The 2013 MLB amateur draft concluded over the weekend, with more than 1200 players selected over 40 rounds. Many of these players are ready to begin their professional careers, so we imporbably gathered them all together in one place* where former first round selection and current Blue Jays reliever Dustin McGowan could address the lot* about the perils and pitfalls awaiting them.
* – Obviously, neither of these things actually happened
Hello, gentleman. Congratulations on realizing your lifelong dream and becoming professional baseball players. All those nights of sacrifice, the time spent travelling from this showcase to that regional tournament, the hours spent in the cage or on the practice field while your friends developed tastes and interests, it is all worth it right now.
Unfortunately, this is where the real work begins. Many of you are so talented, you couldn’t help but get to this point. A lot of natural athletic ability, some hard work and some good luck and here you are: prepared to draw a paycheck for playing baseball. A children’s game is now your job! Living the dream, really and truly.
It seems like a dream, I know. I was taken in the first round of the 2000 MLB draft, 33rd overall. Like many of you, I went right from the high school field to the professional ranks, working my way towards the big leagues.
Unlike the vast, vast, vast majority of you – I realized my dream and became a big league pitcher. But this is where my congratulations end and my warnings begin.
The road is hard and long and loaded with unexpected twists, turns, and bumps along the way. As you begin this journey, I want you to remember me and my career. For I represent the true dichotomy of draft day. I am the best case scenario and the worst case scenario. all wrapped into one.
As I said before, I am a Major League pitcher. I have 60 starts so far in my big league career, spread across six season. I amassed more than 300 strikeouts in that time. I almost threw a perfect game. I am the exception to the rule. I made it to The Show. Look at the man standing on your left. And now the man on your right. Chances are, none of you chumps will ever play a game in the show. It’s really, really hard to do.
Among those taken in the first round of my draft, only seven guys can beat my career Wins Above Replacement. Only three of those guys are pitchers. Transitioning from a draft pick to a legit big leaguer is hard. Really hard.
You know what else is hard? Staying healthy. I was drafted 13 years ago yet I only have six years of service time. To go along with the parts of six seasons I spent on a 25-man roster, I spent more than three seasons on the shelf, nursing injuries.
Elbow, shoulder, knee, toe, foot, shoulder again. Three years, lost.
Now I’m 31-years old and my team has to handle me with kid gloves. Pitching on back-to-back days causes all sorts of consternation and concern for my health.
I am certainly no ordinary 31-year old. Over the weekend, I touched 98 with my fastball. Ninety-eight miles per hour, straight past a veteran Major League hitter. After how many shoulder operations and ligament transfer surgeries? Most of you can’t get near that on your best day. This is once in a lifetime stuff we’re talking about. Stuff that covers up mistakes and forgives all misgivings. Look at this filth I threw during my last start in the big leagues, more than 18 months ago.
Nobody is touching that slider piece. And the changeup? Lights out.
Which is why I also represent the worst the draft has to offer. So much promise, so much potential, and I’ll never fully realize it. All the dreaming my team’s scouts did on my right arm turned, if not to nightmare, than to disappointment. To come so close but, rather than celebrate the highest achievement of the sport, leading my team to post-season successes and great personal financial gain, I had to “settle” for a pity contract and low-leverage relief outings when I should be cashing in on the free agent market.
Watch that video again: does that look like a pitcher deserving of pity dollars? Does that look like a pitcher with fewer career earnings to date than Bryan Bullington received as his signing bonus in 2002? No. No it does not.
So be careful. Don’t take your health or your opportunities for granted. Don’t get caught up in your own hype, don’t believe you’re bigger or better than the game. The minor leagues and independent leagues semi-pro leagues and Legion leagues are lousy with guys like me – talented players who couldn’t make it happen when it mattered most. Anybody can pop a radar gun, how many can pitch?
A big arm and a nasty curve aren’t enough. Wanting it badly isn’t enough either. To really get there, to really become one of the stars in this game, so much needs to go your way. Take it from me, Dustin McGowan, the best and worst the lottery ticket world of amateur scouting has to offer.