Sports writer Brian Paglia
There are two parts to the dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player, one that even a 3-year-old recognizes and one that doesn’t emerge until he’s 17 going on 18 with college coaches and professional scouts peppering him with sales pitches.
The first part is the selection in the First-Year Player Draft. From the first round to the 40th, a team’s pick comes with an ego-boost, which high school and college males don’t refuse — we want YOU.
Vincent Jackson liked that part. The former Luella outfielder and pitcher was picked by the New York Yankees in the 23rd round (727th overall) on Wednesday, the draft’s third and final day.
The Bronx Bombers wanted him.
“Just to be drafted is an honor,” Jackson said. “Millions of people wish to have that fortune, so I’m honored by that.”
But the second part of that dream — the part of signing on the dotted line, packing the bags for Arizona or Florida, bus rides from one Class A minor league town to the next — is more complicated. Especially when Major League Baseball signs a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Jackson won’t get to experience that part. For now.
As a 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder with a swing that projects middle-of-the-order potential, Jackson was included among the best of the best going into the draft. Baseball America ranked him the No. 174 prospect in the country, high school or college. Do the math, and Jackson should’ve been gone by the fifth round.
But, Jackson also came with the dreaded word of the 2012 MLB draft — signability.
In his pocket, Jackson had a full scholarship to Tennessee, a bargaining chip he and his family used to calculate the signing bonus required to pull him away from Knoxville, Tenn.
Jackson wouldn’t share what number he and his family had in mind. Turned out it was too high.
“We were going to stick with our number throughout the whole thing,” Jackson said. “That was our number, and we weren’t going to go beneath that.”
The problem for Jackson and plenty of other talented players in the prep ranks was MLB teams had numbers of their own to consider this year.
The new CBA brought with it new draft rules. Each pick in the first 10 rounds was attached a value. The sum of those picks was each team’s bonus pool for this year’s draft. Go over budget, and a team would get taxed. Go over by more than 5 percent, and a team started losing draft picks. A player selected after the 10th round who signed for more than $100,000 was counted against the team’s pool. Fail to sign a pick in the top 10 rounds, and a team would lose those funds in their pool.
What ensued could only be described as bargain shopping.
With so much to consider, teams had to make their money work for them, instead of the other way around. They coveted talent, but after the first few rounds, teams seemed to covet cheap players they could easily sign even more.
Say hello to the new Moneyball.
And Jackson was one of its prime casualties.
Take the team that eventually drafted Jackson, the Yankees. With two of their first three picks, they selected high school players. Their next seven picks were either college juniors or seniors, players with big baseball dreams, but little leverage in negotiations.
New York wasn’t the only team playing by the new rules. According to Baseball America, 57 college seniors were drafted in the first 10 rounds. In the previous four drafts from 2008-2011, an average of 30 college seniors were drafted in the top 10 rounds.
Jackson knew this going in. He knew the new CBA jeopardized his goal of being selected in the first four rounds.
Just how drastically the CBA altered how the draft unfolded was still jarring.
“I was more surprised by how many top players didn’t get drafted [higher],” he said. “I wasn’t the only one. I thought in my mind there were at least 10 guys from Georgia that were going to go really high, and there ended up only being three or four. It affected a lot of people.”
Indeed, it affected people like Jackson’s former Luella teammate, Chase Scott, the record-breaking hitter who never got picked. Or Mundy’s Mill’s do-it-all pitcher/hitter Corey Harmon, the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald Player of the Year who never saw his name selected.
But this is where their baseball story turns for the better.
Harmon still has Albany State. Scott still has Chipola Junior College. Jackson still has Tennessee.
They still have the eyes of professional scouts, the ones who monitored them throughout the past three seasons in high school and travel ball.
They still have a chance for their dream to come true.
“Who knows what could happen in three years?” Jackson said. “I could come out as a pitcher or a hitter. Or, for all we know, I could get more mature and just feel like I want to graduate and get my degree. Anything can happen.
“I love baseball, but I’m also a realistic person and know that when you’re 18 and 21, it’s different maturity levels. Anything could happen in three years baseball-wise or life-wise.”
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @BrianPaglia on Twitter.