Tonight, a young man named Mike Kickham will make his major league debut for the San Francisco Giants. One of our starting pitchers, Ryan Vogelsong, broke his hand, hit by a pitch, and will be out for two months. Kickham is Vogelsong’s replacement. He will be the first guy drafted by the Giants in the 2010 draft to make it to the major leagues.
Every year, Major League baseball conducts a draft. Amateur players (either straight out of high school or college guys) put their names in a pool, and teams draft them in reverse order. In other words, the team with the worst record in the previous system drafts first, and the team with the best record drafts last. When a player is drafted, that means that the team who selected him has exclusive rights to try to sign him to a minor league contract. But the player doesn’t have to sign if he doesn’t want to. The draft lasts fifty rounds, and of the players the Giants selected in 2010, thirteen did not sign. If you’re a talented high school player, you have options. You can sign a contract, and start playing for money right away. Or you can go to college, play college ball on scholarship. Likewise, a college player drafted after his freshman year could decide that the money being offered isn’t good enough, and stick around in college another year.
The Giants are typical of most major league teams, in that they own and manage seven minor league teams, in addition to the major league club in San Francisco. These minor league teams are all ranked AAA, AA, A and Rookie league. The AAA team (in Fresno), consists of players who are basically ready to play in the majors. AA (Richmond VA) is for the players who are close to that level. The three A teams are not all equal. The San Jose A team is considered a ‘high A team’, playing competition a cut above other A teams. The other A teams are in Augusta GA and Salem-Keizer OR. In addition, the Giants own two Rookie league teams, which play a much shorter season than A-level teams. One is an Arizona League team (the entire league made up of teams from town in Arizona), and the other is in the Dominican Republic. All these minor leagues are professional leagues–the guys get paid, though not much. Orem has a Rookie league team–the players live with families in the community. The folks who live across the street from us in Provo fostered several Orem Owlz over the years.
So every year, 50 players are drafted, 35-40 are signed, and 35-40 minor league players already in the system are released. They’re finished, their major league dreams permanently ended. They played baseball professionally, but they never made it to The Show. They have a little money in their pockets, but it’s not much. It’s brutally Darwinian. You’re either good enough or you’re not. If not, you’re gone. So a young man drafted by a major league franchise faces tremendous odds against making his major league dreams come true.
At the majors, though, there’s a chance to make serious money, enough money to basically retire for life. It’s certainly a dream worth pursuing.
To put it in perspective, Mike Kickham has been playing, up to now, on a minor league contract. When he signed a contract, he was probably paid a signing bonus. He was drafted in the sixth round, which means his signing bonus was probably in the neighborhood of $20,000. As a Rookie league player, his salary was $850 a month (though, again, his housing costs were minimal, as he probably stayed with a host family.) After that, he could negotiate a salary every year, but even AAA players usually make something like $50,000 to $80,000.
But Mike Kickham will sign a major league contract today. He’ll show up at the ballpark around 3 or 4, and it’ll be waiting for him. And the minimum major league salary is $490,000. Half a mill.
As you can see, Kickham’s a nice looking kid. Left handed pitcher, from Springfield, Missouri. 6′ 4″, 220. Born in St. Louis, life-long Cardinals fan. (Well, probably not anymore). He played college ball at Missouri State, where his stats were unimpressive. But the Giants pitching guru, Dick Tidrow, liked his delivery and his fastball, and persuaded the team to draft him. He signed late his rookie year, pitched only 3 innings at the Rookie level, then was inconsistent in 2011, pitching at Augusta. But he showed the Giants’ management enough that they jumped him to Richmond last year, where he really pitched well. That got him advanced to Fresno this year, where, after a rocky start, he pitched exceptionally well his last 8 starts.
He seems like a nice kid. His parents are both athletes–his father’s an amateur tennis player, and his Mom played college volleyball. He has three siblings. He’s bright–he was pre-med in college, and goes back to school to work on his degree in the off-season.
And after today, for the rest of his life, he’ll be a major league baseball player. His name will appear in the Baseball Encyclopedia. He will be able to tell his grandchildren about it, about pitching a ballgame in May, in Oakland (we’re playing the A’s) for the defending world champs. He’s in The Show. I hope his parents (Kevin and Dana) and his siblings (Danny, Caroline and Janie) will fly out for it. Mike Kickham makes his major league debut today, and his life will never be the same.