With the draft coming tomorrow comes a time when countless lives will be changed. Many players throughout the land will have their futures determined with many destined to begin the extremely difficult grind that is minor league baseball with the goal of one day reaching the big leagues.
There will be quite a few new millionaires, but countless others will sign much less lucrative deals and will attempt to beat the odds and be one of the lower round picks to not only reach the majors, but thrive as well. They will all look back at the night they were drafted as a major turning point in their lives.
In that spirit, we reached out to some of the prospects in the Braves system to get them to share their experiences being drafted, what it was like before and after they were picked, etc etc. What they had to say was not only enlightening, but should help all of us remember that there is a very human element to this game and sports in general. The questions we asked are in bold and each player's responses are below each question....enjoy! Also, don't forget to check out the end as a current Atlanta Brave's dad also chimes in with a perspective from a family member.
What was the experience like leading up to the draft in terms of being scouted and talking to teams?
Mike Soroka: “It was surreal at first, and still is, but once you realize that in the end it's a business you realize that you have to present yourself in such a way that's going to leave a lasting impression. I know, like most people, that there are very few "irreplaceable" pitchers in this game. There are a plethora of tall projectable RHPs so I had to my best to standout. I felt like talking to teams was used as my strength, and it became a ton of fun.”
Chase Johnson-Mullins: “The whole draft experience itself was just amazing. I had an absolute blast meeting new people and seeing good ball players.”
Bradley Keller: “It was very hectic while playing high school ball and trying to perform my best to help my draftability but at the same time it was a great feeling getting to go to tryouts and showcases and all that good stuff.”
Jaret Hellinger: Well my experience was a little different than most people, I wasn't scouted that heavily until about 2 weeks left of high school ball. But having the attention of scouts was pretty awesome especially cause I was never scouted that much by colleges. Talking to the scouts and teams was overwhelming just knowing that these are organizations I have watched growing up. You kind of feel nervous for no reason when speaking to them just because of the thought of these being pro scouts
Carlos Salazar: “I came from a very small town, so scouts were always noticed and around my senior year. It was a surreal feeling seeing 20+ guns behind the plate, but it was a challenge.”
When did you know for sure the Braves were going to draft you and how did you find out?
Soroka: “I didn't find out until 2 minutes before the pick, we knew that was a slot the Braves were interested in but until then we were never sure. It all happened really fast.”
Johnson-Mullins: “I knew the Braves had interest in college, but didn't know just how interested they were until my workout in Atlanta. I got a phone call from Coach Buc (Hugh Bucanan) after the second day of the draft, and he said that if I was still on the board by the 13th, he was taking me. Sure enough!!!”
Keller: “The Braves were really the only team that was following me pretty hard so I had a feeling if I was gonna get drafted it was gonna be by them. During the draft I got a call from my scout and he said “we’re taking you this round (15th)”
Hellinger: I never knew that they were going to draft me at all. I found out day 3 of the draft and was shocked not only ‘cause I had been drafted but because of all the teams scouting me it was my hometown team to choose me in the 20th round.
Carlos Salazar: “I never really knew the Braves were gonna take me, I knew they liked me a lot. They definitely had a lot of interest but I had a very good agent who knew that wild things happen in the draft. But I for sure found out when they called and said we are taking you next pick”
Describe the moment when your name was called...who were you with and who did you seek out first?
Soroka: “I was with close family and friends, any relatives in Calgary and a couple of friends that I've been really close with over the years. Everyone was holding their breath when the commissioner stepped on stage to announce the pick, and when it came out it was all hugs and celebration from then on! My phone began to blow up as soon as it happened so I never really had the chance to do much in the way of reaching out, but most of everyone I wanted to share that moment with was already there, or coming for the after party. Obviously was in touch with coaches and everyone else who impacted my career to that point.”
Johnson-Mullins: “I was at my mothers place of work, with family friends. My best friend in the whole world whom I had played baseball with since I was a kid had just walked in with his mother. My mom was on the phone talking with my Grandfather and I was greeting them. Then I heard, "The Braves select redraft number ... Johnson-Mullins..." And I immediately went to my mom. It felt like the world stopped for a second. That moment was something I worked very hard for, so it was special.”
Keller: When I heard my name called out I just didn't have any thoughts at all. It was just so unreal at first because it's always been my dream to play professional baseball and it took me a while to grasp the concept that I was a professional baseball player for the team I grew up loving. I had all my friends there with me and my mom and sister and my girlfriend. I called my dad after it all happened because he was at work and I know he wanted to be there but he couldn't. I immediately seeked out God to thank him for all he has done for me and for giving me the ability I have.
Hellinger: When I saw the tweet I was super surprised honestly I didn't know it was going to happen. I was actually at a buddies college workout watching him play when I saw the news. I got a phone call right after I saw the tweet from my dad telling me the news and what was going on. My head was filled with excited I honestly can't describe the moment i was just on cloud 9.
Carlos Salazar: “When I was selected in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft I was in my living room and my dad picked me up and started to tear up, but the first person I reached out to besides thanking God, was my best friend. It went something between the lines of" what's up", “not much just woke up”, "cool man I just got drafted and I don't have to go to college wanna go grab some in n out and celebrate" “oh, heck yeah man" haha”
The Braves are about to have a bunch more new draftees enter the system. If you had to give them one piece of advice about becoming a professional baseball player, what would that be?
