Stanford Baseball head coach Mark Marquess has more to worry about today and tomorrow in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft than only losing some of his most talented players after their junior season, with a year of eligibility still on the table and the chance to make a big difference in the Cardinal's 2008 season. Stanford has also signed this year its most talented recruiting class in a decade, which inevitably means there are high school players headed to The Farm who also have Major League organizations licking their chops.
At the head of the class is 6'3" 200-pound lefthanded pitcher Jack McGeary from West Roxbury (Mass.) Roxbury Latin School, rated as one of the nation's elite hurlers and a first-round talent. Baseball America had him recently #27 overall in their 2007 draft rankings and #9 among high school pitchers. That is both good news and bad news for the Stanford.
"The only guy I'm worried about is McGeary," says Marquess. "McGeary could be a first-five guy in the first round. Then somebody throws a lot of money at him, and he could go."
"He's six-foot-three. Lefthanded," the coach continues. "A three-pitch guy with a good curveball - not a slider - which in a high school guy is unusual. He has a 12-6 curveball with good command. He hasn't played that much. He goes to an elite prep school, Roxbury Latin, in Boston. An unbelievable school and a great student. They have only 15 games a year and no playoffs. He went down and played last summer in Atlanta with a select team against better guys and did well. That's where everybody saw him."
"I have a fastball, curveball and change-up," McGeary describes. "I work off my fastball. When I am commanding my fastball down in the zone, that's obviously a plus with me just as with any pitcher. Off that, I consider my curveball my out pitch. I think that's my best pitch. I try to throw it a little harder than most people do, and I make it pretty tight. I throw a change-up, which quite honestly during the high school season this year, I didn't throw as much as I should have. But I think that's a good pitch, especially down the road when I'm facing much better opponents. I think that's going to come into play a little bit more."
The Massachusetts man's fastball sits at 87-91 mph. He throws his curve in the mid-to-upper 70's. The velocity on his fastball was a little higher when he blew scouts away last summer with the East Cobb Braves in Atlanta and at the Area Code Games in Long Beach. Throwing "only" 90 or 91 mph in front of scouts during his recently completed high school season (5-1, 0.88 ERA, 40 IP, 80 K, 21 BB) led some observers to recently say that he had "lost velocity." McGeary has a different explanation.
"I think in some of the summer events last summer, it might have been up a little bit because you only pitch two or three innings," he says of his fastball, "so you can kind of blow it out."
"He's a big-bodied left-hander with an ideal frame and pitchability," offers Scout.com baseball analyst Denis Savage. "I have to be honest when I say that I don't expect McGeary to ever play for Stanford. He has a plus curveball and will hit the low-90s with his fastball. He should go in the first three rounds."
"Knowing how academic he is, I think it'll have to be a really big bonus," Marquess comments. "I don't know what that is, but that's my sense."
His first-round talent does not necessarily insure that McGeary will be drafted today with a first-round or supplemental pick. The last Stanford signee taken by Major League Baseball in the first round was John Mayberry, Jr. in 2002 by the Seattle Mariners. Failing to sign Mayberry despite a huge signing bonus offer remains a point of humiliation to the organization today, and that example reinforced a fear in other clubs who have steered well clear of Cardinal commits since. Current Stanford junior Michael Taylor was at one point ranked the #1 outfielder in all of high school, yet he went completely undrafted after signing up for The Farm.
The ability to sign a player is every bit as important as the prospect's projected talent when it comes time to make decisions in the draft. McGeary may have "fallen" to a late-first round selection or worse due to signability concerns, but that does not at all reflect on his talent.
"It's the same thing. If somebody is going to offer him top-five money, then he has top-five ability," Marquess explains. "Even if he is taken in the second round, somebody could offer him that type of money. It depends on the team. My impression in talking with him is that college is very important. If you ask him, he says that unless it's something ridiculous, he's going to school."
"But it just takes one team," the coach cautions. "If it takes money, they can give it. They may not want to, and there is a lot of pressure to stay slot and hold the line. But if they really want somebody, they can pay whatever they want to pay."
"I'm obviously excited," McGeary says of his situation. "I think whatever decision I'm going to make is going to be a good decision. I have two great options. Obviously what I have at Stanford is outstanding. There is this other option in professional baseball, which could also be great. This year I'm excited that I have the chance to decide between these two great options, and I know a lot of people don't get that chance. I'm grateful for this year."
The question on everybody's mind is of course what it will take from the Major Leagues to induce McGeary to forgo The Farm.
"A lot of it has to do with the team that drafts me," allows the 2007 Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year. "Obviously I want to be in a position that's beneficial to me, and there are a lot of organizations out there. Becoming a part of one of those organizations would be a focal point in our decision. Then of course there is the whole economic issue. You know, that's not the only issue, but it's a big one. We're just trying to put everything together and finding the right mold so that everything works out."
The impending economic decision McGeary has to make is an unfathomable one for an 18-year-old to wrap his brain around. X dollars of signing bonus today versus Y dollars in three years, factoring in lifetime value of a Stanford degree as well as the competition, development and off-field experiences that only can be experienced on the Cardinal campus.
"It's hard because I don't have have any base point to compare it to. Obviously I'm inexperienced in knowing what is what," McGeary admits. "Luckily my parents, my brother and then my advisors have helped me figure out what's smart and what's not. It's been tough, and there is no right answer. I think it's different for everybody. But I think I'm going to be confident in whatever decision I make."
Not all the thinking on that decision will start after his draft selection and the money offered by the Majors. McGeary and his family have already thought about the number it would take to sway him from Stanford. Pro clubs know that number and are forewarned to not waste a top draft pick for less.
