WENATCHEE — Inside Paul Thomas Sr. Field, against a backdrop of the Wenatchee Mountains, Jason Monda draws a crowd of young autograph seekers.
The 2010 Capital High School graduate and senior-to-be at Washington State University signs everything from baseballs to the Frisbees that were given to kids at this Wenatchee AppleSox game on June 22.
Nine-year-old Caden Bruhn was one of the first to get Monda to sign a baseball after the 6-foot-4, 202-pound left-handed pitcher made his first start. Monda’s autograph was the only one the eager soon-to-be fourth-grader wanted.
“He’s my favorite,” Caden said.
Instead of beginning his professional career in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization, Monda is spending his summer playing part time for the AppleSox — a wood-bat team for college players in the West Coast League — while taking summer classes at WSU.
Without hesitation, the 21-year-old Monda says he made the right decision to forgo the Phillies’ offer of a $200,000 signing bonus, plus the cost of his final year of college, after the organization drafted him in the sixth round (181st overall) in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft June 7. Instead, he’ll return to WSU for his senior year.
Before calling Monda foolish for turning down a six-figure sum, consider what he weighed: He wants to earn his college
degree as soon as possible in a major that prepares him for entering the medical field, he likes being a student athlete in Pullman, and he has what he calls “unfinished business” to tend to at Washington State.
Specifically, he wants to get the Cougars to the postseason to make up for a disappointing 2013 campaign in which they went 23-32 overall and finished 10th in the Pacific-12 Conference.
The team had little success despite Monda’s breakout junior season as an outfielder and pitcher. He batted .294, hit seven home runs and drove in 40 runs. And although he hadn’t pitched since high school, he posted a 2-2 record and a 1.57 earned-run average in 16 appearances.
If he stays healthy and has a big senior season, Monda could be drafted even higher next year, WSU coach Donnie Marbut said.
Sure, Monda listened to the Phillies’ offer after they drafted him, but he simply wasn’t ready to take the money and leave WSU.
“This is where I want to be,” Monda said. “I love it here.”
This is the second time Monda has turned down an offer from a big league organization. After his senior year at Capital, when he hit .515 and drove in 34 runs, Monda was drafted in the 32nd round by the Colorado Rockies.
Turning pro at that time was hardly a thought for Monda. His heart was set on playing for Washington State, where his parents — Greg and Donna — met in the early 1980s.
Greg played for legendary Cougars baseball coach Chuck “Bobo” Brayton, then spent six seasons as a first baseman in the minor leagues, mostly in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, after they made him a 15th-round pick in 1983.
Greg and Donna say school has always been important to their middle son, whose twin, Michael, is older by 8 minutes and also plays for WSU. Jason has always been drawn to science; he has a 3.50 grade-point average as a zoology major. His ambitions include attending medical school.
His parents’ advice, in part, helped Jason be at peace with his decision to turn down the Phillies’ offer, which could have paid for medical school. A player who returns to school for his senior year has no leverage in negotiating a pro contract after his college eligibility expires. Monda took that into consideration, and he still chose to return to WSU.
“Once you sign,” Monda said, “you can’t play college baseball.”
Donna Monda has seen professional baseball from the perspective of a wife and now that of a mother. She and Greg spent the first four years of their marriage in cities such as Nashville, Tenn.; Burlington, Vt.; Reading, Penn.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while Greg played in the minor leagues. He reached as high as Triple-A Nashville with the Reds by age 26.
“We both have a perspective on what that life is like (in the minor leagues) and how difficult it is,” Donna said. “You need to be a mature kid to handle that. Jason would’ve been ready this year, no matter what.”
The Phillies tried their hardest to persuade Monda to sign, reaching out to him in Pullman and again in Olympia. Players have until July 13 to sign a pro contract, but Monda insists he won’t.
“When I got drafted, it was a cool feeling,” he said. “I was happy with where I was at, but reality set in a bit, and I had to think about the pros and cons in each situation. Both are good situations, but it became pretty evident that my heart was set on going back to school.”
BREAKING THE TREND
Sixth-round draft picks are almost shoo-ins to sign pro contracts. Last year, all 30 major league teams signed their sixth-round picks, and this year, 27 of the 30 sixth-rounders have already signed. The other two who haven’t signed played on College World Series teams – Oregon State’s Matt Boyd and UCLA’s Nick Vander Tuig.
This will be the first time since 1995 that the Phillies won’t sign their sixth-round pick, but Monda extended his gratitude toward the organization.
“I have the utmost respect for them,” he said. “At the same time, I feel like if I work hard and have a good year, I’ll still have the same opportunity next year.”
Monda knows, too, the backlash he will get from people wondering why he didn’t sign. Some Phillies fans have taken to criticizing him on Internet message boards, with words such as “mistake,” “wasted pick” and “crazy” commonly being used.
Greg Monda, whose minor league career included a stint in the Phillies’ organization in 1988, can empathize, and he says his son’s decision is a “win-win, no matter what.”
“When he made his decision, he knew people (would) wonder, but he’s at peace with it,” Greg said. “If he’s serious about going out, it will be there next year. Who knows what the money will be like next year?”
Marbut has a good idea.
An assistant coach on Capital’s 1998 Class 3A state title team, Marbut said Monda could be a first-round draft choice in 2014. The average signing bonus for this year’s first-round draft picks was about $1.9 million.
Monda was a finalist for this spring’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, which honors the nation’s top player who pitches and plays another position. That makes Marbut more excited about what his star player could do with another year of college ball.
“When he puts it all together,” Marbut said, “there’s no better two-way player.”
FEELING AT HOME
On the night of June 22, at Paul Thomas Sr. Field on the campus of Wenatchee Valley College, Monda went 1-for-4 with an RBI double in front of 1,374 fans in his second game with the AppleSox.
He also pitched 3 innings in his first start of the summer, giving up one earned run on five hits and striking out two. He got no decision as the AppleSox beat the Kitsap BlueJackets, 4-3 in 10 innings.
AppleSox coach Ed Knaggs said Monda has made an immediate impact on the field and among his teammates, even though he is only a part-time player until summer classes end.
“We’re a little lucky,” Knaggs said.
Monda didn’t stay for the next day’s series finale against Kitsap. He had to be in his physics class at WSU first thing that Monday morning.
Said Marbut: “We’re excited. Our best recruit decided to show up next year.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org/southsoundsports