Thursday, June 11, 2009

Baseball: College Or Pros? Decision Can Change Life

By PAUL DOYLE | The Hartford Courant
June 9, 2009

They were two of the most highly touted high school pitchers to come out of Connecticut over the past five years. Matt Harvey of Fitch-Groton and Jeff Katz of Cheshire each faced the same decision after being selected in the Major League Baseball draft — sign a professional contract or attend college. With the baseball draft starting today and running through Thursday, we check on the different paths taken by Harvey and Katz:


As one of the best high school pitchers in the country, Harvey was projected as a first-round pick in 2007. But with a scholarship offer from North Carolina and Scott Boras advising him, Harvey dropped to the third round (118th overall) because teams feared his asking price.

After a few months of negotiating, Harvey rejected the Angels' offer of about $1.4 million. Two years later, North Carolina is in the College World Series and Harvey has no regrets. "I wouldn't change my decision for anything," Harvey said. "If I could tell all the kids out there, based on my decision, I'd say go to college."

Harvey, 20, was 6-1 with an 0.64 ERA as a senior at Fitch. He was 7-2, 2.79 in 19 appearances as a freshman at North Carolina, but saw his ERA (5.35) rise as he went 7-2 in 20 games this season.

But with a fastball in the mid-90s, Harvey remains a top prospect for the 2010 draft. His pitching repertoire is deeper after two years in college, and he says he'll be more prepared for professional baseball next year.

"You learn so much because you really do have to develop all your pitches in college," Harvey said. "As far as maturity, I felt at the time I was ready to sign. But looking back, I don't think as an 18-year-old with a million dollars that I would have been able to deal with it as well as I will next year. I've lived on my own for two years now. I'm more mature."

And playing baseball in Chapel Hill has been more exciting than any Class A site could have been. As the Tar Heels beat East Carolina in the super regional over the weekend, streets around Boshamer Stadium were shut down for a carnival atmosphere, and the games were sold out.

Harvey has also become friends with North Carolina alums, such as Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard. Talking to former Tar Heels has only confirmed his decision to attend college.

"Guys I've talked to who signed out of high school, I don't think they've enjoyed the experience as much," said Harvey, who will pitch in the Cape Cod League this summer. "I think a college really prepares you."


A 6-foot-4, 218-pound power pitcher at Cheshire High, Katz had a scholarship offer from Boston College when the Braves selected him in the ninth round (281st overall) of the 2004 draft. Negotiations were quick. Katz accepted a $160,000 signing bonus, plus the Braves agreed to pay for his college education.

Just weeks after graduating from high school, Katz was in Orlando, Fla., for rookie ball. Thirty months later, the Braves released Katz and handed him another check for his college tuition.

That was the end of his professional career: 30 games over three seasons at the Class A Rookie level. Katz could have bounced to another organization, but he decided to return to another passion.

So at age 21, he was playing college football at Division I-AA Lafayette.

"He said to me, 'Dad, I don't want to be a 25-year-old college freshman,'" Katz's father Rich said. "He was still young enough to play college football."

Katz earned a spot on the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll with a 3.76 grade point average. Now 23, Katz — a policy studies major — has transferred to Amherst College because of the school's internship program and has put football behind him.

"Our focus, even before he signed, was that he gets an education," Rich Katz said. "He's doing that."

Jeff Katz was 0-1, 5.11 ERA in five games for the Braves' Gulf Coast League team in 2004. Pitching for the Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2005, Katz hurt his shoulder and was limited to nine games. When he returned in 2006, Katz had lost velocity and had a 4.16 ERA in 16 relief appearances.

He was released after the season and enrolled at Lafayette a few months later.

Rich Katz, athletic director at Platt-Meriden, says his own draft experience may have shaped his son's decision. In 1970, Rich Katz was drafted by the Indians out of Platt in the 13th round (290th overall). He attended Jacksonville University instead of signing and was selected by the Orioles in the 1974 draft but went in the 32nd round (635th overall).

"The older you get and the longer you wait, the less valuable you become," Rich Katz said.

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