Unlike NBA rookies selected out of high school — players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard — baseball players drafted in the first round face a long journey to realize their dream of playing in the majors.
Four Oklahoma pitchers have been drafted out of high school in the first round in the past two years. Three selected last year are in Class A, three steps shy of the majors. The other, selected last month, hasn't thrown a pitch in pro baseball.
Several former first-round picks talked with The Oklahoman about the challenges of grinding through the minors year after year.
Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas was the second player selected in the 2007 draft. Four years later, he reached the majors.
“The first thing is you have to get used to playing every day for six or seven months,” Moustakas said. “You go from being 18, living at home, to living in a town you maybe never even heard of, living in hotels. It's growing up.”
High school pitchers like the Oklahoma foursome — Dylan Bundy (Orioles), Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks), Michael Fulmer (Mets) and Ty Hensley (Yankees) — are the greatest risk-reward dynamic in all of sport.
Over two decades — from 1981 through 2000 — major league teams selected 102 high school pitchers in the first round, not including supplemental first-round picks like Fulmer.
Only 15 percent of those 102 pitchers won 20 or more games during their careers for the team that drafted them.
Forty-three percent (44 pitchers) never reached the majors.
Bundy, an Owasso native who is considered to be one of the top high school pitchers drafted in the past decade, was chosen by the Orioles with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft. White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd also was the fourth overall pick 11 years ago.
“One big key is how you handle adversity, because in baseball it's inevitable,” Floyd said. “I knew I had the talent. But there are mental challenges. That's one of the biggest hurdles you face, whether you can handle adversity.”
Bundy has faced little adversity so far. He was so dominant at low-A Delmarva the Orioles promoted him after he didn't allow an earned run in 30 innings.
At Frederick, the Orioles' high-A club, Bundy is 4-3 with a 2.98 ERA. There's talk he might get a few Double-A starts.
“Sometimes when I struggled, it was because I was one of the youngest guys in the league,” said White Sox left-hander John Danks. “You don't think about that on the mound. You're just trying to get that guy out. But it's a challenge if you face guys that played in college.”
And forget about the draft.
“Once you start playing, where you were drafted doesn't matter,” Floyd said. “Guys taken a lot lower can play. Each level is different. In A (ball) guys have raw talent and usually are more aggressive. In Double-A and Triple-A, players are more refined. It's better baseball. You have to adjust.”
But pitchers can also over adjust. When a pitcher gets hit around, Danks said it's difficult not to fall into the trap of trying to make the perfect pitch every pitch.
“You can give hitters too much credit, something I still get caught up in,” Danks said. “Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do. The key is to stay aggressive, try not to hurt yourself with walks and everything else usually takes care of itself.”
Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer was the third overall pick in 2008. He reached the majors in three years, the fast track for a high school player. But he has struggled in his second season in the majors, hitting under .240 after a solid rookie season.
“A lot of people say the mental part is the biggest key,” Hosmer said. “Guys that have success can put an 0-for-4 in his back pocket. Or a pitcher that has a couple of bad starts can put them in his back pocket. The strongest guys mentally are the ones that make it.
“Everyone is different. One thing that helped me was to find a core group of buddies, all with the same goal. Not everyone is going to make it. But if you stick with it, you can get comfortable at each level. If you do that, you have a shot to get to the big leagues.”