The event began with the professional players shadowing live at bats off of Mike Wallace, a pitcher in the Pirate minor league system. The hitters then put on a show in batting practice for the younger guys, launching balls over the fence at Yankee Stadium on the Hit Trax. Following BP, came the highlight of the night for me, the Question and Answer section. The professional players took questions from players and parents and I would like to share some of the highlights.
Ty Benson (Padres), Nick Egnatuk (Brewers), Kevin Mahala (Pirates), Derek Jenkins (Angels), Mike Wallace (Pirates) and Ryan Rinsky (Florence Freedom), all shared valuable insights into how they got to the professional ranks and what it takes to get there.
We had a mix of high school draft picks, players who signed before they graduated college, and players who finished college. However, they all went through the college recruiting process and shared 2 very valuable pieces of advice for the aspiring college players.
1. Don't give up when a coach tells you that you are not good enough for their program
All of the professional players had similar stories of coaches who had no interest in them or simply told them that they weren't good enough. Think about that. The vast majority of players who play college baseball professionally, and all of these pro players were told by someone that they were not good enough. Use that as fuel to get better!
2. Stand out with the way that you communicate
In today's world, college coaches are more accessible than ever, but players often struggle to communicate in a way that help coaches remember who they are. Coaches are constantly bombarded by impersonal emails and text messages. When leaving a camp or showcase, introduce yourself and shake the coaches hand. It may help them remember you when the time comes to offer a spot. Follow up the meeting with a hand written letter. In 2018, that will definitely stand out.
3. Act like a professional
Hustle on and off the field. Don't throw your equipment. Run out everything. Be a good teammate. It sounds cliche but play like you are being scouted at every game. You never know who is watching. After working with these players, they all act like professionals. They all show up on time, work hard, don't get down on themselves when they struggle and help each other out. College coaches want not only good talent, but good people for their teams. One of the quickest ways to have a coach lose interest is to act like a jerk.
4. Every player develops at a different rate
With the exception of Nick Egnatuk who got drafted out of High School, none of the other pro guys were on anyone's draft radar in high school. None of them committed to college as freshmen or sophomores. They were all later developing kids. In today's world of 8th graders and freshmen being offered by the Vanderbilt's and Florida's of the world, you have to keep in mind that every player develops differently. Some players who develop and mature early, may be offered more early on, but it is still very much a possibility to advance far in this game if your personal development is later.
1. The metal side of hitting is huge
There was a little talk of mechanics, but the main thing that the pro guys kept going back to was handling the metal side of hitting. With such long seasons, they have to be able to navigate the roller coaster that is hitting. They all talked about not allowing the previous at bat or game effect the upcoming ones. They train for this when they are working at the facility. They get excited when they hit 100 mph exit velocity or crush a ball over the fence, and get upset when they struggle, but they have a unique ability to not get too high or too low. They are purely focused on the next swing and what they have to do to get the best result. Baseball is filled with failure, especially as a hitter. Learning to deal with that and work through it is a key to advancing.
2. Having an approach at the plate is key
Each hitter talked a little about the way that they approach at bats. While they varied slightly, they all touched on the concept of having a plan. Far too often, young hitters have no plan when stepping in the box. Most of these guys are zoned in on their pitch with the count in their favor and are looking to do damage. From there, they adjust based on the count, situation, pitcher, etc.
"I'm a Jersey boy just like you guys"
Angels outfielder Derek Jenkins said it best to the kids when he told them that he was once in the same exact spot that they are in. These guys are all New Jersey born and raised who were not standouts until later in their careers. They are all getting paid to play baseball. Work hard, never give up and good things will happen.