In the aftermath of an awful lot of hype about the 2009 MLB amateur draft, I decided to take a look at Albert Pujol’s early career to see if this famous 13th-round pick could shed some light on the whole draft process.
In 1997 and 1998, USA Today gave Pujols, a shortstop at Fort Osage High School in Independence, Missouri, honorable mention in its All-USA baseball team rankings. Before that, on March 27, 1997, the Kansas City Star reported:
The future of Fort Osage High School baseball is on hold.
The outlook is unclear because of Scott Hanna’s status. Hanna is the Indians’ senior Missouri Class 4A all-state pitcher who has yet to recover completely from a broken leg he suffered the third week of the football season.
“I’m not sure if I’ll get anything out of him all season,” Coach Dave Fry said. “He wants to be out there, but the doctors keep telling him to wait. He’s been to practice, but his activity is limited. ” If Fort Osage hoped for a repeat performance of 1996, it needs Hanna. . . .
“We’ve got a lot of holes to fill,” Fry said. “We’re giving everybody a shot. We’ve got to find some more pitching and try to fit all the pieces together. ” With plenty of new faces and questions to be answered, somebody to watch will be junior Albert Pujols, who comes from the Dominican Republic by way of New York City. He collected two hits Monday.
Late that November, the Examiner of Independence, MO reported:
Fort Osage baseball coach Dave Fry has another thing to be thankful for today. He just found out that all-state shortstop Albert Pujols, who helped the Indians win the Class 4A state championship last season, has been given an extra year of eligibility. That means that Pujols will be just a junior this season and has two years of baseball eligibility remaining.
“Albert came to me and said that he wanted to get a good education,” Fort Osage principal Steve Scott said. “When he moved here last year, he was able to get his school work done, but he had so much trouble with the language that it really posed some problems.” So Scott and Fort Osage activities director Bill Gray petitioned the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) to see if he could be given another year of eligibility, thus making him a junior this year. He was listed as a junior last year.
“We talked to his ESL (English as a Secondary Language) teacher and we found out he just wasn`t grasping the language,” Gray said. “Plus, he didn’t have the credits to graduate.” The original petition was rejected by MSHSAA executive director Becky Oakes, so Scott and Gray appealed the ruling. They then went before a seven-man panel with an appeal. The panel approved the appeal, giving Pujols another year of eligibility.
Pujols, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the Fort Osage school district last season and took the area by storm. He likely would have been a high pick in the 1998 Major League Baseball amateur draft next June. “That’s what impresses me about the situation,” Scott said. “Albert could have gotten a general diploma and been drafted and probably made a lot of money, but he chose to spend the extra time in school to get a quality education.”
In July 1998, with Pujols playing American Legion ball, the Examiner reported:
Albert Pujols was a one man wrecking crew.
But the entire Oak Grove Post 379/Hi-Style lineup was a murderer’s row.
And because of their respective offensive heroics, Pujols’ Hi-Boy Drive In/Post 340 and Hi-Style enter Saturday’s action in the American Legion Fifth District Tournament on a winning note.
Pujols, who already smashed his single-season home run mark of 29, hit his 34th in a 10-0 victory over Raytown Post 71 Friday afternoon at Hidden Valley Park.
He also drove home three runs to break his single-season mark of 119 RBIs. He now has 121 this season in just 60 games.
“He’s an amazing player,” Hi-Boy manager Gary Stone said of his slugging shortstop. “We did all right today. We played like we’re capable of playing.”
In January 1999, Pujols left Fort Osage for Maple Woods Community College. He said: “I am excited to play in college. I just want to get more experience. College is different than high school.”
Maple Woods athletic director Richard Guymon said: “I think he will get a lot more scouts to look at him and some scouts will see him that have not seen him before, both collegiate and big league. This will give him a much higher pick than if he just came out of high school. I would probably think [he'll attend for] just a semester. But that’s his decision.”
Pujols declined any talk about plans, just saying: “I don’t have (the draft) in my mind, or where I get drafted. I am just thinking about playing baseball.”
At the time, the Examiner noted: “Pujols played a key factor on Fort Osage’s 1997 Class 4A championship team and shattered the American Legion home run record with 35 last summer. He batted a stellar .593 and drove in 124 runs.”
That June, the Examiner wrote: “One college player expected to go high in the draft is former Fort Osage High School slugger Albert Pujols, who played this spring at Maple Woods Community College. The Dominican Republic native, who broke several Examiner area records in high school and American Legion baseball, is expected to be selected in the top three rounds.”
It didn’t happen, of course, and I don’t know why a guy who was so celebrated in the local media slipped so far. But the Kansas City Star reported on July 15, 1999:
Albert Pujols, a baseball player at Maple Woods Community College, recently was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the first-year free-agent draft.
Pujols, 19 and a former player at Fort Osage High School, might return to Maple Woods in the fall if the Cardinals don’t sweeten their initial contract offer.
“I was really excited about getting drafted. It all depends on what the Cardinals want to do.”
Pujols is playing this summer in the Jayhawk League in Hays, Kan.
Pujols made the NJCAA all-region team as a shortstop last spring and led the Centaurs to within one game of a return trip to the NJCAA World Series.
In 2003, with Pujols already established as a major star, Sports Illustrated’s Mike Fish took a look at him. He quoted Maple Woods baseball coach Marty Kilgore saying this about Pujols:
“They don’t know what the hell they’re doing here in the Midwest as far as drafting. There are some idiots here that think they know the game. It is damn ridiculous — 13th round. This guy’s not getting paid money that some got that haven’t even stepped on the damn [major league] field yet.
“I had scouts come to me the next year after the draft and tell me they didn’t turn him in [as a guy worth drafting]. You got damn poor scouting, that is how you explain it. You have 100 guys who do their job and know what they’re doing and another 200 scouting each other.”
[You can read an expansion upon this post in an article on Pujols as an amateur that I wrote for Hardball Times. Also, check this page to see what Pujols did in 2000 after joining the Cardinals organization, with three different farm teams in so far his only year playing in the minors.]