For Brett Cecil, the strikeouts piled up this spring, most batters overmatched against his fastball and swinging wildly at a sharply breaking curveball as DeMatha rolled to its third consecutive league title. Yet when Major League Baseball held its first-year player draft last month, Cecil was not among the 1,498 selected.
"Disappointed for maybe a day or two, but I'm really looking forward to going to Maryland and spending four, maybe three years there," said Cecil, The Washington Post's All-Met Player of the Year as a senior this spring. "I really like the pitching coach there [Ben Bachmann], and I'm really looking forward to going there. And I'm enjoying my summer team right now. I don't see it as a big loss, just when the next draft comes. . . . it's something to look back on."
For most elite high school players, the draft is the crowning moment of their baseball careers to that point. Scouts with stopwatches and radar guns have followed closely their games for months, with the best players garnering attention from multiple evaluators from the same team.
Cecil, though, knew what to expect. As part of the preparations for the draft, each team wants to know where a prospect expects to be taken and how much money it will take to sign the player. Because most top high school players have college scholarships waiting, the players have some leverage in negotiating with teams.
It was known Cecil wanted to be selected in the first five rounds and receive a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $500,000. The teams that were most interested in Cecil, however, were thinking about drafting him a few rounds later.
"Once you tell them that you're not going to sign [for the standard bonus given to players selected in the] sixth or seventh round, there's no point to drafting you at all," Cecil said. "They're not going to waste their pick. Why draft a high school senior when he can go to college when they can draft a college senior who has no choice?"
"Signability is the biggest issue there is for a high school kid," said one scout who saw Cecil pitch. "It's just one of the quirks of the draft."
Instead of signing a contract, getting a tidy sum of cash and heading off to the minor leagues, Cecil is spending the summer pitching for the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts in the Clark Griffith Collegiate Baseball League, which features a 40-game season and requires players to use wood bats.
Although he was scheduled to make just his fourth start this past Tuesday, Cecil has learned plenty. In four games, three starts, he was 2-1 with a 1.71 earned run average, pitching 21 innings and allowing 13 hits and three walks while striking out 15 batters.
"It's a lot different," said Cecil, whose teammates include Riverdale Baptist All-Met third baseman Mitch Saum, who has signed with Winthrop, former DeMatha pitcher Tom Ballenger, who now plays for Maryland Baltimore County, and Matt Capece, a former All-Met at DeMatha who plays for Bucknell. "The hitters are smarter. They take. They have real good eyes, and they jump at their pitch instead of high school guys who take a pitch right down the middle to see you. They go right after you, and you have to do the same."
After the summer, Cecil will join a Maryland team that finished 22-33 this past season and was last in the nine-team Atlantic Coast Conference, a league that will become more competitive with next season's addition of Miami. The competition he faces this summer should be good preparation.
"The initial part of it, no matter how confident you are in yourself, whenever you jump to the next level there are always questions in your mind whether you belong there, and there are some of those mental barriers to overcome," Thunderbolts Coach Bobby St. Pierre said. "I think he understands where he fits in. He belongs here, and his future is in college baseball, and this is just a start to it."