The choice for Paul Konerko was easy.
In 1994, he finished off a stellar season at Chaparral and was a first-round pick of the Dodgers in the Major League Baseball draft.
Even though he had a scholarship offer from Arizona State, Konerko signed quickly, eager to begin his professional career.
“When I got picked in the first round I knew I was going,” said Konerko, the Chicago White Sox All-Star first baseman now in his 15th season. “The money you get and, more importantly, the investment they make in you gives you a chance because they are not going to give up on you.”
The East Valley didn’t have any first-round draft picks this season, and for the high school players who were chosen, the decision is a bit more complicated.
Mountain Pointe star Kevin Cron was the highest local selection, going to the Seattle Mariners in the third round. He has a scholarship offer to Texas Christian and hasn’t yet begun negotiations with Seattle. His decision could come down to the last few days, and it doesn’t seem like an easy one.
Cron’s brother, C.J., parlayed a successful college career at Utah into first-round status this season.
“He had a lot of success in college and he made the most of it,” Kevin said of his older brother. “In talking to him, he would do it all over again. It’s a different situation (C.J. was a 44th-round pick out of high school in 2008) but he had a great career in college.”
For many of the local players drafted, it comes down to money.
It’s easy to get wowed by the dollar figures getting thrown about, but with the help of advisers, players map out the signing bonus they want and then wait to see if the big league club is willing to make the investment.
It has to be a substantial amount for the local players, because the majority have scholarships to top-tier colleges.
“I’m just waiting to see how much they offer me,” said Desert Ridge right-hander Scott Hoffman, who was a 29th-round draft pick of the Yankees. “I signed with ASU, so I figure I’m either going to a good school or going to the pros.”
It can be a nervewracking couple of months. The Yankees are scouting Hoffman when he pitches in summer league games, trying to decide how badly they want him to join their organization.
“I try not to worry about it too much, but of course there is going to be stress,” Hoffman said. “You always try to do your best when scouts are there.”
A few local players have already made the jump.
Horizon left-hander Nick Valenza signed with the Mariners and is playing on Seattle’s Rookie League team. Hamilton’s Malcolm Holland signed with the Dodgers, bypassing a football scholarship with Boise State to begin his professional career. Holland was a two-sport standout in high school, but Los Angeles was intrigued enough that they offered him a reported $160,000 signing bonus to forego college.
There are positives and negatives to the professional and college routes. In addition to the lucrative signing bonus, high schoolers that immediately hit the professional ranks get an early jump on their college counterparts.
“Maybe I am old-fashioned, but do you want to be 21 and go to Single-A or Double-A (from college) or do you want to be in the big leagues?” Konerko said. “I always felt like I was ahead of the (college) guys even if I was going bad in low (Single-A) ... I was already learning at the pro level. Anything I was doing in the minor leagues had me ahead of them because it was a totally different game.”
But Konerko is a success story. He’s made millions in the major leagues. Others toil in the minors for years before finally giving up the dream. At that point, they have no post-high school education and have to look elsewhere for a career.
On the flip side, college is a risk, too. While many players get a free education, compete for an NCAA title and improve their draft stock, others struggle or sustain injuries, and never get a chance to continue their career after college.
“There are so many things that factor into the decision that everyone has to do what is in their own best interest,” said Ryan Braun, who was undrafted out of high school after he told MLB teams he intended to go the University of Miami. He’s now a star with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The deadline for players to sign is a month away; a few more weeks to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
“It’s kind of a fickle business,” said Horizon coach Eric Kibler, who’s had several players on both sides of the coin. “It’s not as much money as they think, and it’s a tough life. I think you have to be a really, really mature kid if you sign out of high school. It really varies on what the kid and the family want to do.”