Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Continuing Education After the Draft

TigerBlog encourages feedback and wants its readers to ask questions when they have them.

One question that recently came in here at TB headquarters centered on the baseball players that were recently drafted, specifically the juniors, David Hale and Jack Murphy, and what their intentions will be towards signing, becoming professionals, and continuing their education.

In short, the question can be answered for Murphy. He has already signed with the team that drafted him, the Toronto Blue Jays, and has been playing for their Short Season A affiliate in the New York-Penn League in Auburn, N.Y. In signing a professional contract, he has lost his final season of college eligibility and cannot suit up for the Orange and Black next spring when the Princeton baseball season begins.

Murphy does plan to continue pursuing his degree at Princeton will is to return to campus next fall for a semester, and then complete his studies the following fall, skipping the spring semester since he will be in Spring training. Murphy would have been a member of the Class of 2010, but will now instead graduate with the Class of 2011.

That is the same route that several other Tigers have taken after being drafted and signing as a junior, including recent picks like Ross Ohlendorf, B.J. Szymanski and Thomas Pauly. If you follow baseball, you have no doubt heard about Ohlendorf’s senior thesis, which has appeared in articles on ESPN.com and in other places and attempts to put monetary values on the returns of baseball draft picks (How apropos?). Chris Young finished his college degree around his baseball but it took him longer as he was drafted following his sophomore year at Princeton and had four semesters of school to fit in.

The question cannot yet be answered for Hale because he has not yet signed with the Atlanta Braves. If and when he signs, he will likely be on the same plan as those listed above. If he does not sign, he will be back at Princeton in the fall.

As a note, it is standard that when a college junior is signed, the team will also pick up the final year of tuition for the player. As an example, Murphy signed his contract and received his signing bonus, plus his final year of tuition from the Blue Jays.

For two-sport athletes like Young (basketball) and Szymanski (football), once they signed a pro contract, they were immediately ineligible for their other sport. This is something that only holds true in the Ivy League. If they attended a school from another league, they would have been able to continue their collegiate careers in the other sport after signing with their baseball teams, assuming their pro team would let them. An example is Deion Sanders. Drafted by the Yankees following his junior year at Florida State, he signed and played pro baseball in the Minor Leagues for the summer, then returned to the Florida State football field for his senior season.

The Major League Baseball Draft and players signing as juniors was a hot topic on the Ivy League message board following the signing of Dartmouth’s Nick Santomauro, a 10th-round choice of the New York Mets. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast. If not drafted as a high school senior, players are next eligible for drafting after they turn 21. For most players, that equates to their junior year of college. For some it is earlier (Young), but for most it is junior year.

At that point, the player is in the best bargaining position because he has the option returning to school for his senior year as a bargaining chip. There are exceptions but generally signing bonuses are worth much more for college juniors than they are for college seniors because the seniors have no bargaining power. That is why you see the college seniors all signing pretty quickly while the juniors tend to last a little longer before signing.

Adding a second sport to equation gives even more bargaining power, which is why Young got the deal he got after being drafted in the third round by Pittsburgh. He had two years of college, plus his basketball potential, on his side, which drove the asking price up. Same for Szymanski. For others, like Will Venable it pushed the price too high. After being drafted by a junior, he elected not to sign and returned to Princeton as a senior to play basketball and baseball. He was re-drafted as a senior and then signed.

Venable was a somewhat different case though as he hadn’t really played baseball through the latter years of high school and his first year of college. As he played more, his stock rose and he went from a 15th round pick as a junior to a seventh round choice as a senior.

So Merc Morris '72, thanks for checking in. TB hopes that answered your question and offered some explanation of how the process works. And to everyone else, keep the questions coming.

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