Every year in June, there are thousands of players full of passion and love for the game of baseball who want to play Major League Baseball. The big question for elite high school baseball players is should I stay or should I go? Should players try to play pro ball right out of high school or should they continue their education? Players who decide to enter the MLB draft after spending three years in college – the minimum length of time required by the MLB for those who play baseball in college – are permitted to hire an advisor and move forward with trying to play for the league. The advisor may assist the student with the decision-making process, but cannot act as the student’s agent. (http://www.ncaa.org/about/deciding-whether-go-pro).
LRT Sports spoke with Brenan Hanifee, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2016, on the debate. He was a graduate of Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Virginia.
LRT Sports: What does life as a professional baseball player look like? Do you enjoy it so far?
Hanifee: It gets monotonous and challenges you physically and mentally as a player. There are plenty of late nights along with extended bus trips, average meals, and many hotel rooms. For me, I love the challenges that the lifestyle brings and also the relationships you build along the way.
LRT Sports: Was the transition hard for you in the first year coming from high school straight to the professional league?
Hanifee: Being drafted out of high school was a relatively smooth transition, but it certainly brought some nerves. I had never lived on my own before, but I give all the credit to my parents for how I was raised and what I was exposed to as a kid. It helped me fit in more easily than most. From a baseball standpoint, it was much more difficult. You’re facing bigger, stronger, faster hitters on a nightly basis and it really opens your eyes to how good these guys are but also motivates you to be better.
LRT Sports: Was money (or a signing bonus) one of the factors affecting your decision between playing professionally and going to college?
Hanifee: Money had a significant impact on my decision coming out of high school, even though playing professional baseball has always been a goal of mine. You hate to see monetary value put on players, but that is part of the game. I had a great opportunity at East Carolina University (ECU) to play for one of the top 25 programs in the country, and it was going to take a certain amount to keep me from there.
LRT Sports: What was the decision-making process like to discuss with your family? Were they supportive of your decision?
Hanifee: The decision process was a long, stressful one that involved many former players and guys with knowledge of pro ball. My parents were very supportive and left most of the decision making up to me.
LRT Sports: Are you thinking of going back to college later in the future?
Hanifee: Hopefully, I don’t need to go back to college in the future. Ideally, I’d like to make a living out of this game. However, college is paid for by the team if I ever want to go, and that is one great benefit provided.
LRT Sports: Looking back at the point when you were making the decision, would you have done it differently?
Hanifee: Absolutely not, I don’t regret my decision one bit. This life fits me very well, and I love being around the game every day.
LRT Sports: Could you share a piece of advice for young athletes who want to become a professional player either after high school or college?
Hanifee: My advice for young players is don’t specialize in one sport. Play multiple sports and become the best athlete you can be. There is so much that can be learned and applied to baseball that comes from competing in different sports.
LRT Sports also spoke with two NCAA baseball players to get their opinion on this topic.
Troy Hodge and Spencer Laitinen both played for the Eastern Mennonite University baseball team. Hodge’s last year of college ball was in 2018. If he had the choice, would he pick professional ball or college? “Professional,” he quickly replied. Hodge added, “Injuries happen very often in baseball. Once injuries happen, players are usually done with the sport, or it is hard for them to get back to the peak. You can always go back to college for an education, so if you have the opportunity to go pro and the draft pick is within the first seven rounds, you should do it!”
Laitinen graduated in December 2019. Laitinen talked about injuries and how it can affect playing at the next level. “Injuries are a big deal in baseball,” Laitinen said. “Many players end up not making it due to the injuries.” He also talked about the physicality. “The players drafted in the top seven-round tend to be very close to becoming a professional player in terms of their body strength and development. At that point, the training provided in college is not necessary for them.” Money was another issue Laitinen brought up. He mentioned that if the bonus you received was more significant than the scholarships, then you should take the deal and use the opportunity to go out and explore the world.
Nowadays, there are many benefits provided by professional teams to draftees that are coming out of high school. Like Hanifee stated, you can choose to go back to college for free if you want because it can be covered in your contract. With that said, there does not seem to be any downfalls of playing pro ball once out of high school. Take the time to evaluate options and make a wise decision.