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Harris: Picking a major over minors

| Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pitt baseball recruit Nick "Boo" Vazquez is no different than other hot-shot prospects who aspire to play Major League Baseball.

He wants to see his name in lights. He wants to become rich.

But he also understands the value of receiving a free college education via an athletic scholarship.

"If it's meant to happen, it's going to happen. If I'm supposed to make it to the big leagues, it's going to happen," said Vazquez, a strapping 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder who bats from the left side and was selected Wednesday by the Colorado Rockies in the 38th round (1,158th overall) but intends to still attend Pitt.

"If it doesn't happen, you have to have that backup plan," Vazquez said. "It's nice to dream, but you have to be realistic. You can't guarantee a future in baseball, but you can guarantee getting a quality education.''

As a senior at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, Vazquez hit .533 with a .911 slugging percentage. Still, his most impressive number was a near 4.0 grade-point average.

"Baseball, some of it's out of your control," said Vazquez, who plans to study chemical engineering or business at Pitt. "School, you can pay attention in class and get good grades."

Tuesday was a great day for fellow Pitt recruit Justin Bianco, the Peters Township outfielder who was selected in the third round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

When they met during a recruiting trip, Vazquez and Bianco planned to do big things together at Pitt. They are headliners in a heralded recruiting class that also includes catcher Elvin Soto from the Bronx.

It's a talented group that has Pitt recruiting coordinator Danny Lopaze salivating.

"We've been able to set the table for guys like Boo, Justin and Elvin," Lopaze said. "They can take a program from where we're at right now to a different level."

They still might, if Bianco doesn't sign with Arizona and makes good on his commitment to play for the Panthers — and if Vazquez isn't swayed by the lure of big dollars.

Baseball may be a game played by adults who are kids at heart, but it's also big business.

Vazquez will understand if Bianco turns pro. Vazquez said the only way he will turn pro right now is if he is offered "life-changing money" — something in the seven figures.

"He understands, 'What if I don't make it?' He gets it," Ben Vazquez said about his son. "Are you willing to bank everything on being the next greatest thing in baseball• Or do you take a sure thing in a college education?"

Vazquez, who corresponded with LSU, North Carolina and Michigan and made visits to Memphis and Boston College, said he selected Pitt because of its new baseball facility and commitment to academics. He said attending college an hour from his family appeals to him.

Pitt differs from traditional baseball powers whose recruits not only have the talent to be drafted but who also are just as likely to choose baseball over college out of high school.

"Pitt's not like Clemson. Clemson takes all those kids they know are going to get drafted and hope one of them falls to them," said Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. "Pitt recruits kids they're pretty sure are coming to school."

Said Lopaze: "At Pitt, you have to be able to balance athletics and academics. Boo is the perfect fit. He's the prototypical right guy."

By letting teams know his game plan, Vazquez probably lowered his draft stock. It's a strategy that was used by Pirates second-round pick Josh Bell, who cautioned teams not to select him because he plans to attend Texas.

Vazquez was honest with teams, many of whom took him at his word that he's going to college.

"If he had no interest whatsoever in going to college, he could have been a single-digit round draft pick," Goldstein said.

Vazquez, who turned 18 in April, won't be eligible to re-enter the draft until after his junior season at Pitt or when he reaches his 21st birthday — whichever comes first.

In three years, Vazquez said he'll be bigger, stronger, more mature and a better fit for the majors.

"If somebody wants to give me a gaggle of money to play baseball, that's good," Vazquez said. "If not, I'm going to college to get a good education. If I work at baseball and keep getting better, they're going to find me. If they can find players in Korea, the Dominican Republic and a cornfield in Iowa, they can find them in Pittsburgh."

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