Geoff Miller

High School Draft Picks: Sign Or Go To College?

In First Year Player Draft Pick Research on June 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm

In 1998, for my Master’s Thesis at San Diego State University, I chose to study the “Decision-Making Factors Governing High School Players’ Choice of a College or Professional Baseball Opportunity.” I wanted to know what factors were most important to high school seniors who were drafted and had to choose between signing or going to school as I had known many players who regretted their choices years after they made them.  I revisit my research and discuss my findings with friends and colleagues each year as the First Year Player Draft draws near.  Last week, as the Draft was taking place, I decided I would post my entire thesis in an effort to learn more from coaches, parents, and players who have recently been involved in this decision.  I’ll be posting a new chapter every few days and will also include pages and pages of subject answers to open-ended questions, which are very interesting and shed lots of light on this process.  I’m going to leave out the statistics, surveys, tables, and most appendices, but if you’d like a full electronic copy of my thesis, please just email me and I’ll be happy to send to you.

Warning…a few of these sections can be a bit dry, to say the least, but most of the reading is interesting stuff and I would be glad to discuss my past and current thoughts on the draft process either on the blog or offline.  And please keep in mind that these data are 12-13 years old, so some of the dollar amounts need to be taken in context.  I would encourage anyone and everyone who would like to offer feedback and stories so we can all learn more from each other.  With that, here is the Introductory Chapter to my thesis…


The purpose of this thesis was to determine factors considered by high school seniors when choosing between a college and professional baseball opportunity.  A secondary purpose was to compare recent college and professional baseball players on the discovered factors.

Significance of the Problem

There were two main reasons this thesis was undertaken.  First, the decision-making process of selecting either a professional baseball career or a college education has never been formally investigated.  There is no comprehensive documentation of the parameters that shape this choice.  Second, the decision has substantial personal implications for a special segment of society.  The amateur baseball draft is the marketplace for selecting new talent.  High school seniors comprise a large percentage of athletes selected by major league teams on that occasion.  Athletes who sign contracts to immediately play baseball often reject college scholarships and intercollegiate participation.  On the other hand, when a high school athlete chooses to attend college, the baseball organization that drafted the athlete loses a valuable draft pick for that year.  Both professional organizations and colleges sustain their livelihood by convincing athletes to play for them.  They are at the mercy of the athletes who ultimately must make the choice.  The career choice of graduating high-school seniors usually affects the players, colleges, and professional baseball organizations.

Although the choice between a professional baseball career and a college experience affects a small segment of society, for those affected it is an important choice.  It directly affects the lives of the young men involved and their families.  It indirectly affects every member of a college program or professional organization who could potentially benefit from the presence of a talented athlete.  The information generated from this thesis would have the potential to assist this specific group of athletes to make more informed decisions about this important career choice.

For individuals who have the talent to pursue a professional baseball career it would appear that there are significant monetary implications involved.  Baseball is not a life-long activity.  Players have the potential to earn extreme amounts at very young ages that may have to sustain them for a long post-baseball career.  Organizations who pay these amounts have a relatively short-term investment in an athlete and want to see its potential maximized.  Colleges commit substantial amounts of money to scholarships and athletic experiences, far in excess of most college academic scholarships.  The presence of the best baseball players in a college team has a great affect on the intra- and extramural funding of college programs.  Because of these large amounts of money invested in baseball experiences, having players make the “correct” choice so that they will be satisfied with their experiences is important.

This investigator has worked with athletes prior to and after this decision has been made.  He has seen athletes who believe they have made poor decisions and lamented their choices after the fact.  Thus, the completion of this project would have personal significance for the researcher if it could contribute to a reduction of athletes experiencing stressful and unpleasant situations brought about by an incorrect career choice.  The personal satisfaction of the research experience is heightened further by the investigator’s life-long interest in all aspects of baseball.

In summary, this thesis was a formal investigation of selection factors for college or professional baseball in high school athletes.  It was the first of its kind and was undertaken to document the parameters of the decision and gather information to assist a specific group of athletes to make more informed decisions about a career choice.



Access to college and professional baseball players is not easily attained.  The thesis was delimited by the number of subjects that could be recruited and the reliance upon coaches and scouts to grant access to those subjects.

Independent Variables

The thesis was limited to the examination of decision factors used by college and professional players when they were in high school.  Information was elicited by pencil and paper surveys. Only convenient, current college and professional players with similar high school graduation dates were sampled.  Players in both groups were limited to those offered scholarships and drafted while in high school.

This narrowed the focus of the study from all athletes to athletes who have had to make this decision.  Two other groups of athletes who make similar decisions are junior college transfers to four-year universities and college juniors.  These groups, along with college seniors, make up the rest of the talent pool eligible to be selected in the amateur draft.

Source of Data

The survey instrument was formulated by a review of existing literature, the experimenter’s knowledge of the process, and informal interviews with coaches and scouts.  It is assumed that these three methods achieved a diverse and relatively accurate understanding of the phenomenon.


The questionnaire format of data collection was assumed to be sufficient in obtaining accurate data from subjects.  Fowler (1993) determined that mode of data collection does not affect survey estimates.


The study was limited to players in college during the 1997-98 school year and those professional players of corresponding ages who were invited to a professional organization’s spring training in 1998.

Controls for Internal and External Validity

Test-retest reliability measures were taken to control for internal validity in the development of the research tool.  Generalizability was demonstrated by surveying a sample diverse in geographic location and socioeconomic status.


It was assumed that the number and diversity of subjects sampled would adequately represent the phenomenon.  It was also assumed that the sources of information relied upon to create the surveys were satisfactory to exhaust informational channels.  It was further assumed that the technology of paper and pencil testing was sensitive enough to evoke accurate responses.

Finally, due to the inaccessibility of most subjects, the test-retest reliability measure was only taken with subjects who could be surveyed on a second occasion.  These consisted of college players only.  Because of the similarity between professional and college survey tools, it was assumed that if the college tool was reliable, so would be the professional tool.


College baseball player:  Any student-athlete currently attending a 4-year university on a full time basis and active as a member of that school’s baseball team.

Professional baseball player:  Any athlete currently under contract to a major league baseball organization and playing at any minor or major league level.

Amateur baseball draft:  An annual event held by Major League Baseball to select athletes who have never played baseball under a professional contract.  Each team is allotted one selection per round.  A draft continues for an undetermined number of rounds.

Draft pick:  1.  An opportunity to select an athlete during the Amateur baseball draft.

2.  Someone who has been selected during the Amateur draft by a Major League Baseball team.

Decision-making selection factor:  Any factor that adds complexity to deciding whether to play college or professional baseball.

Common factor:  Any selection factor that is considered similarly for a college or professional baseball career.

Discriminating factor:  Any selection factor that is considered differently for a college or professional baseball career.

Supplemental factor:  Any selection factor that arises from open-ended response opportunities provided on the measuring instruments.

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Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, was released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:

For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at

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