"Basically, but one of the other factors really is who drafts me. That could have some play," McGeary maintains. "But yeah, there is a number."
Todd Morgan on Scout.com has been talking quite a bit this spring about the Los Angeles Dodgers taking McGeary at #20 in the first round, but the 18-year-old has learned from enough people that you can only expect the unexpected when it comes to the MLB Draft.
"It's kind of weird," McGeary offers. "Sometimes a team will draft you who you didn't think was that interested. The team you thought definitely was going to pick you up, ended up not. Not even the Dodgers, but in general, it's unpredictable. You never know what's going to happen."
The 18-year-old says that ballclubs have not been too overbearing with their communication and prying this spring, though that all changes today with the phone ringing off the hook. More regular have been McGeary's conversations with Marquess.
"I talk to Coach Marquess frequently. He just reminds me of what I have at Stanford," says the signee. "I know that it's one of the best possible scenarios that anyone could have, with what they have to offer. I definitely won't lose site of that in this whole process. That's his main goal - to let me remember in the midst of all that is happening what I have in store there at Stanford."
One subject of discussion between the coach and his would-be lefthander has been the 2007 Stanford season that just completed. The Cardinal finished 28-28 and out of the postseason for the first time since 1993. Is there fear for the prospect that the Cardinal are on the decline?
"Not really," McGeary answers. "Obviously, they struggled a little bit. Especially pitching this year. That could mean there is an opportunity for me to go in there and pitch. My decision won't be based on the type of year they had this year."
One streak Stanford hopes not to break is their run of retaining the players the sign out of high school. Not since 1991, when Shawn Green (#16) and Shawn Estes (#11) both went in the first round and signed with pro baseball, has Marquess lost one of his recruits.
"Green was a battle," Marquess shakes his head. "He was crying in my office right before classes started. He didn't want to do it. He was in the dorm and everything. That was a sad one."
The 15-year streak of beating the Majors is not an accident for Stanford. Marquess has learned his lesson through the years and increasingly is careful in screening recruits early to see how easily they might sign with pro baseball.
"I'll walk out of a house if a guy will sign for a million dollars," he explains. "They're going to get a million dollars. If I had a sense that [Drew] Storen or McGeary would sign for a million dollars, I wouldn't have recruited them because I can't replace them. If one of my competitors loses a guy, they just go replace him with a JC guy. I couldn't get Barry Bonds into school right now if he wanted to pay his own way. It's too late for transfer applications. The deadline was March 15."
"That's why we haven't lost many guys to the draft. I will walk away," the coach continues. "If he's coming to Stanford and he's that good, he'll get a million dollars. Most of the time for me, it's going to take something up in two million. That may not be an exact figure, but I get a sense. They'll tell me that it has to be something ridiculous. I'll say, 'A million dollars?' They'll say, 'No, no, no. A lot more than a million dollars.' Then I'll roll the dice there. But I'm not going to fight for a guy with Admissions and then have him get in only to sign a pro contract."
"I have to be really sure," Marquess says. "95 percent of the guys I recruit aren't going to be drafted high enough to have them forgo Stanford because they're very academic. It doesn't happen very often for me."
As college recruiting moves earlier and earlier, the estimation Marquess makes back in the junior year of a recruit's career could change in the ensuing 18 to 24 months before the MLB Draft. There is plenty of anxiety watching what happens with McGeary today.
"I'll be sweating it because you don't know," Marquess admits. "Somebody could like him. He could go first-five in the first round, which wouldn't be a good sign because that means they think they can sign him. Or he could go in the 20th round. Now, he could go in the 20th round and be offered crazy money, too. They don't want to do that, but they could. A lot of our guys, a club will take a flyer late and just offer a million dollars because they haven't wasted a pick. They can also see how he plays in the summer and then change their mind to offer even more."
"I would still recruit him today," he declares. "He might get that money and sign, but from my perspective, I have to recruit him because there are only four or five guys who get that type of money. Maybe unfortunately, he is one of those, but I have to roll the dice on that."
"I think it's really hard to say right now. I can see myself doing either," McGeary offers on his Stanford vs. MLB future. "It's such a personal decision. I don't think the fact that I'm going to Stanford makes it any different than if I were going anywhere else. It's my decision, and yeah I know that I have a great opportunity at Stanford, so that will definitely come into play in my thought process. But I didn't pick Stanford to say that I'm 100 percent Stanford. I know that it's a great opportunity, but there is definitely this great chance here. I'm not really sure yet. Either way, I think I'll be extremely satisfied."
One change in this year's Major League Baseball rules is that a draftee has only until August 15 to sign. Some infamous high school recruits have held out an entire calendar year until the next First-Year Player Draft. Kids headed to college have had until their first day of classes to decide, which is late September at Stanford. The earlier deadline this summer will shorten the wait and anxiety for Stanford Baseball fans, but it does not help Marquess materially. Whether the decision goes for or against him with McGeary, even as late as August 15, the Cardinal coach is unable to substantively react between then and the start of the fall quarter.
"It doesn't affect us that much," Marquess maintains. "It actually helps the kids. John Mayberry was offered X amount of dollars, and then the day before classes start, the highest offer they had made all summer - they tripled it. Tripled! That's not right, and I think the parents were upset. Why did you wait until he was on campus? So I think that really benefits the kids. It doesn't benefit me because in August I can't go get another player. It benefits the other colleges because they can go get another player - a JC or a transfer guy."
Which is why so much for Stanford is riding on what happens today with McGeary. Stay tuned.
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