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To Sign Or To Learn

By the time the twelfth round of the baseball draft rolls around, there usually is not much intrigue left. The casual fan moved on after five or six rounds, and the only ones that are still watching the draft boards closely are the die-hard fans, the scribes and bloggers, and all the high school and college players still waiting for their name to be called. Yet many in Cardinal Nation can name the twelfth round choice like they are already reading the back of his baseball card:

Austin Wilson: twelfth round, Harvard Westlake, outfield, 6-foot-4, 227 lbs.

When I was doing research on the draft over at Cardinal Diamond Diaries, it surprised me how much information I could find about the high school senior. At the time I noted the following:

We actually know more about this kid than any other in the draft. He was ranked 27th overall by Baseball America, but he’s committed to Stanford, which is why he fell 350 places below his projected value. He has got raw power and looks to be a very good outfielder. He also has all the little intangibles – you know, work ethic, drive, character – that make him a very desirable guy to have in your system.

People loved the move. The Cardinals had drafted a first round-worthy player in round twelve. That just does not happen very often. It seemed ridiculously unlikely that the Cardinals would have a chance of signing the kid. His pedigree is amazing: parents attended MIT, strong value on education, and he has a free ride to Stanford himself. When he was drafted, Future Redbirds noted that it was not about the money. Whether or not he signed a contract to join the St. Louis farm system would depend first and foremost on his education. Would he go to Stanford or play pro baseball?

As a teacher, I should tell you that I want this obviously bright young man to go to college. A Stanford education is without question something that many desire and few actually acquire. I feel like I would lose my teaching certificate if I did not say that without a shadow of a doubt Austin should go to college. He would go to school, get a top-notch education, and then re-enter the draft, knowledge in hand. He then holds a plan for his future that extends beyond the life-span of your average baseball player.

For those of you that don’t know, Allen Craig has just earned his own college degree from the University of California-Berkeley. For the past year he has been just one class short of graduating, but then (per this article in the Post-Dispatch) Craig spent his free time in spring training studying up on his Spanish. He scheduled his test in St. Louis, then had to scramble to find a way to take the test in Memphis after getting demoted back to AAA. After an assist from a University of Memphis proctor, Craig got in, took his test, and is now a college graduate.

That impresses me. I wish that every college athlete that leaves school early to go pro would still care enough to get their degree. There are not many stories out there like Craig’s. For NFL players that have to be in college for two years before turning pro, at least I can take solace that they are finding some higher education, despite the fact that many of these players are not necessarily held to the same standards as you and I would be. I am not standing up here and saying college is the only way to go. I am saying that few people are able to be employed by professional teams for the entirety of their careers.

The fan in me wants the Cardinals to do everything they can to sign Austin, even if it does involve that proverbial kitchen sink. He wants to be a major league ballplayer. He knows he has the skills, going so far as to call himself the five tool player. He knows that people will question his decision, some asking how on earth he could pass up Stanford, and the rest wanting to know how he could walk away from guaranteed millions and the chance to go pro at such a young age.

Cardinals VP of scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow admitted on draft day that signing the prep star would be difficult, and that it was a shot in the dark. But negotiations have not closed off between the team and Wilson’s family. In fact, the family made the trek to St. Louis very recently to basically go on what I can only call a recruiting trip. He was impressive to everyone that watched him; from manager Tony LaRussa, who marveled at his already refined skills with a wooden bat, to general manager John Mozeliak, who is pleased that he and the team have been able to form some rapport with the Wilson family.

Honestly, I have no idea where I stand. The two parts of me have been torn for weeks trying to decide whether or not I want Austin Wilson to be the player many feel like he could be in a Cardinal uniform, starting immediately. There are so many unknowns. No great pick is a sure thing. No one knows what injury could befall him in college or in the minors that would derail a possibly brilliant career. In the end I suppose I have to point to the fact that a college degree is a sure thing and that there is a life waiting for him after baseball. But at the same time, millions of dollars and the chance to be the next big thing are also a big possibility.

How about I just end with this: I do not envy his decision. Good luck, Austin, in whichever path you choose.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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8 Responses to “To Sign Or To Learn”

  1. Erika says:

    Selfishly I really hope he signs! Sounds like he has amazing talent!

  2. He is! He even has a leg up on most draft picks in that he already enjoys hitting with a wooden bat. That’s half the battle for some kids in the minors – adjusting to wood bats from their metal bats they’ve been using.

    • Justin Hulsey says:

      I used to scout high school baseball players and most of them use wooden bats nowadays. Which is great. Not only does it get the elite players ready for the big leagues, it is so much safer.

      Austin Wilson is most definitely a first round-type of talent. From what I have read, he has ALL of the tools. The Cardinals may sign him instead of their first rounder, Zack Cox.

      Here is a fantastic piece about Wilson by Rob Rains.
      http://www.globe-democrat.com/news/2010/jun/08/rains-cardinals-should-sign-austin-wilson-no-matte/

      • Thank you for posting that article, Justin! I read it around draft time but couldn’t track it down during my research for this article.

        I liked his point about still going to Stanford on the side, but it would not be as easy as people like to pretend it would. College athletes miss a ton of classes for games, tournaments and travel. Being a long distance, online student makes it even more tough, and would surely drag out his college career for a very long time.

        It’s a nice thought, but I do not think he would want to do both.

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