Eric Jagielo was a 9-year-old aspiring slugger practicing with his dad the last time the Yankees drafted a college position player in the first round. That was John-Ford Griffin, an outfielder selected in 2001, who went on to appear in 13 Major League games, none with the Yankees.
Jagielo believes his future is brighter. The power-hitting third baseman from Notre Dame owns a lefty slugger's swing that would fit nicely inside Yankee Stadium. And the Yankees, who drafted Jagielo with their first pick in the 2013 Draft, may just have a long-term opening at third base.
But for Jagielo, the Bronx still seems pretty far away. The No. 26 overall pick appeared in 55 games during his first Minor League season, hitting .264 with six homers, 27 RBIs and a .376 on-base percentage, mostly with short-season Staten Island. He figures to see time at Class A Charleston or Class A Advanced Tampa to start his first full year, with a chance of reaching the Majors in 2015 not out of the question.
We took a few minutes to find out Jagielo's thoughts on the last year and his future in pinstripes:
MiLB.com: You just finished up your first season with the Yankees -- what was the transition and experience like, now that you've had a chance to relax and look back?
Eric Jagielo: The experience, it's still awesome. When you get drafted, deep down you wish you get picked by a team with a tradition, and with the Yankees, it's an honor to play for them. Secondly, the biggest transition was playing every day and traveling city to city through the night and having to focus every day and realizing it's all on a greater scale. It's not like college where you're getting a couple hundred at-bats.
MiLB.com: Take me back to Draft Day. You're coming off a big season at Notre Dame; everyone has you down as a likely first-rounder. How did it feel hearing your name called?
Jagielo: The Draft Day was crazy -- you never know what's going to happen. My agent told me the Draft can take a wind of its own. I wasn't talking much, wasn't telling people where I thought I'd end up, but it was nice to be surrounded by family and friends. As soon as my name got called, it was just a feeling of relief. And that's an experience I can't put into words, a dream come true, indescribable.
MiLB.com: When you're the Yankees' top Draft pick, does that mean you get a phone call from Derek Jeter or Reggie Jackson or whatever?
Jagielo: [Laughs] I was fortunate enough, at Notre Dame when I got injured in the final quarter of our season, and then when I got drafted by the Yankees, they had me rehab the first two weeks, and when I was down here [in Tampa], Jeter and A-Rod were rehabbing, too, so I was able to work out with them. I got a call from [Yankees manager] Joe Girardi; [Yankees special assistant to the GM] Jim Hendry called me that night. I got to meet Reggie at instructs, and I got a text message from David Phelps, since he went to Notre Dame, the next day, welcoming me to the organization. He said, "If I ever need anything, here's my number, feel free to reach out." So I thought that was really cool.
MiLB.com: The Yankees had a pretty busy first round, taking another slugger, Aaron Judge, and a lefty named Ian Clarkin after they selected you. Neither of them saw much playing time last year, but have you had a chance to talk with them?
Jagielo: I have more of a relationship with Judge, but I got to meet Ian Clarkin over the summer. He went down with an injury and Aaron, after he signed, he tweaked his quad, so they both were injured. And when you're hurt, you have to do everything possible to get healthy. They're taking it slow, going with the process, and as soon as they take the field, it'll show why the Yankees chose them. But they didn't want to rush.
MiLB.com: Last week, Yankees vice president of player operations Mark Newman said the organization would like to start you and Judge at Tampa, if you're up to it. What's your outlook entering your first Spring Training?
Jagielo: First off, I'm down in Tampa now and there's pre-camp, like early arrivals for Spring Training, so that was the first step. You're getting hit with snow [in New York], and with me being from Chicago, it's hard to do baseball stuff outside. Coming to Spring Training, I'm not sure what to expect. It'll be my first time going, and I'm going to go in there and do the same thing I did my first couple weeks -- just go with everything and see what they want you to do, get into a routine. When it comes to the games, I don't think I have to be someone I'm not -- just play my game, prove myself, and they'll put me wherever I have the opportunity to succeed. I'd love to stay in Tampa with the weather, but I've heard Charleston is a great place to play. So for me, it's a win-win.
MiLB.com: You raised your Draft value with a big summer in the Cape Cod League. What was it like living and playing out there? I saw you Tweeted a photo of Tom Brady's house on the water.
Jagielo: [Laughs] Yeah, it's a beautiful area of the country, one of those things where I grew up watching Summer Catch -- everything I thought it would be as soon as I got out there. The atmosphere is unbelievable. Each town takes on their players, you walk around downtown and they know you're around for the summer. ... One of the best things I've ever done, it helped not only for baseball but also friendships, and I keep in touch with the host families too.
MiLB.com: The Cubs drafted you in the 50th round back in 2010, one of the very last selections of the Draft that year. In 2013, you're one of the first to go. Obviously that has turned out to be a good call, but was it a difficult decision to turn down your favorite team and focus on school at the time?
Jagielo: It was an honor and it was awesome to be a Chicago kid and get drafted by your hometown. But I think my parents and I made it clear, I wanted to go to school and the opportunity I had with Notre Dame, I think, to have those three years, to have that under my belt, that will speak more volumes. School was more important, and I think I made the right decision, especially because it was Notre Dame.
