Maybe you missed it, but TCU’s baseball program notched its first victory of the 2017 season Friday afternoon.
Over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Every college baseball coach gets a headache around this time of year, and the Horned Frogs’ Jim Schlossnagle was no different. But finally, at 4 p.m. last Friday, he was able to exhale.
The signing deadline for players selected in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft passed without leaving a major dent in Schlossnagle’s roster.
In particular, 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher Nick Lodolo of LaVerne, Calif., chosen as Pittsburgh’s supplemental pick in the first round, the 41st selection overall, chose TCU over signing with the Pirates.
Tall and with plenty of room to grow on his lean 180-pound frame, Lodolo has a lot of moving parts to distract hitters. His fastball tops out around 91-92. A report on Scout.com noted that Lodolo “induces a lot of weak contact,” including breaking a metal bat when the ball struck the end cap.
Lodolo’s decision wasn’t a major surprise. He and his family had let MLB teams know before the draft that it was going to take a bonus in the reported range of $3 million for Nick not to go to college.
The Pirates offered him $1.75 million. Lodolo, who is already enrolled in summer classes at TCU, chose to stay with the Frogs.
His decision came on the heels of the news that two prominent members of TCU’s College World Series pitching staff, Brian Howard and Mitchell Traver, as well as starting third baseman Elliott Barzilli, were also turning down big league offers to remain with the Frogs.
Schlossnagle had felt, as far back as last spring, that Lodolo would follow through on his plan to attend college.
For one thing, even though he was being heavily recruited by Virginia and hometown UCLA, Lodolo had visited the TCU campus and announced that the school seemed like the best fit. He saw the new TCU locker room with its wall-to-wall reminders of Frogs now in the big leagues.
“I think also, from a maturity standpoint, he felt like he wasn’t ready to be out on his own yet in the business of minor league baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “His family wanted him to get at least three-fourths of his degree complete.
“They looked at the track record of elite guys we’ve had and how quickly after their time at TCU they’ve made it to the big leagues. Certainly there’s no guarantee, but I think at all levels of elite Division I baseball, the high-end prospects see the opportunities they have and know that if everything goes right, they have a chance to skip some lower levels of the minor leagues and get to the big leagues quicker.”
The tug-of-war between the colleges and the major leagues is competitive, but Schlossnagle doesn’t see it as contentious. It’s more like two guys working opposite sides of the same street.
“My job is to sell college baseball,” he said.
Schlossnagle uses his tax preparer to crunch the numbers. A $1 million signing bonus, the tax man tells him, is subject to 34.5 percent in taxes. An agent will take from 3-5 percent. A new car will cost upwards of $30,000.
What many don’t realize is how little money players in the minor leagues make. Minor leaguers get paid monthly, but only for the five months of their season. Players in the low-A leagues earn $1,300 a month. Double-A players make $1,700 — or $8,500 per season.
Minor league meal money is $25 per day and only applies when the team is on the road. Players, therefore, have to pay their own living expenses until they finally make the major leagues.
At a modest $18,000 per year for rent, food and utilities, that’s another $126,000 drained from the bonus check.
A $1 million bonus, by Schlossnagle’s chart, ends up as $469,000, which doesn’t exactly set anyone up for life.
The Lodolos are from LaVerne, not Malibu. The Matt Purke and Luken Baker families weren’t lavishly wealthy, either, and they also chose TCU over a first-round contract.
“I just believe that they see the long-term value of being in college,” Schlossnagle said.
A life in baseball’s minor leagues might sound semi-glamorous, but it’s a grind of low pay, long bus rides and large dreams.
Schlossnagle agreed that there are positives in both paths, but as he put it, “Elite Division I baseball has become so high-end in every area, from facilities to what we pay the coaches to full-time trainers, full-time strength coaches and full-time nutritionists. And frankly those are things you don’t get in most of the minor leagues, and especially in the lower levels of the minor leagues.”
Major league teams will often include a promise to cover college costs, should a player decide to take classes in the off-season.
“I don’t believe in that, because No. 1, well over 80 to 90 percent don’t ever go back,” Schlossnagle said. “And it’s not really college -- it’s taking classes. Kids and their parents ideally would like him to go through the college experience at a college age versus doing it as the creepy old guy in the back of the classroom.”
Schlossnagle lost only one big name from his incoming recruiting class. Matthias Dietz, the nation’s No. 1 junior college pitching prospect, signed with Baltimore after being drafted in the second round.
Of the 316 players taken in the MLB Draft’s first 10 rounds, only two did not sign — Lodolo and the 217th selection, Tyler Buffett, a pitcher taken by the Astros.
Schlossnagle has seen 67 of his players drafted since his first year at TCU, 2004.
The 2016 team lost seniors Dane Steinhagen and Preston Guillory, and underclassmen Brian Trieglaff and Rex Hill, both pitchers, signed with the Yankees and Royals, respectively.