BHS pitcher Ray signs pro contract
Nationals lure left-hander away from college plans
By CAROL STUART
For Brentwood Home Page
Former Brentwood High pitcher Robbie Ray was all packed up to start college at Arkansas, but now he's headed on a different journey after signing a professional baseball contract with the Washington Nationals.
Ray, a left-hander drafted in the 12th round, already has reported to the Rookie League in Florida after agreeing to terms with the Nationals just before Monday's midnight signing deadline. He was 7-1 at BHS this past spring with an 0.50 ERA and played on the Pan-Am under-18 gold medalist USA team in Venezuela last fall.
"We're very excited about it," his father, Robert Ray, said Tuesday night. "The decision was pretty much totally his, with our guidance. He felt like he was ready to go play. And they made it to where he felt like he was compensated for it. He just made the decision that he wanted to go ahead and start his major league career early."
Ray, whose family was invited to a visit at Nationals Park on Aug. 14, reportedly signed for a $799,000 bonus -- which would amount to about fourth-round money. His draft pick probably would have been higher if he hadn't already committed to play in college, plus the Nationals probably knew his family was pro-education (his mom is a doctor).
"I'd have to work 25 years just for his signing bonus," BHS Coach Lee Vaughn joked last night.
"It's a lifetime opportunity. I've been coaching 12 years, and I've never had anybody get that kind of offer."
Vaughn said he's had players who had talent before, but maybe not the intangibles that Ray has -- including being a lefty and his mound presence.
"When he's on the mound, he's mature beyond his years," the Bruins coach said. "When he's pitching, he's really going to work. He's going to do whatever it takes to win."
Vaughn also said Ray wasn't finished physically developing yet and could already out-throw some pitchers now in the majors.
"He's learned a lot in the last year. He's got a huge upside. His best days are definitely ahead of him," his high school coach said. "His ultimate worth is more than a 12th-round pick."
Ray is "catching the tail-end of rookie ball," and then will be home for about a week before going to the Instructional League, probably in Vermont or Arizona, his father said. He may pitch in a high-level Class A league next year.
"He was packed up. We actually took him the week before to orientation," his dad said. "We were really going to go ahead and go that direction, but the Nationals wanted him to come play for them. And they wanted to make a run at him is what they said."
Robbie Ray has played baseball since age 4. His "career" as a left-hander actually started at about 3, when his parents bought him a glove -- for a right-hander -- and he put in on the wrong hand. They have the photo of him with the baseball in his left hand -- and for a pitcher, being a lefty often means a better chance and/or longevity for a major-league pitcher.
But it was at about age 13 that Ray's father says he first contemplated that his son could maybe make the big leagues, that he "had something really special."
"You could pick him out of a crowd even if you didn't know who it was," Robert Ray said. "And he got better every year. He always looked above what he played."
Robbie's dad knows the road to the major leagues isn't guaranteed, even with the contract, and it might not be easy.
"The advice that we've given him is to go for what he wants to go for and stick to it, and just do what he needs to do to get to where he's going," Robert Ray said. "He said he was ready, and we felt like he was ready, and he's very mature for his age."
The Rays also felt like the Nationals were a good organization. The struggling Nationals need help, too, so they might call on Robbie earlier.
During the USA junior national team experience, he got to play with catcher-outfielder Bryce Harper, selected by the Nationals as the No. 1 overall pick in the major league draft. He also played with the No. 2 pick, Jameson Taillon, a right-handed pitcher picked by Pittsburgh.
As a senior at Brentwood High this past spring, Robbie Ray had a 7.3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.
"He's been injury free all his life," his father said. "He's always been able to go a long way. He's a seven-inning pitcher -- all the way through high school. He's had what it takes to start and finish the game."