MiLB.com: When you hear Notre Dame, you think football, Rudy, the gold helmets, that iconic fight song. What was your overall experience at Notre Dame, from baseball to the academic experience?
Jagielo: I think you can sum it up with the student body. You're thrown in there, the athletes are practicing together, but what makes the school special is the kids who are there and the support they give to each dorm. The student body will remind me the most of Notre Dame and meeting people who will be future CEOs and running Fortune 500 companies. It was diversifying yourself with the whole student population.
MiLB.com: Are you still planning to finish your degree there?
Jagielo: I will eventually. Right now, baseball is my priority.
MiLB.com: And you grew up in Illinois, not far from the school in Indiana. Was Notre Dame always high on your list?
Jagielo: Actually it wasn't. Funny story, my mom told me I'd never go to Notre Dame. After I went to a visit there and liked it, she said you'll never go to Notre Dame. But it was the place for me to be -- it worked out. Growing up, I was not a fan [laughs].
MiLB.com: Really? Who was your team?
Jagielo: The Texas Longhorns, especially when Vince Young was there. I remember him winning the Rose Bowl.
MiLB.com: You were the Big East Player of the Year in 2013, almost hit .400 (.388, a single-season record at UND), a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award. Did it get overwhelming at all as you start to see yourself ranked for the Draft and scouted and have all these milestones piling up?
Jagielo: Definitely, getting all the media attention -- it was something I had to learn how to deal with. The coaches helped me take the pressure off myself and worry about playing. You saw notifications on Twitter of being mentioned, and so it was in the back of the head. I tried to block it out the best I could.
MiLB.com: You're a power-hitting third baseman. The Yankees find themselves in need of a third baseman of the future with A-Rod's post-2014 future unclear. Some have said you may be up by late 2015 -- what's it been like to watch his situation unfold recently and what type of pressure do you feel being in this spot?
Jagielo: I don't feel too much pressure, I think that if that opportunity comes, I'd definitely take it. A-Rod, I got to meet him and talk to him and I think I learned a lot from him. He told me some good advice, some advice to improve and he told me what helped him. I think it was beneficial to talk to him and pick his brain about pro ball and ask him what he saw, the changes he made.
MiLB.com: Take us back to your first day in the Minors, which was with the Gulf Coast League Yankees, as far and obscure from New York as you can get in the Yanks system. What was it like suiting up that first day?
Jagielo: I still had the butterflies. With my first professional experience, with me as the new Draft pick, I wanted to show myself that I belonged. It was three weeks since the last time I played, so I got humbled pretty quickly, I think I went 0-4 with a couple of strikeouts. And then you kinda relax.
MiLB.com: Most memorable moment from the 2013 season?
Jagielo: I think just playing in New York -- I think every day going to the field and you look out and you see the [Manhattan] skyline. That's the best moment.
MiLB.com: You finished the year at Staten Island. What was it like making the transition, living in New York City, being the No. 1 overall pick in the locker room?
Jagielo: It took some time. A lot of the guys joked around with me being the pick I was, but when it came to living, that was a little transition. We lived in a hotel out in Staten Island and I didn't have car, so I had to rely on other people. That transition was tough -- I've always been able to do what I want, go out and eat when I want. I think the biggest transition was being at the ballpark all day, you wake up, head to the ballpark and you're there from 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at night.
MiLB.com: You were a New York-Penn League All-Star last year, which meant you got to play alongside former Notre Dame teammate Trey Mancini, who was drafted in the eighth round by Baltimore and saw time with Aberdeen. How fun was it to play in that game and be teammates again with Trey?
Jagielo: It was awesome. When we finished up our Notre Dame careers, I knew he'd get drafted and it would be the last time we might put a uniform on together. To go back and be on the same team and be in the same clubhouse was a cool experience. He's a nice guy, and we got to meet some guys in the Orioles organization too. It was cool to branch out.
MiLB.com: You weren't a full-time third baseman until mid-2012 -- would you prefer to stay there going forward, or are you open to move?
Jagielo: I'm open to move, but I've always wanted to be out on the field. I'm most comfortable at third base, but in college, I played wherever my team needed me. Junior year, they put me at third full time, and I'm getting more comfortable and seeing the progress every day.
MiLB.com: You bat lefty and throw right-handed. Did someone teach you to swing lefty as a kid, in case you ever made it this far?
Jagielo: My dad kinda pushed me toward it, but I always picked it up left-handed. Everything I swing is left-handed, but it was more my dad -- he wanted me to be a left-handed hitter.
MiLB.com: Favorite baseball player growing up?
Jagielo: David Wright.
MiLB.com: Favorite sports teams?
Jagielo: Straight Chicago: Blackhawks, Bears and Cubs.
MiLB.com: It's your Major League debut -- what's your first at-bat song?
Jagielo: Tough question. I think I'd have to go back, this has been the walk-out song I've had the most in my career: "Already Home" by Jay-Z.