If the draft rules hadn't changed in June 2007, there is a chance that Oakland A's prospect Chris Bostick would be playing for a junior college somewhere in the Northeast while the A's spent the year evaluating his performance. Back before the rule change, teams had nearly a year after drafting a player to decide whether or not to sign him, as long as that player didn't suit up for a four-year college. These players were termed "draft-and-follows" and they were often high school players who would spend a year at a junior college and would eventually sign for above the "slot money" that was associated with the spot at which they were selected. Mat Latos, for example, was a draft-and-follow pick who signed for seven-figure bonus nearly a year after being drafted.
After the rule change, teams were no longer afforded a long look at players after the draft. Until this year's draft, teams were given until mid-August to sign any player taken in that June's draft. Now that timetable has been condensed even more, as the deadline is moving to mid-July for this year's draft.
While there aren't traditional draft-and-follow picks anymore, there are still instances in which a team will choose to watch a player perform in a summer league before deciding whether or not to sign him after the draft. Bostick was one such player last season. A 44th-round pick out of a Rochester, New York, high school, Bostick spent the summer starring in the New York Collegiate Baseball League before coming to terms with the A's a few weeks prior to the draft signing deadline.
The A's signed Bostick away from a commitment to St. John's University, and that decision thus far is looking to be a fortuitous one for the A's. Since signing with Oakland, Bostick has done nothing but impress with his lively bat and above-average speed and athleticism. In 14 games with the A's Rookie League club last year, Bostick batted .442 with eight extra-base hits and four stolen bases. He then put together a strong fall Instructional League camp and had a solid spring training.
Oakland's minor league coaching staff has been raving about Bostick since last fall.
"[Bostick is an] exciting young player with a ton of upside. He has pop in his bat and is a fine young player," Oakland A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said during spring training.
The A's recently rewarded Bostick's efforts by sending him to Northern California this week to play for the Sacramento River Cats during their exhibition tour against their parent club and the A's High-A affiliate. The 19-year-old was thrilled by the opportunity to play with the A's top level players.
"It's definitely exciting. It isn't something I knew about. I am really excited to be out here. It's kind of my first taste of pro ball," Bostick said last Saturday before the River Cats took on the A's at Raley Field.
As the only high school player drafted by the A's in 2011 to sign, Bostick is the youngest member of his draft class. He admits that his baseball life has been a whirlwind since last year's draft.
"Everything went really fast. One minute I was playing high school ball and the next I am here," Bostick said. "I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. I'm having a lot fun with it so far."
Bostick points to his family as the foundation for his success. The middle infielder comes from a family of athletes and his older brother Ben, a draft-eligible utilityman at St. John Fisher College, could be joining him in the professional ranks in June.
"I give every credit to my brothers and my family. I'm praying that my older brother Ben can get out here and do the same thing as me [this June]," Bostick said.
Although Bostick has quickly made a name for himself since the draft, he is well aware of the challenges that are presented for any minor league player in his journey to the big leagues, especially one taken in a lower-round such as the 44th.
"Everyone says that rounds don't matter but you kind of get a chip on your shoulder no matter where you are, if you are a first-round pick or the last guy who goes," Bostick said.
"Obviously I want to prove to myself and to everybody else that I can be out here and do well."
The A's aren't rushing Bostick's development, however. After the Sacramento exhibitions concluded, Bostick returned to Phoenix to join the A's extended spring training camp. Bostick will continue the work he started during his first spring training.
Bostick spent much of camp working on his defense.
"I wouldn't say it's a weakness but it's part of my game that I want to get better and that I plan to get better as long as I can do this," Bostick said.
Bostick enjoyed his first spring training.
"It was nice to be around all of the guys for once, seeing guys from the top of the list to all of the way to the bottom of the list," Bostick said.
"Mingling with everybody was a good experience."
The A's haven't told Bostick where he will be playing this season, although an assignment with short-season Vermont seems likely. Bostick is ready for whatever challenge the A's present him.
"I'll go wherever," Bostick said with a smile.