Although Major League Baseball's annual player draft ended last Saturday, there are unselected players who still have chances at professional careers.
Players such as former Red Bank, Cleveland State, Chattanooga State and Lee University pitcher Jeremy Bales continue to wait on a phone call from a major league club -- a call that could come today, this week, next week or never.
"It comes down to being available at the right time," Lee coach Mark Brew explained. "The [drafted] players that are going to hold out become obvious pretty early, and within a week to 10 days teams have a pretty good feel for that, so some will sign minor league free agents. The independent league teams wait through the draft, and they'll be reaching out to people as well."
It is, he said, a niche thing in a lot of organizations. Clubs evaluate what positions need to be filled in their minor league affiliates and then their scouts offer opinions on players still available.
So players such as Bales seek their niche.
"There are probably a few opportunities here and there," Brew said. "Finding the right fit is the biggest thing."
A fit, even one that's questionable, represents opportunity.
"I'm waiting around to see what happens," Bales said. "I have always dreamed of being in the position of playing professional baseball. I want to play professionally. I have some guys talking to some people about free agency. If not, then I'd like to play in a good independent league."
Bales is unique in so many ways.
At Red Bank he was behind Alan Walden and Hunter Atkins, both college and pro prospects, in the pitching rotation, and his value to the Lions was more as a shortstop.
"Hunter and Alan were always talking about playing pro ball. They knew they were going to get the opportunity," he said. "It kept me working hard. It kept me working hard, and I felt if I did that and trusted in myself maybe there would be an opportunity for me."
He became a full-time pitcher, submarine-style, at Cleveland State, the first of three collegiate stops before his arrival at Lee.
His fastball needs no radar gun. It has been clocked only from the high 70s to the low 80s. It is the submarine style of delivery of fastball, slider and changeup and the ability to make his fastball sink or drop that could open the professional door.
"I've gone about things in a way that's different from most people," he said. "I'm throwing submarine, working hard and hoping to put up numbers."
He did so last summer in the Coastal Plains League, leading all pitchers with a 0.36 ERA. At Lee this past season he had the best ERA and led the team in appearances.
"I am hoping for an opportunity, but I also have faith in what the Lord has in store for me," he said. "Obviously I'd be lying if I said not getting drafted wasn't a disappointment. It's frustrating, but I'm not opposed to going at it by a different route."
A December graduate at Lee who's begun working on his master's degree, Bales was named recipient of the Hank Burbridge Outstanding Christian Leadership Award, the highest honor that can be earned in NCCAA baseball. It goes to a player who is seen to possess and demonstrate outstanding athletic ability, leadership qualities and a vibrant and clear Christian testimony on and off the field.
"The draft was hard to watch, but I have complete faith in what the Lord has in store for me, whether it's signing as a free agent or independent ball," Bales said. "Whatever, I plan to continue pursuing the highest level of baseball. I was once told not to eliminate a sport until it eliminates you, and I don't feel the sport has eliminated me yet. I don't throw 95, but I have the ability to play."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...