M’s outfielder Jarrod Dyson summed it up best: “Keep your ears open and mouth shut. ... Go there willing to work, and you’ll be just fine.”
ARLINGTON, Texas — It’s that time of year where students across the country graduate from high school and college and begin the next chapter in their lives.
For roughly 35 of the 40 players taken by the Mariners in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, their first job in professional baseball awaits.
Unlike at commencement ceremonies, there is no speaker to offer insight and advice to these players as they embark on a journey that they have worked toward for much of their short lives.
So why not ask some people in the big leagues — the place where all of these players want to reach — for some advice in their endeavor?
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It’s not quite the eloquence or poetry of Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich’s hypothetical commencement speech column: “Advice, like youth, is probably just wasted on the young,” written in 1997 and best known as “Everybody’s free to wear Sunscreen” thanks to a spoken-word production by filmmaker Baz Lurhmann. It doesn’t have the resonance of Steve Jobs’ words to Stanford University in 2005.
But for players aspiring to the major leagues, it’s usable advice.
Manager Scott Servais was drafted twice. He was takend in the second round of the 1985 draft out of Westby High School in Wisconsin by the Mets. He opted not to sign and honored his college commitment to Creighton. Three years later, he was a third-round pick by the Astros.
Beyond his playing days, he also worked on the scouting and player-development side with the Rangers and Angels. And now, as a big- league manager, he’s helping shape the philosophy of the organization.
“It changes your life,” he said. “Being on the other side of scouting, often times the goal becomes to get drafted, I think, because of the money and the signing bonuses have changed so much. Everybody puts all their stock into draft day.
“It’s about getting to the big leagues. I think that’s been lost a little bit. I think along the way, certain players, and not just players, but families, have lost perspective because the money has gotten so big. It changes kids’ lives and their families’ lives.”
In the era of select teams and showcases, families spend a lot of money for that moment. But Servais was adamant that the goal of professional baseball is the highest level.
“The goal is to get to the big leagues and be part of a winning situation in the big leagues,” he said. “I saw it a lot in doing my previous jobs. It was: ‘OK, I signed, now I have to do this every day? We have to come here every day and play?’ You have to know what you are signing up for, especially with the young kids, the high-school kids. The college kids have a little bit better understanding.”
His advice: “It’s the start. It’s not the end. Too many people look at it as the end like they accomplished something. You’ve gotten an opportunity; that’s what you’ve accomplished. You’ve accomplished the right to go out and play pro ball.”
Mike Zunino falls into the players that received a lot of money. He was the No. 3 pick of the 2012 draft and signed for $4 million. A tireless worker and the son of a big-league scout, he had an established pedigree and was an All-American at Florida. Admittedly, he became too receptive to every piece of advice given to him. It left him with a swing and an approach that was so over-tinkered with that he couldn’t get back.
“Trust in what got you there,” he said. “You get into pro ball and you get exposed to a lot of new things and different ways of thinking baseball and different ways that guys play. Just stick with what got you there. Be yourself and enjoy the ride.”
Even after three years in the structure of college ball, the change to the pro life was different for Zunino.
“It’s such a new world,” he said. “You have the freedom to do what you want. You have to find your own routine, and you have to find yourself in it. It’s a life-changing opportunity.”
Jarrod Dyson was the opposite. He was a 50th-round pick by the Royals out of Southwest Mississippi Community College in 2006. How much of a longshot was he? The MLB draft now stops after 40 rounds.
“You have to play with a chip on your shoulder,” Dyson said of being a low pick. “It’s what I always did and still do.”
Dyson had advice for high draft picks too.
“If you’re a high-round draft pick, come in and respect your teammates and respect the guys that were there before you,” he said. “You want to give a good impression. You don’t want to look like you are everything just cause you were drafted in the high rounds.”
Nick Vincent was somewhere in the middle as an 18th-round pick out of Long Beach State. He tried to stand out to coaches; don’t try to do that.
“Just go out there and keep your mouth shut,” he said. “Show them your skills and don’t let your mouth get you in trouble. Once you start opening your mouth and saying stuff, people will start judging you on what you say and not what you do. They’ll see what you’re doing. You don’t need to tell them.”
He also had advice for a player’s life that first year.
“You’ll be eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly and baloney and cheese sandwiches for the first year or two,” he said. “And you’ll learn to live out of a suitcase for a half a year.”
In summary, Dyson had the key line:
“Keep your ears open and mouth shut. That first year you are in a learning situation. Be on time, that’s for sure. Go there willing to work, and you’ll be just fine.”