Soroka: “I would say come in with a level mindset. Draft day is huge and everyone is excited, but it's always good to stay humble and let your play talk for you. We are constantly reminded that after we sign, we're all on the same paychecks, and it's about getting to work.”
Johnson-Mullins: “My little piece of advice would be to take this seriously. This is such an amazing opportunity, and we as players really are the lucky ones. We get to live out a kids dream and it really is the best job in the world.”
Keller: Enjoy every bit of it because it's a hard journey and a grind and you just have to stay mentally focused and always compete day in and day out.
Hellinger: Don't make it so hard on yourself as in stressing out about what's going on. You can't have any regrets when it comes making the decision on college or pro ball.
Carlos Salazar: “I’d definitely have to tell the new draftees to enjoy it, don't forget to breathe, the world goes on, and be ready to work. Stay in your lane, and all will work out!”
During the draft interview process, what is the weirdest question you were asked?
Soroka: “I'm not sure any question sticks out. They all became fairly routine, but like I mentioned earlier, they became fun, and I believe even fun for some of the scouts. It wasn't so much of an interview as it was a conversation. I remember my dad always telling me that first impressions always matter, and that it was my job to obviate any doubt or concerns about drafting me as a player or an individual. To be honest most of those conversations are a blur. It all happened so fast!”
Johnson-Mullins: “I don't remember any awkward questions being asked to be honest.”
Keller: I wasn't really asked any weird questions
Hellinger: I honestly don't remember any weird questions I was asked.
Carlos Salazar: “One of the weirdest question I've ever been asked, was by this 30 year old mom. She said if I could marry her... I was 18 and newly drafted... Another weird one was, hey Carlos, do you think I can get an autograph on this caprisun, and I giggled and thought he was joking but he was dead serious”
Big thanks again to Mike Soroka, Chase Johnson-Mullins, Bradley Keller, Jaret Hellinger, and Carlos Salazar for sharing their stories with us. We were also very fortunate to have current Braves pitcher Aaron Blair's dad, Craig, offer some insight in to what the draft is like for a player's family and given a unique perspective on the whole
How would you describe the entire process from a family POV? Was there anything you wished you could do to help Aaron during it all?
Craig Blair: “When Aaron was drafted coming out of high school, there wasn't any pressure because we knew he was going to be drafted high, if drafted at all.
Everything changed the summer before he was drafted. Going to Marshall kind of kept him off the radar but David Matranga, who is now his agent, pulled some strings to get Aaron invited to play for the YD Red Sox in the Cape Cod league. That's when everyone started to take notice as he went 8-0 with an ERA just over 1.00. From that point, as he started moving up everyone's draft rankings, is when the phone calls, mailings and emails really started. As his junior season at Marshall got going and there were 20-30 scouts, cross-checkers and GM's going to every start, we knew that the 2nd round, as well as possibly the 1st, was a possibility.
He was invited to 10-12 pre-draft workouts but the only one he went to was the Diamondbacks. Funny thing is, they didn't even have him throw. According to Ray Montgomery, who was the scouting director, he had watched Aaron throw 6 or 7 times over the past year. Knowing he was going to be an early pick, we decided to invite family and friends over to watch the draft. When the Yankees picked (31 or 32), the announcement goes, with the 31st pick, the Yankees pick Aaron (the house goes crazy when they hear Aaron) Judge. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in 3 seconds. The Diamondbacks were picking 36 and out walks Luis Gonzalez. "With the 36th pick, the Arizona Diamondbacks select Aaron Blair, pitcher from Marshall University. The house erupted as Aaron, my wife and myself embrace each other. What a feeling!! As for the was there anything I wished I could have helped Aaron with during this, I would actually say no. He handled it like he handles everything else. With a calm you usually don't see in kids at that age.”
Given that your family is from Nevada and you saw Aaron go to college across the country at Marshall were you secretly happy he was drafted by the Diamondbacks so he would be close to home again?
Craig Blair: “The Diamondbacks were on the top of our list not only for Aaron (spring training and regular season in the same place) but for us as well. An easy drive to Phoenix, LA and San Diego and really close by plane to SF and Denver. We couldn't have picked a better scenario”
What was going through your mind when you found out that Aaron was going in the first round?
Craig Blair: “We had heard there was a possibility of Aaron being taken in the first but we didn't get our hopes up. Aaron didn't receive a call from the Diamondbacks before his name was called so it was a complete surprise, which just added to the excitement of the moment.”
Do you have any words of guidance for all the parents out there whose child is going through the draft process?
Craig Blair: “Yes, don't bank on what a certain team official tells you about we are taking you at this spot or that spot. And don't assume that your son is going to get drafted. There are quite a few kids that Aaron played with or from Las Vegas that THOUGHT they were going to get drafted but didn't. The draft, after the 1st couple of rounds, is a crap shoot.”
Finally, were you involved in the draft process at all? Did scouts or GMs seek you or your family out to talk about Aaron?
Craig Blair: “No, all contact was usually through Aaron's advisor and occasionally through Aaron. Part of that was up until a couple of weeks before the draft Aaron was still playing college ball.”