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Dick Harmon: Former professional breaks down BYU freshman Jacob Hannemann's decision to turn pro

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 7:53 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young University baseball player Jacob Hannemann waits to bat during the game with San Francisco in Provo  Thursday, May 9, 2013.  Hannemann was as a recruited as a football player and is now getting looked at by MLB scouts.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young University baseball player Jacob Hannemann waits to bat during the game with San Francisco in Provo Thursday, May 9, 2013. Hannemann was as a recruited as a football player and is now getting looked at by MLB scouts. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

BYU freshman Jacob Hannemann will soon be a very wealthy young man.

After the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft Friday, Hannemann confirmed he would turn pro and forgo returning to play college baseball. The soon-to-be pro also won't play football for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who gave the multi-sport star a football scholarship out of Lone Peak High and hoped the LDS returned missionary would help shore up the Cougars' secondary this fall.

Instead, Hannemann will be off pursuing dreams of becoming a Chicago Cub.

Extremely talented, the freshman All-American could earn a signing bonus of more than $700,000. It opens the door for him to be called up to the the majors someday, a chance of a lifetime. He is a lucky man. He had a lot of choices few young athletes ever have in a lifetime of athletics.

Here's a dissection of Hanneman's decision by someone who did return to college — multiple times — after getting drafted.

That person is Mitch Jones, who was drafted four times after playing baseball at Mountain View High in Orem. Jones decided to forgo turning pro three times, instead electing to play baseball at Utah Valley and then Arizona State. As a Sun Devil, he broke batting records held by superstars Bob Horner and Reggie Jackson.

As a professional player, the majority of his career — as talented as he was — was spent on long bus rides and inside changing venues. His major league experience was brief.

Now, if you’re lucky enough to get Jones in a golf scramble team, he can rocket a golf ball more than 340 yards. He’s an incredible athlete with amazing power in his silky smooth swing. It made him money as a pro baseball player.

The Texas Rangers first drafted Jones in 1997, then the Baltimore Orioles picked him in each of the next two years. Finally, the Yankees drafted Jones in the seventh round (218th overall) in 2000 after he finished his career at ASU.

Because Jones stayed in college, he set a Utah Valley record with 41 career homers in two years. At ASU, his .787 slugging percentage, with 27 homers, set a single-season Sun Devil record. Jones was a four-time All-Star with the Yankees’ minor-league system and started 2005 at the Yankees’ Triple-A Columbus Clippers, where he had 27 homers, 79 RBI and a .268 batting average. In April of that year, he hit for the cycle, something no Clipper did again until Jason Kipnis accomplished the feat in 2010. He won the Triple-A home run derby, defeating Ian Kinsler.

Jones later signed with the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates before retiring in 2011. He finished up with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.

Jones’ major league experience came as a Dodger in 2009 when he got called up from the Albuquerque Isotopes.

Jones was kind enough to answer my request for his perspective on Hannemann's decision as a veteran professional baseball player.

The pros:

”Obviously it is a huge chance to get an opportunity to chase a dream that very few ever have. Some experts have said only 5 percent of high school kids play college. Of those, only another 5 percent play in the pros."

“The opportunity to make a lifetime’s worth of income is only one contract away after entering pro ball."

”The friends you make playing 142 (minors), 162 (MLB) games in almost as many days, are friends you will have for a lifetime. Can't help becoming like a family."

“You will have an opportunity to travel the country and see and meet many different types of people."

”I believe baseball is a great teacher of life. The amount of failure versus success (3 out of 10 being good) in baseball will either make you quit or become very mentally tough. That’s a quality that will help you your whole life.”

The cons:

”One-hundred-and-sixty-two games in 170 days and a new city every three days is not for everyone. If you're not sure of exactly who you are as a person, that lifestyle will decide for you. In my opinion, BYU baseball players already have one strike against them on draft day due to a string of past players that have struggled or quit early after a team takes a chance on them. I guarantee when a team meets about drafting an LDS/BYU kid, that’s one of the first questions: a perception of Mormon/missionary players not being able to handle the lifestyle. I never played with another LDS kid in 11 years of pro ball."

“Leaving school early and taking a chance on pro ball will put you seriously behind in getting a career going if you don't find success. It's important that if you’re leaving school it's for enough money to at least impact your life. Kids outside the top eight to 10 rounds have a hard time getting a serious look."

”It is very difficult to have or start a family in this lifestyle. You are never in the same city for more than a few days."

“The sacrifices made to follow the dream of pro baseball are many. Eight months out of the year you are missing in action from anything but ball. I missed numerous weddings, funerals, farewells and family functions I will never get back. If you have kids, as they start to get older and have their own things, they travel with you less and less. It’s very tough to be alone as much as you are regardless of if you’re married or single."

“The temptations are never-ending — not just baseball but all pro sports. People hate Tiger Woods for what he was exposed for, but he is the norm for the lifestyle as a professional athlete."

“Forgoing a pro career for a college experience is an individual choice that only a guy blessed with those opportunities has to make for his own personal experience.”

Hannemann was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 48th round out of Lone Peak High back in 2010. This is his second time being drafted. Since he has chosen to sign a contract and turn professional, Jones has some advice.

The Advice:

“The best advice I was ever given about professional baseball was to keep control of my own career. You will have new hitting, fielding and head coaches almost on a yearly basis as you try to make your way through the minors. If you try to please them all with changes and tweaks to your game, you will be lost forever. Every coach wants to put their stamp on you in case you make it big. Learn to understand your game enough to know when to implement adjustment and when to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’"

“Stay away from the many distractions the baseball life has to offer (drinking, women, late nights, etc.) Find a way to keep your eye on the prize. I played with more guys than I can count that could have been household names had they kept their noses clean."

“Pro ball is about each guy’s agenda. Find a way to be a team player in a selfish, stats-driven environment, and you will stand out in the crowd."

“Integrate with the guys regardless of how you feel about the way they live their lives. That lifestyle can be shocking, especially for a Utah County kid. Some BYU players, especially returned missionaries, have had a hard time accepting the way pro baseball players live their lives and have walked away from the game."

I think Jones has it nailed. These are sage words to someone with a similar background.

Hannemann had even more on his plate because football also factored into the decision.

But after going so high in the draft, that decision has now been made.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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