North Surry catcher David Sheaffer says it is flattering, but he’s turning down a minor league baseball contract now so that he can improve his skills and draft stock for the future.
In the Major League Baseball draft over the weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays selected the 18-year-old with its pick in the 38th round of the 40-round draft.
For a young man with dreams of professional sports, no sound could be sweeter than his own name called in the draft.
“Getting to hear my name called is something I’ve always dreamed about,” said Sheaffer. “I can’t really describe how I felt.”
The early rounds of the draft are televised, but by the third day, Sheaffer had to hang around his computer to keep up with the picks, waiting to hear a team representative say his name on the league conference call.
In the first 10 rounds of the draft, teams feel like they really can’t afford to miss a good player, so they take their time and spend a lot of hours debating players, explained dad Danny Sheaffer, himself once a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox.
“After the 10th round, the clubs roll the dice,” Danny said. “Names start flying off the board really quick.”
Rolling the dice is an apt description of the entire MLB draft. Like any other league, teams have to guess what players have maxed out their potential and which ones could some day blossom into a major leaguer.
But, baseball has an added dilemma because of the rules in place on when a player is eligible.
The NBA no longer drafts high school kids, making them wait one year to be selected. The NFL makes high school graduates wait three years to be eligible.
The MLB has an either/or situation. A graduate can either sign with a team right out of high school, or if he goes off to a four-year school he isn’t eligible until he’s either 21 or has played three seasons in college.
In the Sheaffers’ case, David can either sign with Tampa Bay now and begin a minor league career, or he can fulfill his commitment to play at The Master’s College in Southern California for at least three years.
“It’s definitely tempting to want to go ahead and sign and play ball right out of high school,” said David Sheaffer. “It’s not something that a lot of kids get to do.”
About 15 seconds after his name was called on streaming video, David heard the phone ring. It was the area scout for the Rays, Bryan Hickman, calling to say congratulations and that he would be in touch to talk about a contract.
What makes a minor league contract all the more tempting is how long a player can take to break through into the majors.
Danny Sheaffer wasn’t an everyday major leaguer until he was 31, playing parts of two seasons in his 20s. Once he got his chance, he played five consecutive years for the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies before retiring at 36.
Still, David said he and his dad had talked about the draft a lot leading up to the weekend. They both felt like if he were picked on Thursday in the first two rounds, it might be in the player’s best interest to sign a deal. If he fell any lower than that, then he might drop a lot because of his commitment to college.
If a team like Tampa Bay drafts a high school player this year, and the player heads for college like Sheaffer, then that draft pick is worthless. Another team can draft him in three years.
That fear of wasting a draft pick might have played a factor in David not getting picked in the middle rounds, according to Danny Sheaffer.
“It was a surprise,” said mom LaDonna of David’s long wait to be called. The poor boy had to wait around three days never knowing when he might be called.
“It’s more nerve-wracking when it’s your own child,” Danny Sheaffer said of comparing this event to his own drafting. It doesn’t matter if it is Little League ball or getting drafted or a piano recital, the parent is a bundle of nerves.
Out of 40 players selected, Tampa only picked two catchers. Newspapers in Florida say the Rays are thin at catching in the minors, so some good chances at advancement could exist.
David still has some development to do, and Master’s College is a great place to continue to learn and grow, said Danny.
The team won the Golden State Athletic Conference title this season and advanced to the NAIA World Series Tournament. The team is ranked sixth in the postseason coaches poll. Also, his older brother, Daniel, a pitcher, just graduated from there.
While stepping up to college-level pitching will be a challenge, David said he is confident he can make the transition.
A year ago, Sheaffer played against some high-level pitching on a travel team and also at baseball showcases around the country.
LaDonna said a lot of pro scouts took notice of David after a solid showing in the premiere event set up by the MLB, the East Coast Pro Showcase.
After playing in that showcase for a week last August, several scouts started following the senior.
After being homeschooled for all of his early years, David joined North Surry for his first public school experience and played for the Greyhounds, sometimes with scouts in attendance.
Travel team schedules can change quickly depending on lots of factors, and teams go far and wide for the best action, explained Danny. It’s hard for a scout to follow a particular player like that.
North Surry had a set schedule and several home games so scouts could find David easily, he said.
David really liked being part of the Greyhounds and enjoyed playing for Coach Travis Gammons, said LaDonna.
Now that he’s been drafted, even teams that didn’t know who he was last week will start to wonder who David Sheaffer is. Danny expects that all 30 teams will be following his career from afar.
In the meantime, the 18-year-old needs to mature both physically and mentally for the pro game, his dad said.
Part of that maturing process is spending time around professional athletes.
Danny Sheaffer will be managing a rookie ball team in Princeton, W.Va. David already spent a week with the team in Florida recently and will have time this summer to be with the club before going off to college.
As for the physical side, he already has started that work, putting 15-18 pounds on his slender 6-foot-2 frame.
With his wide shoulders, David has plenty of room to add more muscle on his frame, Danny added.
David has soft hands and already receives the ball as well as a lot of major league catchers, said Danny. While it helps to have a dad who played the same position, Danny said some of David’s ability is God-given and can’t be taught.
“I want to thank God for all he’s blessed me with,” said David. He also thanked his family for their continued support.