Home Baseball Content A Letter to This Year’s MLB Draft Picks

A Letter to This Year’s MLB Draft Picks

Written on June 12, 2017 at 6:13 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s been over ten years since we first had a Cressey Sports Performance athlete selected in the Major League Baseball. Each year, the number grows – especially since the addition of a FL facility to complement our original MA operation. Over the past four years, exactly 100 athletes have been selected, so the early part of June is always an exciting time around both facilities.

This decade of draft picks has been accompanied by countless hours each off-season interacting with the professional players we train. They range from 1st rounders to 50th rounders. They come from all over the US and abroad. There are both high school and college draft picks – and to all 30 MLB organizations. Several races and ethnicities are represented in the CSP Family, and they come from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of these athletes trained with us as early as middle school, too.

The point is that I’ve seen the draft – and the professional careers that follow – from a variety of angles. In the process, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. If you are fortunate enough have your named called in the next few days – or you know someone who is – consider these ten suggestions.

1. Don’t stop learning.

Signing to play professional baseball serves as either the temporary or permanent halt to formal education. Either high school has ended and you head to the working world, or you’re drafted as you leave college. In many cases, players return to start or finish a college degree at some point. This does not mean, however, that your education has ended – and I’m not just talking about learning about the game of baseball.

Learning is a skill that needs to be refined just like hitting, throwing, and taking ground balls. It’s very easy to detrain the “academic” portion of your mind, and that’s a terrible thing in the 18-22 year-old age range, when your brain is still developing. Don’t get to age 30 and realize that you’ve forgotten how to learn; be a student for life. Read books, listen to audiobooks, watch Ted Talks, attend seminars, take college courses, and ask questions of the smart, experienced players and coaches you meet. Don’t let baseball make you dumb.

As a start, I would recommend Decisive by psychologists Chip and Dan Heath. It’s an invaluable read that will teach you about the decision-making process – especially if you’re on the fence about whether or not to sign. I’ve given it to many of our high school draft picks over the years.

2. Remember that your money is your money.

Last week, in a text message with an agent, he commented to me, “A signing bonus is about so much more than performance.” In other words, teams don’t just pay you for what you’ve done; they pay you because they’re betting on your future. Effectively, they’re investing in you. That money is intended to put you in the best position possible to help them down the road.

That money should be used to make sure you don’t need to have an offseason job. It should cover travel, training, massage therapy, equipment, or whatever else you need to be the best baseball player you can be.

What shouldn’t it go to? The second cousin who wants you to invest in his real estate idea. Or the entourage that thinks you should always pick up the tab for dinner because you’re a “bonus baby.” This leads us to…

3. Invest in yourself and appreciable assets.

I’ll be blunt: that expensive car you want will depreciate 10-20% the second you drive it off the lot. It won’t be a tax deduction, and it sure as heck won’t make you any better at baseball. The same goes for jewelry, boats, tattoos, and a host of other luxuries. Additionally, if you consider a 7% historical rate of return of the stock market, that money would likely double every ten years in the stock market if you were to invest it. So, that $80,000 car at age 20 really was worth $1.28 million at age 60. There's a big opportunity cost to your decision. 

On the other hand, investing in your training, equipment, and education will be tax deductible. The same goes for investing in your retirement.

I always love hearing about players and their agents and financial advisors preparing budgets not only because it creates a sense of fiscal responsibility, but also because I know small hinges swing big doors. If you take a calculated approach to your finances, you’re also far more likely to take a calculated approach to preparing for training and games.

Stop investing in “stuff” and prioritize experiences. Recognize the difference between a “want” and a “need” before it’s too late.

4. Figure out your team.

It’s remarkable how many people come out of the woodwork and want something from you the second you’re drafted. Sure, it probably doesn’t happen to the 39th rounder, but you can bet that there are a lot of people out there looking to take advantage of the 18-year-old kid who became a millionaire overnight. Think long and hard about the people – parents, siblings, coaches, agents, friends, sports medicine professionals – you trust and how they each help you in unique ways. Once you’ve got your team in place, think long and hard any time you bring someone into that circle of trust. Too many cooks in the kitchen can quickly ruin the finished product if they aren’t agreeing on the recipe.

5. Be a better person next week, month, and year than you are today.

It takes hard work to become a draft pick. It takes even harder work to get to the big leagues and make a career out of it. Your work ethic should actually improve when you get to the next level as you’re challenged by better competition and you recognize how hard it is. Sadly, money can change that pursuit of excellence for a lot of players, as that paycheck comes with a lot of distractions. Aim to treat people even better and work even harder than you did before your occupation and bank account changed, especially because there will be more eyes watching you. Think back to the aforementioned team; which one of them will you count on to set you straight when you start straying from the habits that have made you successful in the first place? Tell them now that you expect that honesty from them.

6. Communicate with your families and significant other about what is ahead.

Several years ago, I had a great conversation with the wife of a retired MLB player. They were still happily married well after his career ended. I asked her what she thought the key was to marriages that lasted when it’s well established that a shockingly high percentage of professional baseball marriages end in divorce.

She told me that the secret – in her mind – was for the wife/girlfriend to either have “her own thing” or be “100% invested.” In other words, she had to be able to keep herself busy with her own education, occupation, or charity work. If she didn’t do that, she needed to be 100% invested in the baseball life by helping the player with everything from cooking healthy foods to managing a crazy travel lifestyle (this particular wife had actually learned massage therapy to help). What always failed was the wife or girlfriend who spent the majority of her life harassing the player about how he was at the park too early or late, or complaining that she was bored. I know it sounds harsh, but I’ve seen it over and over again – and I’m really just relating her words, not mine.

