With roughly 15,000 high school baseball programs around the U.S. and over 400,000 players, only two percent of the best talent in any given hometown get the opportunity to continue their playing career at a Division I college.
From there, those gifted enough to have a college career – whether at a junior college or NAIA school – will have another two percent chance of getting drafted as only 1,200 of the upper echelon players get selected in the MLB Draft.
And for every prospects selected with hopes of making an impact for his big league club, only a fraction of that are lucky enough to have “a cup of coffee.”
It’s hard becoming a big leaguer.
No one knows this better than Boston Red Sox star J.D. Martinez.
After attending a Division II school not far from his high school in Southern Florida, he waited until the 20th round to be selected in 2009 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, an organization that would later cut him after parts of three seasons in the majors.
If much of that story sounds familiar, that’s exactly what Rico Garcia had to endure in order to continue his playing career after high school graduation. After attending DII school Hawaii Pacific University, Garcia didn’t receive his phone call about being drafted until the 30th round.
“It’s tough, definitely had to prove himself, which I think he has,” Martinez said of Garcia’s journey to the big leagues. “It’s definitely not an easy road. It’s one of those things where you’re not a prospect, and you gotta make yourself a prospect really in the organization’s eyes.”
While not all first-round picks make it to the show – 32 of the 41 players taken in Garcia’s 2016 draft class have yet to make an appearance – they are blessed with abilities that late-round selections don’t have quite so naturally.
But the overlooked prospect has one advantage at all times: a massive chip on his shoulder.
“Yeah, I think it’s easier,” Martinez admitted of being largely ignored through his early development. “It’s a lot easier to play with that chip when you have a lot of people that are doubting you, and you have a lot of fuel. You know, it’s a little different than guys that are in the first couple rounds and they’re expected to do good. And if they do good, it’s what they’re supposed to do. So, it’s different.”
With the pressure of professional sports having assorted impacts on different players, the presence of self-doubt can have the most varying effects, especially when value, faith and appreciation are something coaches and teammates – not to mention scouts – have not historically displayed in you.
“Yeah, I mean there’s definitely times when teammates can have a lot of impact on you. There’s times where teammates don’t look at you like a prospect. They look at you, you know, when you’re first starting off…’So what round were you drafted in?’ ‘I was drafted in whatever round.’ ‘Oh, okay.’ So they’re not really worried about you or don’t think you have a chance and stuff like that. And you know, there’s other ways too where you’ll be down and there’s teammates to pick you up,” Martinez explained.
For Garcia, that judgement from teammates has always been ever-present, even going back to his days as a teenager at Saint Louis School, a prep school in Honolulu, HI.
“When you look at me, you don’t see your typical Major League Baseball player,” shared the 5’11” pitcher who’s filled out to 190 lbs in his fourth year as a pro. “So, just trying to play the same level, regardless of my height and size. For me it’s always been about the heart and the effort you put into everything.”
Someday, Garcia hopes to have completed the career trajectory of Martinez by becoming a multi-time All-Star making over $100MM. Though the 32-year-old Red Sox star has established himself as one of the best hitters in the game, it wasn’t all too long ago that the chip on his shoulder finally disappeared.
“I don’t know, I think a couple years after Detroit, after I proved myself a bit,” said the 2015 All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner, just two years after being released by the Astros. “Now there’s expectations, different pressure. It’s always different pressure. The pressure changes to what you can’t do to what you should do and then what are you not doing, type of deal.”
Manager Bud Black loves seeing players making the leap – however many years it takes – from obscurity to the majors.
“Great stories. It just goes to show you, you don’t have to be a high pick. Once you get into pro ball, if you perform, you have a chance. These are great stories.”
Come September 1, when rosters expand, Colorado may lay witness to a few more magical tales of triumph over adversity.