Stanford is nationally known as one of the premier academic institutions in the country. It is also, however, a perennial baseball powerhouse, producing players such as 2013 first overall pick Mark Appel, as well as 2009 first round pick Drew Storen.
Austin Slater is another player to enter the pro ranks after playing collegiate ball in Palo Alto. Slater was drafted in the 8th round by the world champion Giants in 2014, and he could not be happier to be a part of their organization.
“Honestly I don’t think I could have fell into a better situation,” Slater said. “It’s unbelievable to be with an organization like that. They have great resources and obviously they are willing to do whatever it takes to win so it’s a great time to be with them.”
Baseball was a passion for Slater at an early age. He played many different sports growing up, but ultimately chose to focus on baseball. Slater’s grandfather played tight end and defensive end at Duke, and he was an influence on Slater’s decision to ultimately choose baseball, as his grandfather’s knees were damaged by playing.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida during the Braves great run of 14 consecutive division titles, it was obvious what team and player Slater idolized as a kid. Though that has since changed since entering pro ball.
“Growing up in the 90’s the Braves were the big team in the southeast. My favorite player was Chipper (Jones). I loved the way he played and he actually went to my high school so that’s a cool connection. But after the last couple years being in the bay area I think I have changed my affiliation.”
The Jacksonville native was the top ranked high school prospect in the state of Florida in 2011 by Prospect Wire, but a freak ankle injury cost him to miss his senior season at The Bolles School.
“It was a few days before the season started and I was just playing some Ultimate Frisbee with some friends, which is a good cardio workout, but I fell awkwardly on my ankle and broke it and I was on crutches for the next six weeks.”
Despite missing his senior campaign, Slater still ended up being drafted by the Dodgers out of high school. Slater decided to honor his commitment to Stanford University. Looking back on it, Slater has no regrets and feels that he made the right decision to attend Stanford.
“It’s a world-class education and it’s kind of a life-changing decision. My parents made me realize that there are special opportunities and doors would open with that kind of degree. It’s something that in the end will probably be one of the best decisions that I have ever made.”
While at Stanford, Slater majored in Science, Technology & Society which, according to Stanford’s website, is a degree that “aims to provide students with an interdisciplinary framework through which to understand the complex interactions of science, technology and the social world.”
“It’s one interdisciplinary degree and I’m focusing on a business aspect since Stanford doesn’t have an undergraduate business degree.”
While he did not yet receive his degree, Slater plans to go back and finish it. Having that kind of degree from a school with the academic reputation that Stanford has would provide Slater with a variety of options for life after baseball. But right now, Slater is focused on making it to the majors.
“If you had asked me a year ago I would have said that I planned to do something in finance. That seems to be a pretty safe route for a lot of guys. But now that I have thought about it, I’m not really sure. The degree leaves me with a lot of different options but for now I am completely focused on baseball and my objective is to make it to the majors.”
Slater played in seven games in center field and 21 games in right field during his pro debut. He played mostly outfield at Stanford but was an infielder in high school before his injury. But to him, it doesn’t matter where on the field he plays as long as he gets to hit.
“I have always enjoyed hitting the most so it doesn’t really matter where I play. But they’re both different. In the infield you have to be locked in every pitch, not that you don’t in the outfield, but it is a different kind of attention. I like different aspects about both. Playing the outfield, you can focus on hitting a little more but at the same time you are more involved in the game being in the infield. Going into this year the Giants have told me that I will be playing a little bit of both this year.”
It has been a while since Slater has played the infield in a game situation, so that is one thing he is looking forward to working on this spring in Arizona. “If I do end up playing the infield it will be improving my hands on ground balls and improving my defense there. It has been a while since I have played a live game in the infield so that is something I am looking forward to working on in spring training.”
Slater believes that being a versatile player could be beneficial to both himself as well as the Giants as it could help him get on a faster track to the bay.
“I think it does. I think it gives me a chance to let my bat carry me and it gives the Giants a lot of flexibility to move me wherever they need me and I have no problem with that.”
Baseball America gave Slater the honor of best pro debut, as well as best athlete among Giants’ draftees in 2014. While he is grateful to receive such accolades, Slater keeps his focus on playing the game.
“I honestly didn’t even know about that but I am very honored and it shows that hard work pays off. I just go out and let those things take care of themselves. I am a strong believer in the law of averages that things will work out the way they are supposed to and baseball is a great game for that to happen. The only thing I can do is put my head to the ground and work hard.”
Playing his high school ball in Florida as well as playing in the Pac-12 Conference enabled Slater to share the same field with some good competition before turning pro.
“In high school I played with Javier Baez a little bit. I also played with Mark Appel at Stanford for a few years and Stephen Piscotty is probably one of the better hitters that I have been around. He has a great approach to the game and a good mentality.”
With Baez already making an impact with the Cubs, and Appel and Piscotty knocking on the big league door, it is clear that Slater has played with and against some elite talent. Now, his goal is to join them at the game’s highest level.