I woke up this morning with a weird thought in my head. Somehow, I found myself lying awake, mulling over whether it is better for a player to sign a professional contract straight out of high school or, as Billy Beane prefers, to go to college and develop your skills there to be better prepared for life in the minors — on the way, obviously, to the majors.
Certainly, you can’t just compare two random players, but suppose you had two somewhat similar ones from the same area who were the same age? Clearly this isn’t a scientific study; it’s merely a look at two former high school stars on the Jersey Shore who have had decidedly different paths since they graduated. I covered a high-school all-star game in which these two played. One, Charlie Frazier, went off and signed with the Marlins to begin his professional career. The other, Val Majewski, attended Rutgers before the Baltimore Orioles drafted him three years later.
Since that all-star game in 1999, Frazier, a sixth-round pick, has bounced around the Marlins’ system:
1999 Gulf Coast League Marlins
2000 GCL/Short-season Utica
2002 Class A Kane County/High-A Jupiter
2004 Class AA Carolina/Jupiter
Majewski didn’t have the same hype coming out of high school, so he signed with Fred Hill’s program in Piscataway. His college career boosted his profile, and in 2002 he was a third-round Orioles pick. As a result, he’s been on a faster track:
2002 Short-season Aberdeen/Class A Delmarva
Coast League/Aberdeen/High-A Frederick
2004 Class AA Bowie/Baltimore
Injuries in 2003 led to a one-game rehab stint down in the GCL and four games at Aberdeen, but he finished the year strong, batting .289 at Frederick. This past season, he made the jump to double-A, was named to both the Eastern League all-star game and the Futures Game in Houston, and finished the season as a September callup in Baltimore.
As for makeup, Frazier is a 6-3, 185-pound right-handed (throwing and hitting) outfielder who will turn 25 in July. He’s one of three talented boys in the family: Jeff was a power-hitting outfielder at Rutgers until being drafted by the Tigers last June, and Todd was the hero of Toms River, New Jersey’s, recent Little League World Series champions. He was drafted by the Rockies last year but could follow in Jeff’s footsteps at Rutgers.
Majewski is a 6-2, 200-pound left-handed outfielder who will be 24 in June.
A look at their minor league numbers, however, gives some indication as to why Majewski’s path to the majors, though seemingly delayed by a college career, was shorter. (I apologize for the lack of a table showing their stats in the standard format, but my HTML skills aren’t advanced enough to make that happen.) In 206 fewer games and 653 fewer at bats, Majewski has a .300 average to Frazier’s .244. He’s slugged .504 to Frazier’s .324 and gotten on base at a .358 clip to Frazier’s .333.
Majewski’s power is what stands out. In his 946 minor-league at bats, he has 29 home runs, 15 of which came in his 433 at bats last year at Bowie. Frazier has just 14 home runs, half of which came last season at Carolina (1) and Jupiter (6). His highest RBI total, 41 in 2002 at Kane County (38) and Jupiter (3) falls way short of Majewski’s 71 in 2003 (48 at Delmarva, 3 at Aberdeen, 20 at Frederick) or 80 last year at Bowie. In the category of doubles, a number often looked at as an indicator of gap power that, somewhere down the line could become home-run power, Majewski has the same number, 66, in less time. Frazier has more speed (125 steals, with a high of 48 in 2002, to 33), but Majewski’s been more efficient (a 78 percent success rate in 42 attempts to Frazier’s 74 percent in 169). But Majewski’s 20-10 lead in triples shows that he can turn those corners — and indicates his advantage in the power department.
But what really sets the two apart is their strikeout-to-walk ratios. Majewski has 128 strikeouts to 84 walks and an average of one strikeout every 8.2 plate appearances. Frazier has 422 strikeouts to 191 walks and an average of a whiff every 4.4 trips to the dish.
As I said, these are just two players out of the thousands who get to make this decision in their lives. Each slugger or flamethrower has his reasons for taking the path he does, whether the choice of signing immediately is a desire to make the money now or a need to help out his family; or if the college education and experience is deemed the way to go.
From a higher level of competition to the abundance of summer leagues (that use wood bats), there’s a strong argument to be made that those college seasons help make projecting a future major leaguer a bit easier.