The odds of a high school senior ultimately reaching the major leagues is roughly one-in-200, or 0.5 percent. Of the 1250 players drafted in any give year, less than 50 end up having an appearance at the game’s highest level, let alone a successful career spanning at least five years. Being undrafted out of high school makes the task more arduous than being elected to political office or becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. St. Louis Cardinals third round draft pick Harrison Bader faced those insurmountable barriers after attaining just one partial scholarship out of high school, as well as being completely overlooked in 40 rounds of the amateur draft.
Despite its historic connection to baseball, New York state is somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to discovering prospective big league talent. Thanks to the success of the New York-Penn League and the influence of the Yankees and Mets, the numbers are beginning to climb, as seen with Yonkers native and now World Series champion second baseman Joe Panik. A mere five miles away in Bronxville, Harrison Bader had similar aspirations, but after attending the quaint Horace Mann high school, no big league offers followed. After committing to Pittsburgh and Maryland, despite a partial scholarship option at the latter, Florida assistant coach Craig Bell took notice of Bader’s strong performance at the Perfect Game Tournament, recruiting him to the university on a full scholarship. Bader would produce two .300 seasons with the Florida Gators, despite missing a month in his sophomore season due to a disciplinary matter.
Bader would redeem himself in his senior season, hitting 16 home runs while driving in 89 runs, displaying unexpected power. St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa made note of Bader’s development, selecting him in the 3rd round in early June. Bader spoke to Baseball Essential one day after signing his first contract on the precipice of his professional debut.
BASEBALL ESSENTIAL: You are a Bronxville, NY native from Mount Vernon. Which teams did you follow growing up and what does it mean to you to be able to make your professional debut in Staten Island just days after signing with the Cardinals?
HARRISON BADER: “I grew up a Yankees fan. Grew up a bit of a Mets fan too. It means the world to my family that they can come out and see me. Even if I was in California, I am sure they find a way to be there, but being here means a lot to me”.
BBE: After attending Horace Mann high school you were undrafted and seemed to be heading to Maryland as a walk-on before Florida assistant coach Craig Bell offered you a partial scholarship after the Perfect Game Tournament. Did you have any contact with Florida before the tournament and were disappointed that there few baseball options for you after High School?
HB: “I did not have any contact with Florida prior to the first encounter. My senior year of high school was in July 2012. In terms of being disappointed, I wasn’t. The Maryland program was a very solid program. I was perfectly fine with that. At the end of the day it takes one program. It’s been a ride. The journey has just begun. I cannot begin to describe it.”
BBE: A few weeks ago you participated in the College World Series for the Florida Gators. What was that experience like for you and take us through the transition from playing collegiate ball to focusing on a pro career in a truncated schedule?
HB: “When I was in the College World Series I was drafted on June 9th. I was done playing pretty late into June. The thing was to focus on what was in front of me which was the College World Series and I waited three years to be there. I was looking forward to giving my teammates everything I had with the orange and blue and shifting gears to focusing on here as soon as it ended”.
BBE: As a major in telecommunications at Florida, do you see yourself eventually turning to broadcasting once your playing career comes to a close in the much distant future?
HB: “I have no idea. Right now I am just taking it day by day. Just enjoying everything I can. Learning as much as I can. Setting up as much information on both baseball and not baseball. I am going to ride out baseball and go from there”.
BBE: After batting .312 and .337 in your first two seasons in Florida, you hit .289 with 16 home runs and 63 runs batted in, developing into a complete hitter. What steps did you take before your junior season to hone your skills at the plate?
HB: “Just trust in my coaches. Trust in myself. My ability. Things changed numbers-wise in my junior year. Working when I was not on the field as hard as I could to give my team as much production as possible. I say trust in the process and that things would work out”.
BBE: In 2014 you were involved in a scooter accident in which you collided with a parked car and were suspended from the team for a brief period of time. Did the incident humble you at all and was it difficult to make up for any lost time returning once the SEC schedule began that season?
HB: “It was not difficult to return. I have a tremendous support system with my friends, family, and coaches who were on my side through that time. It was definitely humbling. A learning experience for me. Affected a lot of people. The most important part is that I learned from it and that it is in the past. You learn and make immature decisions.”
BBE: Earlier in the month the St. Louis Cardinals drafted you in the third round as a compensation pick. Did you have any idea that St. Louis would select you at the time and were there any other teams interested in your services?
HB: “I was focused on getting a call and a chance to play for them. St. Louis is a tremendous organization. Lots of success in recent years. I am going to do everything in my power to contribute to that success the best I can”.
BBE: For somebody who has yet to see you play, how would your describe yourself as a player and what expectations do you have of pro baseball as you make your debut?
HB: “My expectations are to relax and do everything you can to win and I will do that on my end. From the intangible side, I am somebody who plays the game hard and plays it right. I leave it on the field. There is no substitute for that”.
Two of the first three professional at bats for Harrison Bader on June 30th against the Staten Island Yankees became the stuff of legends. Three pitches were seen and two home runs sailed majestically over the left field wall, as a legion of friends and family gazed in sheer amazement. Though Bader’s epic performance came in a losing effort for his team, his debut became etched in the annals of Cardinals minor league history. With two home runs on his ledger, Bader became the second player in State College Spikes history to homer twice in his first game with the club, joining Rowan Wick who matched the feat in 2013, before leading the New York-Penn League in home runs and RBI. “I followed him during his college career since we both attended Florida,” Staten Island Yankees manager Pat Osborn said. “The kid has a great swing with bat speed and he will be a great addition for their team”.
The journey from the humble sandlots in the suburbs to a career in professional baseball is filled with a myriad of peaks and valleys. It is an opportunity garnered to a select few after years of toil, sacrifice, and frustration. For Harrison Bader, the path to a pro career came after initial disappointment and momentarily uncertain after a brief spurt with youthful exuberance and rebellion. Learning experiences and character growth afforded Bader a chance to achieve his childhood aspirations. Recent strides on the field both defensively and with run production evoke comparisons to Randal Grichuk and Alex Rios as dependable right-handed bats who can contribute as role players to a perennial contender.
Under John Mozeilak and former scouting director Jeff Luhnow, the St. Louis Cardinals have drafted unheralded products in the middle to late rounds of the draft such as Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, and Seth Maness. Luhnow’s successor Chris Correa appears to be following his strategy throughout the draft, attempting discover the proper mix of homegrown and imported talent. The Cardinals hope that Bader’s late meteoric rise to prospect status will be the latest from an organization built successfully from within.