MLB-Caliber Players Are Everywhere, Even Las Cruces

I went to college with a kid named Matt Adams. You may or may not have heard of him, he plays first base for the Washington Nationals.
This is relevant because of where Matt and I went to school, but we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Seth Wingerter over at Royals Farm Report posted an article about what he saw as an oddity. How is it that NMSU has the 2nd, 4th, 13th and 19th best batters in all of Division I as measured by OPS, yet the guy who is ranked 19th is the only one getting any talk as a draft prospect?
Here’s the offense that leads all of Division I in OPS, OBP and batting average, all by comfortable margins, and the three draft-eligible guys from that lineup are collectively barely a footnote in the upcoming draft.
The argument is presented that the level of competition the Aggies have faced as a team gives some MLB franchises pause as to just how reliable the statistics are from these NMSU players as an indicator of their potential at the major league level.
Which brings us back to Matt Adams.
Matt and I both attended Slippery Rock University, a small Division II school in Northwestern Pennsylvania. You might be more familiar with their conference rival California University of Pennsylvania, but they are an 8,000-student school in a conference full of similar entities, and they mostly play each other.
I covered the team for the paper during Matt’s sophomore and junior seasons, and Matt was getting looks from some pro scouts. This made sense for him as a catcher with an OPS of around 1.200 for his collegiate career, without appearing to try too hard at it.
This was great, but Matt was a big dude in general, not just for a catcher – he was listed at 6’3″ and 245 pounds at the time, which might have been polite. There were concerns about whether he could stick at catcher, and teams were much more drawn to his hitting than to his fielding, anyway.
I vividly remember during a night game in that 2009 season, a scout for the Brewers was at the game and chatting us up behind the press box glass during the lulls.
He mentioned that the Brewers had interest in drafting Adams but were very concerned about the fact that both his size and his defense would probably mean shifting to first base.
They were very skeptical of his ability to hit well enough to stick at the professional level, especially considering he was currently “only” facing Division II competition.
In case you’re wondering whether that Brewers’ scout was right, Matt has not so much as sniffed an All-Star ballot in a decade since then. He has, however, produced 5.5 WAR at first base and earned almost $15 million in salary.
The thing is, Adams isn’t even remotely an anomaly within the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference he played in. Ryan Vogelsong, who spent 13 years with the Pirates and Giants and won two World Series rings, went to Kutztown University (another PSAC school).
David Lough came out of Mercyhurst and got a few cups of coffee with Kansas City and Baltimore. John Mabry came out of West Chester University and turned in a 14-year major-league career, the first eight as a reliable outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Hell, Adams isn’t even the only current major-leaguer from his own school now that Lou Trivino is a regular in the Oakland A’s bullpen.
I belabor the point here, but you get me. If I can find numerous examples of productive major-league baseball players from one small Division II conference in Pennsylvania, then why would anybody ever hesitate to take a flyer on a Division I player?
This is especially true in Major League baseball. Each franchise has numerous rosters to fill out across the minor leagues, and as such, there are over 1,200 players selected every single year.
You may have hesitations about a particular player because there are glaring holes in his swing, or he’s too far away from your organization’s skillset preference to be worth training up, but that shouldn’t mean that you don’t get as much spaghetti as possible to throw at the wall anyway.
Tristan Peterson may not be a hitter from a traditional power school, but you don’t play your home games in an essentially park-factor-neutral location and hit .400/510/.769 by accident, regardless of exactly which teams and pitchers you’re doing it against.
Surely you at least want to snag a player like that to find out whether production like that is sustainable since you have plenty of room in your full-organization depth chart to be wrong (since it wouldn’t be remotely the first time).
I’m here to tell you, MLB – take a change on these Aggies, because they’re definitely not lucky enough to stumble into success like this.

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