. Something must have registered with me. I bumped up my velo from 91-93 to 93-95 and sat there the rest of the season. Once I got back from Hawaii, my phone was vibrating left and right. It was then I realized I had a good shot to be selected in June’s draft; I just didn’t know where. My mood changed, I was more confident, and I had more of a presence on the mound – all solely based on the realization that step two of my goals was within reach.

June 5th 2008, I was with my college roommate, Danny Espinosa, at his parent’s house in Santa Ana, California. He was my shortstop at Long Beach State from 2006-2008, and to this day the best one to ever play behind me. As a switch-hitting shortstop that could run well and play flawless defense, he was highly sought after in the upcoming draft.

March 26 2006: Fullerton California;  Long Beach States Danny Espinosa during NCAA Big West Baseball action with the Cal State Fullerton Titans defeating the Long Beach State Dirtbags 6-2 at Goodwin Field in Fullerton, California.

Danny Espinosa, David’s college teammate, was taken 54 spots earlier, with the 87th pick of the draft.

I was a late-inning reliever that didn’t have the same national attention. I garnered some attention because I threw hard and found some success on a team full of MLB prospects. Playing with Espinosa, Vance Worley, Brian Shaw, Shane Peterson, Andrew Liebel and Brett Lorin attracted cross-checkers who were in attendance often. Because of where I played and who I played with, scouts were able to see me pitch often.

I was with Danny and his family and I think I was more nervous than any of them were. His name was being bounced around anywhere from the supplemental round to the second.  He finally got a phone call from the Washington Nationals in the third round, and everyone was able to breathe a little easier after he had been selected 87th overall. Now we were waiting to see if I would have my name called.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long. I got a call from the Cleveland Indians; they were going to take me with their fourth-round selection, as the 141st overall pick. I was ecstatic and relieved to see my name pop up on the tracker. We got to celebrate together and soak in the moment as teammates and friends. I will never forget that day, June 5th 2008.

Getting drafted in a specific round, 1-10, or being paid sizable bonus, $150,000 plus, has a lot to do with how the organization views you and it makes sense. If they use a higher round selection on you or invest in you, the expectations are greater and you will be given more opportunities than a guy slated 15 rounds behind you or paid less than you. Still, being drafted, regardless of slot, gives you a chance to have a jersey on your back. Everyone has to deal with the same issues coming up through any farm system.

05 JUN 2014: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig during The 2014 MLB First Year Player Draft  at MLB Network in Secaucus NJ.

No matter who drafts you, or when, getting that call is a special moment.

Playing minor league baseball is completely different animal. In high school or college, there are multiple distractions; Attending class, studying for tests and practicing with your team throughout the year. Once you sign your name on the dotted line, baseball is your job, your sole focus, your paycheck. You are no longer playing for your high school or competing for a championship; you are playing for your livelihood and your future. You are there to blossom into the player that you can become to help the organization that believed in you. Along the way, you will fail and will struggle with both baseball and non-baseball related issues. It takes a strong, resilient, and confident character to hurdle these obstacles.

Many of the friends that you went to school with will assume that you’re golden because you got drafted and are now a professional baseball player. However, there is a long and winding road ahead of you before you can reap the rewards of a six-figure salary and the acclaim of being a big leaguer.

In the minor league system the pay is awful, the hotels are subpar at best, and the spread is hit or miss depending on what park. The travel is simply grueling. Starting off in rookie ball or A-ball, the amenities will be lesser. As you gradually earn a promotion, working conditions and benefits get better. You’d hear coaches and veteran players around you say “If you don’t like it, play better.” There is 100 percent truth to that statement. The hotels get better, the “clubbies” lay out better spread, the buses are nicer and cozier and the pay increases. Even with all that, you don’t think twice about those first-world problems. You’re doing what you love day in and day out.

The traveling aspect may be the most strenuous because off how often you’re going to and fro. Some leagues travel less distances than others, but the leagues I played in were filled with long bus trips. Playing as the farthest team west in the New York Penn League, Ohio, our shortest trip was three hours. Most of them were on the plus side of eight.

