Major Leaguers reminisce on Draft day experiences
Carl Crawford still occasionally hears the lament courtesy of Big Red loyalists from the heartland.
"Every time I run into a Nebraska fan," Crawford, the Dodgers' left fielder, said through a wide smile, "they tell me, 'How could you pass up on Nebraska football?' I tell them I had to make a decision -- and I'm happy with the one I made."
The 2014 First-Year Player Draft is coming up, and that always brings back memories to players -- where they were, the anxieties of family members, the anticipation of where they would go and how quickly their name would be called.
Crawford was a three-sport sensation at Houston's Jefferson Davis High School in the late 1990s. The Cornhuskers viewed him as a faster version of celebrated quarterback Tommie Frazier. A variety of big-time hoops programs coveted Crawford as a swing guard who could handle the ball and score.
Seeing the potential Crawford brought to his third sport, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made him the first choice in the second round of the 1999 Draft.
Fifty-one players -- including Josh Hamilton (taken No. 1 overall by the Devil Rays), Josh Beckett and Barry Zito -- went ahead of the raw athlete with the blinding speed. None has put together a higher career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than Crawford's 38.2, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
"I remember having my family over in my one-bedroom apartment the day of the Draft," Crawford said. "I was like, 'Man, when is my name going to be called?' I had the scholarship to Nebraska, signed the letter of intent, and they were comparing me to Tommie Frazier. And I had basketball offers to consider, too.
"Once I knew Tampa wanted me, it didn't take long at all to sign -- three days. I never played a full season of high school baseball, but I thought I could make it. And they showed me the money."
Crawford took it and ran, swifter than anyone in the game in his prime. A four-time All-Star for Tampa Bay, Crawford won the Most Valuable Player Award at the 2009 Midsummer Classic. After leading the American League four times in steals and triples in nine seasons with the Rays, he signed a free-agent megadeal with the Red Sox. Crawford has drawn $86.5 million in baseball salary, with $62.25 million remaining.
Just saying "no" to the Big Red Machine in Nebraska was the best decision he ever made.
"The [artificial] turf beat me up," Crawford said, alluding to his Rays days, "but it's nothing like the beating you take in football."
Like Crawford, Eric Hosmer had a big family gathering in his South Florida residence on the day of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. It promised to be a festive occasion, and it was.
Hosmer had a pretty good idea he'd go quickly, but it wasn't until the television in his kitchen revealed the news that he learned -- second hand, by seconds -- that he was Kansas City bound, the third player taken overall.
"We had two TVs -- one in the kitchen, the other in the living room," Hosmer recalled. "The kitchen TV wasn't HD, so it was getting reception like five seconds quicker. I was in the living room when I heard all the noise in the kitchen. We didn't know what was going on. It was pretty funny."
Hosmer, having heard several names linked to the Rays, picking first, and that the Pirates were focused on Pedro Alvarez, figured the Royals were a possible destination. When the news arrived, the high school first baseman from Plantation, Fla., was thrilled -- and so were his parents.
"All the family was there, huddled around the TV in the living room," Hosmer said. "Once it was announced, Mom and Dad were so happy. It was a crazy moment -- especially with everybody in the kitchen getting it first.
"I knew [Kansas City] was an option. I heard it was between me and a couple of other guys. It couldn't have worked out any better. I met some of my best friends in Minor League baseball, some who haven't made it to the big leagues yet. It's been great, playing with all these guys and building something here."
The best player to emerge from that 2008 group was the fifth overall selection. A two-time World Series champion and the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, Buster Posey is the pride of the Giants, not to mention Leesburg, Ga., and Florida State University.
Employed by the Dodgers in a scouting role for a decade, John Barr had come to San Francisco to serve as special assistant in charge of scouting to Giants general manager Brian Sabean. While working for the rivals down south, Barr had followed Posey since his high school days in Leesburg. Barr marveled at the whole package: the physical skills, the attitude, the quiet confidence.
"I'd spent a lot of time with Buster and thought the world of him," Barr said. "I had the opportunity not only to see his ability and talent but to get insight into his makeup and personality. He was the top guy on our board, the guy we really wanted to have.
"When I was with the Dodgers in 2007, going into his junior year at Florida State, I told him that if there was any way, we'd get him. Now it's a year later, I'm just starting out with the Giants, and I had this feeling it was meant to be. I even told Buster before the Draft that this might be the way it's supposed to happen."
Barr's prayers were answered when Tampa Bay chose Tim Beckham, a Georgia high school athlete, Pittsburgh opted for Alvarez, Kansas City took Hosmer, and Baltimore selected southpaw Brian Matusz.
As exciting as the Posey Draft coup was in the Giants' camp, another big break was coming three rounds later.
Barr and Giants area scout Mike Kendall, brother of former catcher Jason Kendall, were intrigued by Brandon Crawford, a shortstop at UCLA whose stock had fallen.
Twelve shortstops had been taken when San Francisco made Crawford selection No. 117 overall, in the fourth round. Seven of the 12 have made it to the Major Leagues. Only the Nationals' Danny Espinosa and Gordon Beckham of the White Sox have made impacts -- primarily as second basemen.
"I wanted to go higher and was expecting to go higher," said Crawford, a huge Giants fan growing up in the Bay Area. "So it's satisfying to be here, in the big leagues. If I had gone earlier, somewhere else, I wouldn't have ended up with the Giants. So it happened for a reason. This is where I was supposed to be.
"Buster and I signed a day apart, then played [in the Minors] together. He's one of my better friends on the team. It worked out well for all of us."
Only four players taken ahead of Brandon Crawford in 2008 -- Posey, Brett Lawrie, Beckham and Craig Kimbrel -- have higher a career WAR figure than his 6.4.
If your favorite team drafts a Crawford next month, you might want to celebrate. These guys have a history of playing beyond all expectations.