Commentary | MLB draft choices must do their research before signing on the dotted line

adell@bradenton.comJuly 8, 2012 

It's not easy being an 18-year-old with perhaps one chance to make big money.

Lakewood Ranch's Zack Larson is in that position. He is meeting Sunday with Minnesota Twins representatives in Fort Myers and may sign a contract.

Or he may not.

Most kids would be inclined to let their dreams rule the roost, but that could be a mistake.

This is a relatively easy decision if you do the research.

Unless some team is throwing buckets of money at you or guaranteeing it will pay for your college and give you spending money for school if you fail to make the big leagues, it's better to wait.

No 17- or 18-year-old likes to hear that, but the facts say they will not reach their dream. The hard, cold reality is that the odds are overwhelming against them making the big leagues.

So much can go wrong, things that are incomprehensible to the average teenager.

In looking back at the drafts from 1991 to 2005 as shown in thebaseballcube.com, 32 percent of first-round picks never made it to the majors.

The 1999 draft that included Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett is fool's gold for the average kid and his parents. In that draft, 54.9 percent of the first-round picks (28 of 51 selected) never made it.

The numbers obviously

get worse for later-round picks.

You don't need a baseball history book to see the obstacles. Just look around these parts.

Lakewood Ranch's Lastings Milledge, the 12th overall pick in the 2003 draft, is playing in Japan after five years in the big leagues (six if you count two games with the Chicago White Sox last season).

Tragedies can strike anytime from anywhere.

Sarasota High, which boasts the area's premier baseball program, has had more than its share of misfortune.

The Sailors produced arguably three of the best pitchers to come out of this area in Doug Million, Bobby Seay and James Houser.

The seventh overall pick in the 1994 draft, Million might have been the best of all time. In a heart-wrenching tragedy that will always be with the local baseball community, he died tragically at age 21 from an asthma attack.

Houser, Florida's Mr. Baseball in 2003, was drafted in the second round that year by the Tampa Bay Rays. He reached Triple-A and was released. Recently at the age of 27, he had heart surgery for an enlarged aorta and is now trying to make a comeback in the independent leagues.

A first-team High School All-American and finalist for the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year, Seay was drafted 12th overall by the White Sox in 1996.

He made his major league debut with the Rays in 2001, but his career never took off and ended in '10 with a torn rotator cuff. His eight-year career totaled 223 innings pitched.

Hills auditioning for NFL

Joe Hills is enjoying his time with the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm, but the Palmetto High product hopes to use it as a springboard to an NFL tryout. His chance with the Tennessee Titans last year was cut short due to an injury, and teams don't have much time for undrafted free agents.

"I hear the European Football League is coming back, and I am looking into that. But my ultimate goal is to come back to the NFL. I am hoping my film might get me invited to another camp," Hills said. "To be playing in Tampa is great. I get to go home to my family every night and play before my home fans."

Hills has looked good in his two games since joining the Storm. His opportunities should increase after Amarri Jackson, a former USF and Riverview High receiver, was recently lost for the season with an injury.

Hills has had to get used to the smaller field and rules changes that allow receivers to go in forward motion before the ball is snapped.

"You are basically playing in a box, a defender is never more than a few feet away, and the tempo is faster than the NFL," Hills said. "But it's a wide receiver's game. I am in (forward) motion a lot, and I don't think any DB can cover a receiver coming at him at full speed. If you are a good receiver, you should shine in this league."

Bellamy backing Love

Kudos to A.J. Love, the wide receiver out of Southeast who is trying to make the NFL following two ACL surgeries at USF.

Love impressed the Minnesota Vikings enough at their offseason workouts to earn an invitation back when official camp starts.

You might say Love has no shortage of tutors. One of those giving him advice and watching his career is former Lincoln High great Ray Bellamy, the man who broke the color barrier for major college football players when he signed with Miami in 1967.

"It's a long shot for any undrafted free agent to make an NFL team, but A.J. has some good skills and you never know what can happen," Bellamy said.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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