I think a big issue is that most players honestly have no idea how hard the professional baseball lifestyle is until they experience it. And, if players don’t understand it, how are players’ families and significant others supposed to understand what to expect and how to act?

Just imagine: you’re 18 years old and just told your girlfriend of four months that you love her because you’ve spent every single minute of the month of June with her. She’s in for a very rude awakening when the only time you can call her is at 2am in the middle a nine-hour bus ride in the Midwest League. And, chances are that you’d rather sleep than talk on the phone, anyway.

I’ll end this point with a story. This offseason, one of our most well-known MLB clients and I got on the topic of vacations. I was surprised to learn that he’s never been to Europe, as he could afford any vacation he’d like. His logic was straightforward: too much missed training time, and too much travel. He’ll get to it when he retires. What are you going to say when a two-week family vacation comes smack dab in the middle of your offseason training program? It’s better to have these conversations now than later.

7. Be an awesome teammate, and learn conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

In professional baseball, you’ll have teammates from all over the world. They’ll speak multiple languages and have all sorts of different tendencies. You’ll hate some of their music and find some of them to be terribly obnoxious. You’ll probably hate your manager, pitching, or hitting coach at some point, too. In many cases, all these frustrations will be magnified by a 14-game losing streak or the fact that everyone is sleep deprived after brutal travel circumstances. Maybe you’ll even be pissed off that your second baseman booted a ground ball behind you. If you pick fights with everyone, though, you’ll have a very short career unless your on-field performance is incredible. Nobody wants to play with or employ a jerk.

Steve Cishek is a long-term CSP athlete and close friend of mine. He’s played for three teams since his MLB debut seven years ago. Everywhere he goes, he creates raving fans because he’s such an awesome teammate and unconditionally positive person. Be like Steve; try to find the good in people instead of chasing down conflict.

To that end, a book I’d recommend on this front would be Legacy. There are some tremendous lessons on leadership and being an awesome teammate. Just read some of the replies to this Instagram post, if you don't believe me.

 

A little reading material for our collegiate baseball development program guys. #leadership #legacy #cspfamily

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

8. Be an advocate for yourself.

I know a 100mph+ arm who received close to $1 million in the draft a few years ago. Before he’d even thrown a professional pitch, a minor league pitching coach was trying to overhaul his delivery. He was 6-6 and more of an East-West delivery; they wanted to stand him up tall and bring his arm over the top. Those are massive changes – and it effectively ruined his first three years in pro ball. The results were subpar, and things spiraled out of control because he had 7-8 different pitching coaches all giving him different cues. This happened in part because he was a nice guy who never wanted to be perceived as uncoachable – so he got pulled in many different directions and wound up pleasing nobody, especially himself.

He finally walked in to the minor league pitching coordinator’s office, slammed the door behind him, and demanded to be left alone. He’s been a completely different pitcher ever since.

There will surely be coaches who can help you a ton, and others who will make your life much more challenging. It’s your job to nurture relationships with them so that you can have dialogue about what has and hasn’t worked for you, and how you can work together to get to where you want to be. The best coaches I know never tell players what to do; they facilitate discovery by the player and regularly solicit feedback. And, the best developmental organizations are very meticulous about making sure that clear and consistent messages and cues are related by the entire coaching staff. If you are hearing mixed messages from different people, speak up and get clarification; you will always be your own best coach.

9. Control what you can control.

If you’re a 27th round pick, it’s going to be harder to get to the big leagues than if you were a 1st round pick – even if you have identical numbers to that first rounder. It’s not fair, but it’s the truth. Moreover, regardless of when you’re drafted or how much you’re paid, you probably won’t get promoted as soon as you deserve it. A lot of politics outside your control govern those decisions.

The sooner you recognize that the only things you control are your actions and your attitude, the better. Some accountants get frustrated with their bosses, and some nurses don’t get the promotions they deserve – so you certainly aren’t alone.

10. Develop your coping mechanisms.

If you’re getting drafted, there’s a strong chance that you were one of the best players – if not the best – in the history of your town. Now you’re competing against a bunch of guys who were also the best players in their towns – and you’re adding the best international players. And, you’re going from all the hoopla of the draft directly into the obscurity of minor league baseball. Make no mistake about it: there will be fewer people at your Gulf Coast League back field games than you had at your high school games.

Moreover, it’s only a matter of time until you get your butt handed to you on the field. It might be a golden sombrero as a hitter or giving up seven runs in the first inning as a starting pitcher – but it will happen. And, as Mike Tyson has said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

What’s your plan? How do you cope with failure and make sure that it doesn’t impact your next performance?

I know some guys who read the Bible to “reset.” I know others who play video games. Some call their fathers or high school coaches. Some watch video and take notes on what they learned. Some keep journals. I even know some players that said it was easier to handle the “lows” when they came home to their kids, as opposed to when they didn’t have children.

The game will humble you quickly and test you with physical and psychological challenges that you’ve never considered. I can’t speak to what playing 200 games in 230 days is like, but I can tell you that every player I've met finds it exhausting. I can’t tell you what throwing 200 innings is like, but I’ve trained plenty of guys who’ve given me perspective on just how hard you have to work to be able to do it year-in and year-out. You don’t have to learn all those lessons immediately upon your arrival in pro ball, but the sooner you can start making good decisions, the higher your likelihood of success will be. Good luck!

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