29 MAY 2015:      Brandon Leibrandt of the Threshers during the Florida State League game between the Brevard County Manatees and the Clearwater Threshers at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.

Long bus trips to empty stadiums are just part of the grueling minor league experience all Major Leaguers must first go through.

I then moved on to the Southern Atlantic League. Still the western most team, we traveled to Georgia, North Carolina and Maryland. The Carolina League was probably the easiest travel as the farthest trek was to Delaware, seven or so hours. You pack up your things and shove off right after the game for the majority of the trips and are living out of a suitcase for six months. Trying to find a decent bite to eat after the game is challenging as well. Most affiliate cities are podunk towns that offer only fast food options or Applebee’s if you’re lucky. Maintaining your body weight and strength while sweating profusely during the humid Midwest and Atlantic coast summers can also be an issue, especially if you can’t eat right.

These are all obstacles that will get in your path on your way to reaching your dream. You get used to it as time goes on but the initial adjustment takes some time. Especially the high school players who have never been away from home and are having to fend for their own for the first time. These challenges are ones the players need to embrace and get through relatively smoothly, because there are more important things that happen on the diamond that determine your development and advancement.

Your biggest battle on the diamond will be yourself and timing. Injuries will happen, opportunities will present themselves and other players won’t perform. During those times, players have to seize the opportunity and showcase their talents. Players need to stay consistent and confident in their day to day activities.

Timing is a two way street; it works with you and against you. You can be drilling the ball all over the yard or pitching like Cy Young, but if the guy ahead of you or two levels ahead of you is also doing the same you’re most likely staying put. That can be the hardest part.

I spent the latter part of 2009 in High-A and performed decently. Coming into spring 2010, I was expecting to break camp with the Double-A Akron Aeros; my performance that spring didn’t grant me that opportunity. I went back to the High-A affiliate, Kinston, NC and pitched well the first month or two but didn’t move. Looking back, I let that get in my head and was bitter. Those negative thoughts crept into the back of mind and I didn’t stay the course. I went on to get tuned up far too often, eventually leading to my release that next spring.

Point is, trust your ability always, and control what you can control. You can’t be the player and the GM. Force the scouting director’s hand to move you up and don’t question why you’re still in A-ball. Prove you have the talent and the thick skin to move on. Create your own destiny and realize that your performance and behavior are the two elements that will propel you forward. “Play better.”

Baseball gave me many great things in life and I don’t regret a single moment from chasing my dream to its end. Everything I put into it was worth it. It taught me many valuable lessons along the way that apply to real world experiences. The playing experience was a thrill, but my favorite part about it was building strong relationships with other players while competing and supporting one another. It’s a unique work experience and I maintain contact with many of them. The same trio of guys I played with throughout the system gets together at least once a year. Zach Putnam, Vinnie Pestano and Jason Kipnis are my brothers and will all be in my wedding the day I decide to take that step.

23 May 2015:  Cleveland Indians Second base Jason Kipnis (22) [7617] fields a ground ball during the game between the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.  Cleveland defeated Cincinnati 2-1.

Jason Kipnis, currently making a strong All-Star bid, went through the process with David, and formed a life-long friendship.

Live in the moment gentlemen; don’t take a single pitch or at bat for granted. Opportunities are chances to perform. Take the bull by the horns and be prepared to succeed. There will be a limited amount of chances available, because you never know when they will take the jersey off your back.  This is an elite brotherhood and you’re lucky to be a part of it. I wish you all well and success in your baseball future. You will face bumps and bruises along the way, but don’t let it slow you down or stop you. You are in control of how you perform, pitch by pitch and at bat by at bat. Enjoy the ride boys.

I want to also thank Jason Smith, the scout who drafted me, and the rest of the Cleveland Indians organization for giving me the rare opportunity to compete for a living in baseball. A top flight organization filled with great personnel and even better men playing alongside me. I will always be grateful to them and what they gave me. I wish things have worked out better for me, but I’m content with what baseball taught me and how it helped to mold me into the person I am today. Thank you Cleveland, and good luck to those who follow in my footsteps.

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