Alex Lavandero is a rarity — a former pro pitcher who is now pitching in college.
And with this year’s edition of the MLB draft nearly upon us — the proceedings begin Thursday — Lavandero’s story can also serve as a cautionary tale.
Lavandero, a 6-5, 210-pound right-hander who recently finished his first season at Barry University, was a first-team All-County pitcher at Miami’s Belen Jesuit.
After the Milwaukee Brewers selected him in the ninth round in 2012, Lavandero turned down a scholarship to Florida Atlantic and signed to play pro ball.
That’s when things got difficult.
Lavandero, who had always been a starter, went 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA in 11 relief outings that year in the Arizona Rookie League.
He had his best pro year in 2013, going 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA in 14 appearances, two of them starts. But things fell apart in 2014 as he went 0-1 with a 14.54 ERA in five appearances, all in relief.
Lavandero was cut without ever making it out of the Arizona Rookie League.
“I knew it was coming,” Lavandero said of his release. “I had seen the new guys get drafted. I got called into the manager’s office after dinner, and I prepared myself.”
Lavandero said his manager, Nestor Corredor, was more emotional than he was at the time. The two had become close, and Lavandero knew the decision came from the Brewers front office and not Corredor.
After his release, Lavandero got a call from a former Belen teammate, shortstop Alex DeGoti, who was transferring from Long Beach State to Barry.
DeGoti told his friend about a relatively new rule in which a player with little pro experience could play college ball with certain stipulations.
“I had to sit out a year to regain eligibility,” said Lavandero, who pitched this past season as a sophomore rather than as a freshman. “I had to be younger than 21 when I made the move back to college, and I had to have played in Single-A ball or lower.”
Lavandero met all those qualifications.
John Manuel, the editor of Baseball America, said cases like Lavandero’s are rare.
“NCAA Division II has a thing called Amateur Deregulation,” Manuel wrote in an email to the Herald. “Essentially, if you play one to three years of pro ball, you can get your amateur status back. But you lose [some eligibility].”
Lavandero made his college debut this past season with uneven results. He led the Sunshine State Conference in strikeouts (107 in 89 2/3 innings) and in batters caught looking (43). He also ranked fifth in wins (7-4) and batting average allowed (.243).
Those were all positives on a team that finished 24-25. But Lavandero had a high ERA (5.12) and led the team in walks (55), wild pitches (11), hit by pitches (11) and homers allowed (10).
Barry coach Marc Pavao said Lavandero is “not yet where he needs to be” in his development. But the coach emphasized the improvement Lavandero has made.
“He has an electric arm,” Pavao said of Lavandero, whose fastball usually ranges between 89 and 93 mph but has touched 95. “His arm is stronger now than when he was drafted out of high school due to his maturation and the experience he had in pro ball. His breaking pitches are better, too.
“His issue in pro baseball was command of his fastball, but he’s come a long way.”
Academically, Lavandero, who turns 23 in November, posted an impressive 3.93 GPA in his first year in school. He’s also changing his major from sports management to business and finance.
But that doesn’t mean he has given up on his dream to reach the majors.
“It was cool to get drafted out of high school,” he said. “But it’s a big step to go from dominating in high school to pro ball, where the hitters are more advanced.
“I experienced a lot of failure [in the minor leagues] — there’s a reason why hundreds of players get released every year. But I learned a lot.”
Lavandero said he wasn’t ready for his first shot in the minors. But, with added maturity, he’s confident he will be primed if and when he gets his next opportunity.
“Regrets? No, I made my decision, and I’ve lived with it,” Lavandero said. “But if you’re not a first-round pick, you should think hard before turning down a full scholarship.”