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College Or Pros, What Pays For Young Baseball Players?

Nov 5, 2007
If your son is a professional baseball prospect, you might want to know what makes more sense for him: continue playing at the collegiate level, or turn pro right away. The price where it pays to go pro might surprise you.

Of the four major U.S. sports, only baseball and basketball draft high school and college players together. However, the basketball draft lasts only two rounds and includes players from overseas professional leagues, while baseball provides far more opportunities. The Amateur Baseball Draft lasts ten rounds and includes only high school and college players.

While baseball offers immediate professional opportunities to high school graduates, a minor leaguer ballplayer usually needs three or four years of seasoning to be ready for the major league roster. A player who signs a contract in 2007 and immediately reported to a Rookie League or Class A team should be on the major league roster on or before the 2010 season.

First year salaries for a minor league ballplayer range from $850 a month for the first contract season to $2,150 when the player reaches Triple-A, one level below the major leagues. Given the low salaries, the decision to skip college has to depend on the player's signing bonus and the quality of the college programs that are offering scholarships. It might not pay for a ballplayer to pass on a top college program if the academics are strong enough to help them with life after baseball.

What is a good guideline for a signing bonus for a high school baseball player?

My rule of thumb is that the signing bonus should equal or exceed the projected cost of four years of college plus the major league minimum salary. This assumes the player would remain in college through his senior year--although it is common for baseball players to drop out without completing their degree. At worst, if the player does not make the major leagues, he should have the opportunity to save enough money to pay for college while he toils in the minors.

Following this rule of thumb, a high school player would need to receive a minimum signing bonus of $600,000.

The $600,000 minimum is based on:

* The combined costs: tuition, fees, room and board and essentials at a top private university and traditional baseball powerhouses such as Stanford, the University of Miami, or the University of Southern California approached $45,000. It is quite likely that these costs will approach, if not surpass, $200,000 to complete a bachelor's degree.

* A 2010 major league minimum salary of $400,000, as stipulated in the most recent agreement between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners of the all 30 Major League Baseball teams. The 2011 league minimum is not known at this time; it is tied to a future cost of living increase.

How many players chosen in the 2006 Amateur Draft earned the recommended minimum signing bonus of $600,000?

Only the top 60 players received a signing bonus of $600,000 or more. Only 27 were high school players, the rest were college prospects.

What about the ballplayer who has finished some of his college education or completed his degree?

A college player's signing bonus should, as a minimum, cover the remaining costs of his college education, plus the wages he might have earned by using his degree, but not playing baseball.

The player with a community college degree has already invested in his education; he can use his community college degree to find work, continue his education at a four-year college, or turn pro. The community college graduate might need as much as $100,000 to complete a four-year degree at a private college. His entry-level salary, after completing his bachelor's degree, might range from $35,000 to $55,000 depending on grades and course of study, and, this player might still need three to four years of seasoning in the minor leagues.

This player would need a signing bonus in excess of $180,000, but he has a chance of getting a larger bonus if he stays in school and performs well the next season.

The scholarship player who completed his degree can play ball, or use his education to do something else. Like other prospects, he may need some seasoning in the minors--and his salary after three or four years of non-baseball employment could approach, maybe exceed $50,000, almost the same as tuition and expenses for college. His bonus should also be in excess of $180,000.

How many college draftees earned the recommended minimum signing bonus of $180,000?

There were 150 prospects who received a signing bonus of $180,000, or more, with the lowest ranked player selected at the top of the fifth round of the draft.

What is the major tradeoff?

The top high school baseball prospect must consider the risk of postponing college against his chances of making a major league roster within four years. It is quite difficult for a professional baseball player to attend college in the off-season because of travel and seasons that overlap into the fall and spring semesters. Top prospects are also encouraged to play winter ball; that also overlaps into study time.

However, the number of high school players who can command the big bonuses that make it pay to go pro is an elite few--and that number fluctuates from year to year because it is based on the annual level of talent in the pool of draft-eligible players.

The top college prospect must consider the opportunities to complete his education and increase his signing bonus after each season of amateur competition. The college prospect will have a degree, but he will be off to a later start in his professional career, especially if he needs seasoning in the minor leagues. However, the college graduate has more options for life after baseball.

Unless the player becomes an established major league star, it would be better for him to build a post-baseball life off a college degree than return home to lament glory days.
About the Author
Stuart Nachbar has been involved with education politics, policy and technology as a student, urban planner, government affairs manager, software executive, and now as author of The Sex Ed Chronicles. Visit his blog, Educated Quest.
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