The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is unlike any other professional player selection system. The NFL, for instance, selects seven rounds of players each year, while the NBA Draft has just two rounds. And then there is baseball's draft, with 50 full rounds, plus compensation picks for free agent acquisitions.That means more than 1500 amateur players from high schools, junior colleges and universities from around the country will be selected each season.
Many of the high school players do not sign, choosing instead to play in college for a few years. It is not uncommon for a player to be drafted three times before he finally accepts a professional contract. The top picks receive multi-million dollar signing bonuses, and the watchful eyes of publications like Baseball America begin their ticking clock to determine if the players will be boons or busts for their teams. These are the players that make headlines, like Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and even Joe Borchard, who collected a signing bonus of $5.3 million from the White Sox back in 2000.
And then there is Brock Bond. Even if you consider yourself to be an avid Grizzlies fan, you had probably never heard of him before this year.
As it turned out, the Giants hadn't heard of him either when they made Bond their 24th Round selection out of the University of Missouri in 2007. They meant to take Lipscomb outfielder Casey Bond, and actually drafted the 5-foot-10, middle-infielder Brock by mistake.
The Giants would end up taking Casey with their next selection, but he would never pan out as a prospect and is now out of baseball. Brock, meanwhile, has proven to be quite the accidental find.
While he shares the same surname as the flashy, cocky British covert agent immortalized by Sean Connery on the big screen, his personality could not be more different. Bond is a soft-spoken, straightforward, humble kid with Midwest roots, who looks you in the eye as he says hello.
Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Bond started his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas, but quickly found that it wasn't the environment he was looking for, and transferred to the University of Missouri in Columbia. Mizzou provided more familiar surroundings for Bond, who reunited with many of his friends from childhood. It also helped that the campus was just a couple hours from home.
"It felt a lot more comfortable to be close to home," he explains. "Plus it made it easy for my family to come see me play, which helped a lot."
After batting just .250 his freshman year at Arkansas, Bond went on to hit .327 over his next two years at Mizzou before being drafted in June of 2007. While Bond considered returning to school for his senior season, he talked about his options with his family and his coaches, who encouraged him to take the plunge into professional baseball.
But with the closest minor league affiliate in the organization being the Rookie League team in Scottsdale, Arizona, Bond knew that he would have to find a way to succeed without the comforts of home.
"It was tough at first," Bond admits. "I got out to Arizona and was playing in 120-degree heat, wondering what I was doing there. I wondered if I should have gone back to school."
Surrounded by a bevy of young prospects, most of whom had been selected ahead of him, Bond could very well have faded into oblivion and never even made it out of Rookie Ball. He struggled in his short time there, but was moved to the Giants' affiliate in Salem-Keizer, Oregon, where he found a manager who appreciated his hard-working, grind-it-out style, and who was willing to give him a chance. That manager was Steve Decker.
Decker's willingness to look past Bond's size and draft status was quickly rewarded, as the second baseman hit .342 with a .430 on-base percentage the rest of the season. That earned him an offseason promotion to Low-A Augusta in 2008, but again Bond found himself on the bench as a backup. He continued to produce when given a chance, however, and found himself reunited with Decker at High-A San Jose mid-season. Then, in 2009, Bond started the season on the Disabled List before finally getting his shot as a starter in Double-A, leading off and playing second base for, well, guess who.
"He's given me a lot of opportunities that other coaches wouldn't give me," says Bond of Decker. And again Decker was rewarded for his faith in Bond, who went on to win the Eastern League batting title and help the Defenders to the post-season.
Decker has also provided some institutional stability for Bond within the farm system, giving him grounding and consistent leadership as he bounces from coast-to-coast through the various levels of the organization.
Arizona, Oregon, Connecticut and California can all seem like an awful long way from St. Louis, but having a familiar guiding influence has helped Bond continue to put up numbers at every level. In fact, he has batted .315 or better in each year of his professional career, and is off to another good start in Fresno in 2010. While he has only two career minor-league home runs to his name, Bond knows that is not his place on the team.
"Sure, everyone wants to be a home run hitter, be a star," he acknowledges. "But Deck just tells me to do what I do well, get on base, play hard. I know my role. You need a reliable guy in pressure situations, and I've always considered myself capable of being that guy."
Bond has finally made something of a name for himself, sneaking onto Baseball America's Top 30 organizational prospect list for the Giants in 2010, landing at number 29. Bond doesn't mind the lack of recognition from outside the organization.
"It doesn't matter whose face is in the paper," he says, without a hint of disappointment or envy.
At the same time, though, it certainly helps having someone like Decker around to make sure that he isn't overlooked. As the only minor league manager he's ever started and succeeded for, Bond knows how important Decker has been to his success.
"I joked around and told him he'd better bring me with him when he goes to the Big Leagues," laughs Bond, but there is a hint of truth in his statement. Decker has proven himself as a minor league manager and may well have a Major League job in his future. Of course, Bond has proven his worth as well, and he's not content with simply having proven the critics wrong so far.
"It's always been my dream to play Major League Baseball. I appreciate what I've accomplished so far, but I haven't achieved my goals yet."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.