The Major League Baseball draft is very different from the drafts of other major American sports leagues. Maybe the biggest difference is the number of players selected. The NFL Draft consists of a maximum of 256 picks over seven rounds, the NHL Draft is around 215 picks over seven rounds, and the NBA Draft is just two rounds and a total of 60 picks. In the MLB draft, on the other hand, over 1,200 athletes are selected over 40 rounds each year. Partly for this reason, another big difference between the MLB Draft and drafts in other major sports is that high school and collegiate baseball players don't have to declare for the draft. Draftees are able to go back to school if they so choose.
But what about the prospects who choose to leave school early, or forego college entirely and go straight to the pros? What benefit does this provide to the player, and how does this decision affect the prospect, as well as the college program he has decided to leave?
To see exactly how this process works, I went directly to a player who already had to make the difficult decision between college and pro ball, and one who I have personally seen play, both as a spectator and teammate.
Michael Chavis is a 20-year-old third basemen for the Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, the Greenville Drive. Before he was drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Chavis was a star player at Sprayberry Senior High School – home to fellow draft picks Kris Benson and Marlon Byrd. While there he led his squad to the 2014 regional championship and garnered high school All-American laurels in the process.
Chavis always knew his main goal was to be drafted in the MLB Draft, but his tremendous bat also drew the attention of Clemson University’s baseball program. He committed to the Tigers but knew it was a backup plan.
“Given my draft status and what an incredible opportunity I would be given, I knew going to pro ball was the correct route for me to take at that point in my life.” Says Chavis, who was projected to go as high as the top 15 picks.
Once the draft came around and Chavis was selected by the Red Sox, he knew he would have no time to waste in preparing for his professional life.
“After being drafted things started moving pretty quickly.” says Chavis. “Once negotiations regarding my contract were finished, I had about 24 hours to get all my things together, say goodbye to the people I could and start preparing for pro ball.”
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig with Michael Chavis (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Chavis' decision to go pro left Clemson without one of their star recruits, but this is fairly normal when your team courts top MLB Draft prospects. Many of the players who go in the early rounds have commitments to major collegiate programs.
“Before announcing I was going pro, I called Jack Leggett – the Clemson manager – and told him how much I appreciate all he had done for me and how much I love Clemson, the program, and everything about it.” Chavis said about informing his committed program that he would not attend.
Even though coach Leggett was undoubtedly sad to lose a highly-touted recruit, he was able to handle the situation with aplomb and help Chavis make the right decision.
“He told me I would always be welcome back at Clemson and always be considered a Tiger.” Chavis explains, talking about the manager he never got the chance to play for. “I think that speaks numbers about his character and the class act that is the Clemson baseball program.”
But now that Chavis was a professional ball player, he was in for some big changes. The pros he was about to play against were definitely a change from what he was used to in high school. High school baseball was mostly about individual talent and trying to stand out from the rest. Now a pro, Chavis had to go through a transition and improve his game to match what the team wanted from him.
“After being introduced to pro ball, I was moved permanently to third base,” Chavis had been a shortstop and partial outfielder during his time in Marietta, Ga. “It hasn’t been the easiest transition. But a lot of the difficulties come with live game experience so the more I play, the more comfortable I will get at my new position.”
Michael Chavis, 3B, Greenville Drive (Photo Courtesy of Cameron White, Greenville Drive)
Adapting to his new life has been far more than just getting used to a faster game. Chavis has had to establish himself with a new coaching staff after four years of the same manager, and live away from home for the first time as well.
“There’s so many new things being introduced and that can be learned every single day, especially with me coming out of high school.” Chavis explains when adjusting to his new coaches.
“I’ve been blessed to have Tom Kotchman as my manager first year. He did a great job of introducing professional baseball and helping everybody along the way while understanding what we were going through.”
The experience of minor league ball is in some ways similar to the experience of NCAA baseball. From training, coaching, and personal development perspectives, the minor leagues and NCAA are seemingly one-in-the-same.
But when it comes to each individual athlete, the journey is unique. They must choose what is best for them when it comes to their development.
The 2016 MLB Draft is only a few months away, and some of the best high school prospects are weighing their options — go pro or chase down a College World Series title? Make some money playing the game you love or enjoy the college experience? Succeed and fail on your own or go back to school and continue your education?
Michael Chavis can tell you for how hard the process can be, and be an example for young players to follow when making possibly the biggest decision of their lives.
“Things are definitely starting to get easier and smoother,” says Chavis, entering his third year as a member of the Red Sox. “It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game. You can always get better, always have something to work on, and there’s always somebody after your job.”
Whether through the pros or the collegiate level, this is a note to high school prospects and low-level collegiate players looking to go pro: “You can always get better.” Take it from the words of someone who has lived through that difficult process.