Allure of big leagues leads UMaine prospects toward dead end

The 2015 Major League Baseball Draft has come and gone. Some players’ dreams have been fulfilled, potentially, while others have learned the reality of trying to go pro.

As is sometimes the case, the University of Maine had National Letter of Intent signees selected by big-league teams. Andrew Noviello of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and Jeremy Pena of Providence, Rhode Island, both have important choices to make.

Noviello, who was ranked the top prospect in Massachusetts by one publication and No. 10 in New England in another, was expected to get drafted. The Red Sox took him in the 25th round, 741st overall.

Pena has the pedigree as he is the son of former major leaguer Geronimo Pena. He was a 39th-round selection of the Atlanta Braves, No. 1,170 overall.

It appears as though each player is prepared to take a different path toward reaching his dream of playing in the big leagues.

Noviello, a left-handed catcher, pitcher and infielder, has indicated that he intends to sign. After a successful high school career, he believes he is ready to start life as a pro ballplayer.

Even though he has plenty of time to prove himself and possibly work his way through the minors, he has his work cut out for him. Given the fact Boston picked 24 players ahead of Noviello and that another 740 prospects were chosen before him by all the teams, he would appear to have a difficult road.

He will receive a signing bonus of no more than $100,000, which is barely enough to pay for a decent college education these days. Against long odds, he will try to make the grade. More than likely, he will fall short and then be faced, sooner than later, with life after baseball.

Pena, who by all accounts has considerable potential to grow physically and improve, had no intention of signing for the $100,000 maximum that can be offered to prospects drafted after the 10th round.

Rather than try to cash in now and take his chances in the minors, he and his parents have adopted more of a long-term approach.

Pena plans to attend UMaine. He will receive some scholarship money, work at least three years toward a college degree and take the time to develop his skills. That added experience and having a degree within reach, will put him in a more advantageous position moving forward — whether he ever makes it as a professional player or not.

The problem is, high school-age players and their parents appear to become blinded by the attention from the media and praise from major league scouts. They see dollar signs and delude themselves into thinking they’ll be playing at Fenway Park within two or three years.

Sure, it happens. There are many success stories of players who sign out of high school and make it. Yet there are scores more whose careers come to quick, unceremonious endings.

Unless the signing bonus is going to be life-changing, there are many more reasons to choose a college education and three or four years playing experience over a contract.

For example, former Deering High School star Ryan Flaherty graduated and went on to play three years at Vanderbilt. When his time came, the 2008 first-round pick signed a $906,000 bonus with the Chicago Cubs and has since earned a spot with the Baltimore Orioles.

South Portland native Charlie Furbush, who transferred from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish to LSU, was a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2007. He signed for $153,000 and this year will earn $1.3 million with the big club.

They are huge exceptions among players from Maine and those headed to UMaine. Even most of the Black Bears’ top performers, who have logged three or four years in college, are drafted, sign and are soon out of baseball.

At present, first baseman Curt Smith (2008) is playing independent ball and pitcher Steve Perakslis (2012) is in Class AA, while infielders Mike Fransoso (2013) and Mike Connolly (2013) are playing in Single-A.

Everybody should pursue their dreams, but high school baseball players who sign out of high school are likely to have them shattered — and sooner than later.

Pete Warner

About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 35 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.