Baseball / Sports

Scooter Gennett's road to the majors was a roller-coaster ride

MILWAUKEE -- Scooter Gennett readily admits he played a significant role in his stock falling in the 2009 major-league draft.

As a highly regarded senior star at Sarasota (Fla.) High School, the diminutive shortstop had many area scouts approach him that spring to gauge what it would take to sign him. Armed with the power of a Florida State scholarship offer as well as the brashness that came naturally to an overachiever, Gennett decided to play financial hardball with interested teams.

"I threw out a big number (for a signing bonus)," recalled Gennett, now a rising young second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers. "I had like 29 teams at the house.

"I probably did everything wrong that you could have done. When they came over it was all about talking about their minor-league affiliates, that kind of stuff. It wasn't like, 'Hey, I'm going to college.'

"I think they just read that I was signable, and that I wanted to go play pro ball and didn't really want to go to college. So, then when I threw out a pretty big number, it probably scared them off. Not that I wasn't worth that. It was just they thought they could get me for a lot less, which was the truth."

That tactic indeed did scare teams off on draft day. Projected to go in the fourth or fifth round at the latest, Gennett watched teams pass on him for 15 rounds. Finally, in Round 16, the Brewers called Gennett's name, knowing full well that his talent level was far beyond that stage of the draft.

"Our scouts, Tim McIlvaine and Doug Reynolds, liked Scooter," said Bruce Seid, the Brewers' director of amateur scouting. "They were telling me he was a little guy who could hit with surprising power for his size.

"One thing that is so important in scouting -- we stayed with it all year -- was that we knew what his desires were. His desires were to play baseball. He did have the Florida State scholarship. Tim McIlvaine knew he wanted to sign and that wouldn't prevent him from signing.

"We took him a little later. He was still on the board. I think other teams might have thought by then he was unsignable and was going to school. It wasn't really the round at that point as much as drafting him and trying to sign him."

What Gennett didn't tell teams prior to the draft was that he didn't have as much leverage as indicated. He arrived too late to take his required ACT and therefore didn't qualify for scholarship money for his first year at Florida State.

Gennett still winces when recalling how he missed taking that crucial ACT.

"I actually missed taking my ACT by one minute," he said. "I was in Sarasota and they made me take it in Lemon Bay, which is like an hour and half away, and you've got to go through a bunch of back streets.

"I was going slow because I didn't want to miss any streets, ran into some traffic and showed up a minute late. The lady said, 'Sorry. You have to go home.' And I'm like, 'Lady, you don't understand. You're costing me a lot of money here.'

"So, I didn't have my scholarship, I think, until September of the next year. (The Brewers) found out pretty quick."

Having lost that bargaining power, Gennett told the Brewers he would go to junior college if they didn't give him enough money to go pro. They eventually boosted their offer to $260,000, a bonus commensurate to when he should have been taken in the draft, ignoring his 16th-round status.

"We knew we were going to have to pay him more for that round," said Seid. "We made sure we saved the money and had the money to pay him."

Still, the negotiating went down to the night before the signing deadline. Gennett finally said yes but the late signing date meant he wouldn't start his professional career until 2010.

"I obviously wouldn't have signed for slot," said Gennett, who soon was shifted from shortstop to second base by the Brewers because of a fringy throwing arm.

"They offered me above slot shortly after the draft, but I decided to wait it out. Then I told them I was probably going to go to JUCO at that point, and they ended up making me a pretty good offer leading to the deadline.

"The big thing for me was it was good enough money to last through the minor leagues and have a little bit of money and take care of some stuff that I needed to. But also getting enough money to have an opportunity -- in their mind, 'We spent a decent amount of money on this guy' -- in case I struggled the first couple of months."

As for the debacle of missing the ACT and losing leverage, Gennett said, "At the same time, the worst-case scenario was I go and play pro ball. So I wasn't too upset. It was a roller-coaster ride.

"If I could do it all over again -- I love the system and how it worked out -- I think the best thing you can do as a guy in my shoes, not a top-10 pick, top-five guy, is just say, 'Hey, I want to play in the big leagues, but at the same time I want to go to college.' Don't throw out a number. 'If you give me what I think I'm worth, then I'll sign.'"

Because of his status as a 16th-round draft pick, in combination with his small stature -- he has "grown" to 5 foot 10, 175 pounds since high school -- and questions about how his skill set would play in the major leagues, Gennett confounded those who put together annual prospect lists. He was invited to play in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game but never made any of the Top 100 lists as he worked his way through the Brewers' system.

Never mind that Gennett batted .300 or thereabouts at every minor-league level. Because he didn't walk much, which placed limits on his on-base percentage, and was rough around the edges defensively at the time, no one outside of the Brewers' front office projected Gennett to be more than a backup player in Milwaukee.

"I think those were bad evaluations from people who don't have experience in signing a player and seeing what it takes to get to the big leagues," Seid said. "I could go on and on about that stuff.

"Scooter has been fun to watch. He has hit everywhere he has played. We always thought he could play defense. We weren't that concerned. He did go through some bumps in the road in the minors and is still learning, but he has saved us a lot of runs, too.

"I still think we're just scratching the surface with him and what he can possibly do."

Actually, the 24-year-old Gennett has done more than scratch the surface since arriving in the major leagues last year. He has gouged huge holes in it while doing everything possible to prove he can be an everyday player.

The left-handed-hitting Gennett got his big chance early last August when second baseman Rickie Weeks was lost for the remainder of the season with a serious hamstring injury. Including a couple of earlier stints, he batted .324 in 69 games with a .356 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 21 RBI.

Better yet, Gennett fielded his position much better than advance billing indicated, prompting the Brewers to commit to him as the starter against right-handed pitchers in 2014 in a lopsided platoon with Weeks. Gennett has thrived in that role, particularly since being elevated to the leadoff spot in the batting order a few weeks ago.

By hitting .404 in 13 games in the No. 1 spot, Gennett has raised his overall average to .311, which ranks among the league leaders. Despite drawing only 16 walks, he has an acceptable .352 on-base percentage as well as a .484 slugging percentage, tied with Detroit's Ian Kinsler for first place among all major league second basemen.

It all adds up to a .835 OPS, not too shabby for a 16th-round draft pick, no matter how unusual the circumstances that led to 495 players being selected before Gennett.

"It's amazing how things work out and how probably every little thing that I did, maybe right or wrong, led me to the situation I'm in now," he said.

"Pretty awesome."

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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