When talking about the college draft, a few terms become tossed around. Slot-level and buying a player out of his college commitment are two. One of the major ones is the term “senior sign.” While it isn’t used as a slur, it similarly isn’t often used as a compliment. Teams have six or seven affiliate rosters to fill out, and adding a college senior is an inexpensive way to plug in a player. 2018 World Series Most Valuable Player Steve Pearce was a senior sign. Sunday night, he hit two home runs, and won a trophy and a truck.
When a player is selected as a senior sign, it doesn’t mean he’s unwanted or unusable. A player just out of high school, or as a college junior, has leverage. As such, the professional organization needs to compete to sign him. The player with leverage can usually return to school (junior) or honor a college commitment (out of the prep ranks). As a college senior, the other options aren’t.
He can either take the deal of the team offering, or turn to the independent ball ranks. Or, get about his post-baseball life. The pay in indy ball is no better than the pittance offered by a MLB franchise. In many cases, the player will take the pittance offered, and attempt to infiltrate the upper-rungs of the minors. Pearce’s signing bonus in 2005 was $40,000, which is really good for a college senior.
In his two Division 1 seasons, he hit 21 homers. Both times. Despite that, nobody prioritized him as a draft selection, even though he was slugging his way through the elite Southeastern Conference (South Carolina). Part of the reason was that he was considered a first baseman with a slight chance at a corner outfield spot. Another drawback was that the college bats back then were drivers, as compared to the three-irons used today. Seeing a 21-homer season with an OPS over 1.070 was less notable then.
A 2005 draft selection (after being drafted and not signed by the Red Sox in 2004), Pearce reached MLB per diem by 2007, and has 90 regular-season homers since. He fit snugly into the Red Sox lineup after a mid-season trade from the Blue Jays in June for Santiago Espinal, who has now more than lived up to his signing bonus.
The college baseball landscape is currently filled with players who could potentially end up as useful as pros as Pearce seemed in college. It’s about wanting to have a college team to follow. For some, that’s a road too far. As one of the Twitter discussions last night progressed, baseball fans aren’t necessarily baseball fans anymore. Many baseball fans will watch every game involving their team, but few others. A possible asterisk would be if your team is out, but you like another team still playing.
Yes, the hardcores were likely watching last night. The fringe fans, as indicated by television numbers, were doing other things. Why wouldn’t a baseball fan be interested enough in the World Series to follow it? That’s a different article, I suppose. There are benefits, though, for having a baseball team you care about other than the major league Chicago Cubs.
When you have another squad you pay attention to, you get to be happy for players who take a different path to success. Pearce’s is a story of ”doing what you do, and doing it well.” While I’m not a Red Sox fan, I’m glad a player like Pearce got his moment in the sun. He earned it. Not all players that spin this baseball mechanism we follow are early draft selections. Not all were heavily sought in the selection process. I’m sure a few regulars down in Columbia, South Carolina have a few fun stories about Pearce.
Aside from wins and losses, baseball is about stories. The game is about perseverance. About players fighting through obstacles. Pearce pulled that off this week, and it can’t be taken away, now. Baseball’s is a large enough landscape to appreciate another team. Following a college team isn’t all that conflicting to following a big league club. Especially since box scores and articles can summarize game action reasonably well. If you follow a college team that’s good enough, you have a few shots at a Pearce-like story every season. Which gives you a better reason to follow a World Series that (unfortunately) didn’t involve the Cubs.