The 2012 MLB first-year player draft was the first under the new collective bargaining agreement which set bonus pools for each team based on their picks in the draft. Due to this agreement we saw some top talent fall in the draft and even go un-signed. This flaw, which set bonus amounts for each slot in the draft, meant that players with strong college commitments were more likely to pass on professional careers. One of those players who almost went to college was Tigers third round pick Austin Schotts who may end up being the steal of the 2012 draft.
Schotts had a strong commitment to Oklahoma State and decided that if he were not drafted in the first three rounds that he would head to college. Schotts was a star shortstop in high school and a highlight reel football player who played safety, wide receiver, and kick returner. He ran a 6.34 60 yard dash, the fastest time in the state. He was a major recruit for the cowboys but the Tigers chose him in the third round and he was more than happy to sign with the team and get his professional career started.
Schotts was hitting .388/.440/.538 with 7 doubles, a triple, a homerun, and 11 stolen bases in 13 tries in his first 22 professional games when he dislocated his finger on July 19th sliding safely back into second base on a pick off attempt.
Schotts has at least 70 speed with one scout telling me he has 80 speed and could line up against Mike Trout and Michael Bourn and beat them in a foot race. I was fortunate enough to see him play a little before the injury and he has a great approach at the plate especially for a teenager. He led off the game and fell behind 0-2 then worked the count to 2-2 before singling up the middle on a pitch on the outside corner. And, using his speed, he would go on to steal second base.
This, unfortunately, was the game he was injured in and that was all I got to see of Schotts but I sat with a scout who saw him play at least a dozen times and he was more than happy to share his thoughts on Schotts which made it sound like Schotts should have been taken in the first round. The scout likened him to Mike Trout with less power. High praise.
Schotts will have no problem staying in center field with his plus-plus speed and the instincts of a player who has played the game for years. He plays the game the right way and goes all-out in everything he does including his extreme workouts. Combining what I saw, what the scout had to say, and Schotts’ incredible work ethic we could be talking about Schotts in a few years and wondering how he lasted until the third round of the 2012 draft.
Austin Schotts Interview (and be sure to follow him on Twitter: @AustinSchotts):
1. Who was your favorite team and player growing up and why?
I never really had a professional baseball team that I liked more than the other. To be honest with you, I never really watched much t.v. I was always outside playing baseball, football, or fishing. As I got older I liked to watch clips of Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose. They were aggressive with their running and I liked that. I also loved watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and their home run race. That was crazy.
2. The term “5-Tool” prospect is one I hear when asking scouts about you. What do you think is the strongest of your tools and the one that needs the most improvement?
I would say my strongest tool would be my speed. As far as improvement goes, I would have to say everything. I just never feel like I will never be done learning and growing as a player. That’s probably why I like baseball so much. It is always a new challenge each day.
3. It takes some players years, if ever, to gain a solid approach and plate discipline. Your approach and discipline at the plate are advanced for a player your age coming directly out of high school. Where did you learn this approach and discipline?
When I was younger I hated to walk. I would swing at anything near the plate because I wanted to hit so bad. Between my 8th grade and freshman year I had a good sense of where my power zone was. The last two years in high school I got pitched around a lot so I got pretty good at looking for strikes. I just look for one good pitch to hit every at bat.
4. We both know a certain scout that compares you to the greatness that is Mike Trout. That is a strong comparison. How do you take comparisons like that?
That is the coolest compliment ever. Mike Trout is beyond amazing! If I am ever blessed enough to be in his situation…well…I don’t even have words to describe what that would be like. Trust me, I am working as hard as I can to get there! I just hope that I get that shot soon like he did. Wow, what a cool compliment. That is pretty awesome!
5. Can you run through what your 2012 draft experience was like?
Wow, what a day that was! I was sitting around the computer watching with my family. I knew that if I didn’t get picked in the top 3 rounds that I was going to go to college instead. Several of the kids in my area had been called and the third round was half way over. I remember my mom saying how proud of me she was and how God must have had a different plan for me. It was all going to be ok. I had turned in my seat to get up because there were only a few picks left and I figured college was where I was going. As I started to get up from my chair I heard my name! Pick 121 by the Detroit Tigers. We all just started screaming and crying. To go from a low to a high in like 20 seconds is a crazy feeling! It was one of the happiest days of my life!
6. Were the Tigers in constant contact with you prior to the draft? How many other teams were you in contact with?
The area scout, Tim Grieve, came to several of my games and we all really liked him as a person. I went to their pre draft workout and feel like I did a pretty good job. I never had any idea who would actually draft me at all. I was in contact with so many teams. Things happen for a reason though and I really couldn’t be any happier or feel any more blessed that the Tigers believed in me enough to draft me! I have had nothing but the best from this experience so far. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.
7. After you signed your first contract, did you do anything to treat yourself or celebrate with friends and family?
We had a celebration at a local restaurant and invited everyone. It was so much fun. My brother and I went right to the mall to get Tigers shirts and hats so we could represent! Just being there that night with the Tigers banners, balloons, tons of people, and knowing that I was about to start living my dream was the best feeling I could ever imagine having. That was a night I will never forget!
8. What has been the hardest part of adjusting to life in the minors?
I love everything about it so far! The catchers are great, the pitching is great, my teammates and coaches are the best. I have loved every bit and so far have adjusted well to it all. I love the competition. If I had to pick something that was the hardest to adjust to it would probably be playing games every day. Just getting mentally focused every day to play a game is different than I am used to from high school. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! That is just a difference. The other part is probably the cafeteria food. I miss my mom and dad’s cooking!
9. If you could get an hour to pick the brain of any current major league player, who would that be and what would you ask him?
There are two. Justin Verlander would be one because I think he is one of the better pitchers out there. I would like to get inside his head and see how he approaches different batters. The other would be Mike Trout. He has gotten where he has gotten so quickly so it would be really interested to hear what a guy like that would have to say about that and his hitting approach.
10. Lastly, tell us something unique about yourself that the fans might find interesting.
My workouts with my speed coach, De’Andre Jackson, are really insane. He has me pulling cars, pulling sleds uphill, running hills, plyometrics and more. He has pushed me to insane levels but I couldn’t be more thankful for him. I also love to fish for fun or in bass tournaments. If I didn’t get to play baseball or football I would have wanted to be a UFC fighter.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt