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Derek Redd: Signing decisions not exact science for baseball prospects

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the days before the 2013 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, Marshall pitcher Aaron Blair said he was "95 percent sure" that he would sign with whomever picked him.

Here are a couple of numbers that should seal the deal.

The guy in his exact spot - picked 36th overall - last year was Stanford's Stephen Piscotty. He signed a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals that included a $1.4 million signing bonus. The assigned value for this year's 36th pick is $1,547,700. Any signing bonus in that wheelhouse should make Blair a happy - and wealthy - man.

But there was a reason he left that wiggle room. The MLB Draft is the most volatile of the major sports. Guys who are clearly the best prospects in the draft could slide down the draft board for myriad reasons, mainly because, unlike the NFL and NBA drafts, a player often has the choice to come back to school.

A high schooler who doesn't like his draft spot can go to college. A junior college player who doesn't like his draft spot can head to a four-year school. A college junior has the option of playing his senior year if he's not satisfied with his position. And those choices have a trickle-down effect, sending other prospects further down the draft board.

Blair's teammate, Isaac Ballou, found that out last season. The Pittsburgh Pirates took Ballou in the 36th round of the 2011 draft as a 21-year-old sophomore. He decided to return to Marshall. He was draft eligible again in 2012, but the way that draft fell into place, Ballou wasn't picked at all. He was rewarded for an all-Conference USA first-team season this year, however, with the Washington Nationals taking him in the 15th round.

That unpredictability often makes a baseball prospect's decision to sign his contract a gamble. Does he turn down one dollar figure for the chance at a bigger one down the line? It paid off for Blair, who declined the Houston Astros' offer as a 21st-round pick out of high school in the 2010 draft. It should pan out for Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, who spurned the Pirates last season as the eighth overall pick as a junior and became the top overall pick to the Houston Astros as a senior.

The choice to go pro came a lot sooner for West Virginia Power pitcher Tyler Glasnow and his manager, Mike Ryan. Both were fifth-round picks, Glasnow to the Pirates in 2011 and Ryan to the Minnesota Twins in 1996. Both had college scholarships in their hands, Glasnow to Portland and Ryan to Auburn. But both decided the quickest path to the big leagues was to work their way through the minors.

That's not to say it was an easy decision. Glasnow said he mulled it over for a while before signing the deal.

"I was pretty set on school," the 19-year-old Glasnow said. "Every day went by, and I leaned toward pro ball more and more and more."

It didn't hurt that Pittsburgh offered Glasnow a $600,000 signing bonus, which was the biggest known deal outside of the top 65 picks in that draft. Ryan said the Twins offered him an enticing sum, too. He never figured he'd get picked that early and didn't want to run the risk of falling in later drafts.

"My dream was always to play in the big leagues and that was the way to start right away," he said.

Ryan realized those dreams, playing 149 Major League games over five seasons. Glasnow is working his way up the Pirates system, getting voted into this year's South Atlantic League All-Star Game.

For Blair, the choice likely will be an easy one. For many other prospects, it won't. Ryan's advice to those young players is to go with their gut.

"You have to trust your gut feeling," Ryan said. "If you think it's the right thing to do, then you should do it. What I did was I weighed what good could come out of it and what bad could come out of it, and if the good outweighed it, I was going to do it. It worked out for me."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at or 304-348-1712. His blog is at Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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