Kellogg, Robson, two of Canada’s best, chose school over pro
* LHP Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.) and OF Jacob Robson (Windsor, Ont.) were two drafted players who chose books over pro ball. Photos: Alexis Brudnicki ….
By Melissa Couto
The toughest decision facing most high school seniors lies in choosing a college.
While the young men on Canada’s junior national baseball team can certainly empathize, most kids their age don’t also have the added option of joining a major-league organization.
Outfielder Jacob Robson and left-hander Ryan Kellogg are among the handful of players on Team Canada’s roster that had to make a difficult choice this summer, and while the allure of the big leagues sways numerous draft picks on signing day, both of these young Canadians are choosing books as well as bats.
For Robson, San Diego’s 30th round pick, turning down the Padres to take his talents to Mississippi State University this fall was a matter of timing.
“With the Padres we felt that it wasn’t my time right now,” he said after a Team Canada practice at the Rogers Centre before departing to Italy. “I did personally want to have that college experience under my belt and whether I sign in my junior year or not, I’m still going to have three years of education. My ultimate goal is to play in the major leagues, but we felt that right now wasn’t the time.”
Though committed to college from the start, the Windsor, Ont. native admitted that seeing his name on the draft board this June momentarily enticed him to pick the Padres.
“No matter what — if you’re mind is set on college or junior college or back for a fifth year of high school — when you see your name, it’s a pretty important moment,” said the 17-year-old. “Being a player like me at an elite level wanting to play in the major leagues, it’s very tempting to try and take that money and to get into a professional organization right away.
“It’s tough to pass up that opportunity out of high school.”
Factoring into his decision to reject San Diego’s offer was the presence of a strong coaching staff in Mississippi with personal connections to the school.
“The head coach [John Cohen] went to Mississippi State as a player and it’s been his dream to come back — I don’t think there’s anywhere else he’d rather be,” said Robson. “He’s a great coach and that’s part of the reason why I chose to go there.”
As expected, Cohen is thrilled to have the highly-recommended Robson on his team.
“In our business you’re constantly contacting people and asking them about players and both Dan Bleiwas [the coach of the Ontario Blue Jays], and Greg Hamilton [the coach of Team Canada], really respected baseball guys, brought up Jacob’s name,” Cohen said.
“Obviously he’s a super talented young man and we had a need here … he brings a skill set of speed, defensive ability, and he’s a left-handed bat and all of those things bode well for his future.”
As a studious teenager however, the Vincent Massey high school graduate has more to look forward to than just playing baseball in Mississippi.
“Jacob’s a really good student so he is somebody who will prosper both on and off the ball field,” Cohen said. “College baseball presents the best of both worlds — you get an education and you still get your opportunity to play pro baseball. It’s certainly the best route for him and I think he’s going to be very successful.”
Robson himself is delighted to see what awaits him academically.
“Coming from a high school where we have an advanced curriculum, it will be interesting to see what type of material is in the calculus class, for example,” said the soon-to-be math major. “I’m excited to see that and get some work done.”
Though he’ll be studying in Starkville, Miss., over 1,300 kilometres away from Windsor, Robson will have a constant reminder of home. Rooming with him and playing alongside him on the Mississippi State Bulldogs will be Team Canada infielder Kyle Hann (Oakville, Ont.).
“I’m used to being away from family so that’s not going to be a huge issue, and I have Kyle,” Robson said, deflating any notion that he’s nervous to be on his own. “We’ve been playing with each other for a couple years now and we know each other pretty well.
“It’s nice to be free from your family as a teenager, but it’s also really nice to have someone you know and that you played with that’s going to be on the baseball team and in all your classes.”
While Robson and Hann enjoy the Mississippi sunshine, Kellogg, their junior national teammate, will be playing ball and studying engineering across America at Arizona State.
Seeing a natural fit for their team in Kellogg’s impressive left-handed arm and his devotion to education, the ASU Sun Devils began recruiting him last summer.
“We had some scouts that had seen him throw and we knew that he’s good academically, which is a nice prerequisite for a guy who’s going to be a tougher sign for pro ball,” said Ken Knutson, the associate head coach and recruitment coordinator with ASU. “I went to Chicago to watch him throw at [the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field] last year, then I saw him throw here in Arizona and started the recruitment process and that was that.”
It didn’t take long for Kellogg to choose ASU as his post-secondary institution. He signed a letter of intent with them last November, seven months before the draft.
After shagging fly balls under the closed roof of the Rogers Centre last week at Team Canada’s practice, the towering 6’5” southpaw politely and excitedly talked about this decision.
“It was between Arizona State, Ohio State and the University of Kentucky,” the new Sun Devil said of his prospective colleges. “Once I got down there and saw the campus in Arizona and the legacy behind their baseball team I couldn’t really pass that up.”
Knowing his commitment to college would cause signability issues with any major league team, the Whitby native was prepared to turn down even his home town Blue Jays after Jamie Lehman selected him in the 12th round.
“It was definitely a difficult decision, but the Jays knew that we probably wouldn’t be able to come to a deal,” he said while sitting in the dugout of the team whose offer he had to decline. “They knew I would need a pretty good deal to give up Arizona, but they had no hard feelings about that. They completely understood and I’m really glad that they did.”
Though he believes he would have been prepared to sign with a big league club this year if it had come down to it, Kellogg chose university anyway.
“Mostly I wanted the college experience,” the 18-year-old explained. “I think I could have played pro ball — I was ready for it — but I thought that it would be better for my development and better for me to go to school right now.”
Like Robson, Kellogg is also enthusiastic about the academic life which awaits him. Having already gone to ASU to attend a freshman engineering camp this summer, the Team Canada star got the chance to meet some of his classmates and familiarize himself with his new school.
“It will be exciting,” he said. “It will be fun to go out there and actually study what I want to study.”
Before opening the books however, Robson and Kellogg will first travel to Italy and then South Korea to participate in the World Juniors where they hope to medal in their last major tournament as players on the junior national team’s roster.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. It seemed like this trip would never get here and now it’s upon us,” Kellogg said hours before departing for the airport. “Greg Hamilton always talks about us being a Top 5 team so I don’t see any reason why we can’t medal in South Korea and why that medal can’t be gold.”
While Team Canada competes overseas, classes will have already begun at ASU and Mississippi State, meaning both players will essentially miss the first three weeks of school.
Kellogg isn’t too worried though.
“ASU and the Sun Devils were very accommodating,” he said. “They didn’t see it as a problem as long as I stay on top of things while I’m away, which is what they expect. They’ve made it easier by providing me with some of the resources and expectations ahead of time.”
Associate head coach Knutson admits that though not an ideal situation, Kellogg’s dedication to his academics will ensure there are no problems.
“One thing about Ryan is that he’s very mature and very conscientious,” he said. “It’s going to be fine as long as he does his work, which I’m sure he’s going to do, and it’s just such a great opportunity for a kid to go play for his national team.”
As for Robson, Mississippi State has arranged an easier course load for his first semester, and coach Cohen is not about to stand in the way of his new player’s participation at the World Junior Championships.
“How many times do you get this opportunity in your lifetime?” said the Bulldogs manager. “We certainly did not want to deny that opportunity to Jacob or Kyle [Hann] because they are both very deserving.
“They want to put Canada on their chest and represent their country. That’s something you want to honour.”