First-Year Player

The life and times of Sam Stafford

Sam Stafford, shown here after being drafted by the Yankees in 2011, had quite a year.
Sam Stafford, shown here after being drafted by the Yankees in 2011, had quite a year.

You have been drafted by the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers.

 

You have, in the same season, started inconsequential Tuesday games and the postseason opening -- and in that time period have fluctuated from the most inconsistent starter to the staff's best.

 

You are Sam Stafford, if you haven't figured it out by now.

 

It has been a wild ride for Stafford, who was drafted by the Yankees in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Concerns over a slight tear in Stafford's left shoulder cooled New York's interest, and Stafford returned for his senior campaign, but lost it to shoulder surgery in February. Despite missing a year, Stafford was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 13th round of this years draft.

 

So, what's the talented left-hander up to now? Well, thanks to that shoulder injury, he's just waiting until next month.

 

"I should start my throwing program at the beginning of August," Stafford said via text this week. "I'll start slow with it, and see how my shoulder responds."

 

Stafford, one of four Longhorns drafted, doesn't expect to be "game ready" until Spring Training in February.

 

But until then, let's recap -- blurb by blurb, quote by quote -- Stafford's last 16 months.

 

Feb. 19, 2011: In his first action of his junior season, Stafford yields four runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched against Maryland.

 

March 6, 2011: Earns a win with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven, against Stanford.

 

March 23, 2011: After giving way to Hoby Milner in the weekend rotation on March 15, Stafford is given the weekday pitching spot -- charged with stopping Houston Baptist (at the time, 1-16). It's not primetime, but Stafford approaches it as such.

 

"We have to make sure we're focused [on weekday series]," Stafford told The Daily Texan the day before the game. "I'm not going to look at Houston Baptist any differently than I would another team."

 

April 5, 2011: Improved to 4-0 with seven innings of no-hit ball, with seven strikeouts, against Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

 

April 15, 2011: Texas' middle-relief is struggling, so head coach Augie Garrido moves Milner to the bullpen and names Stafford the Sunday starter. Again, same mental approach.

 

"The dugout and the environment will be a little more intense during the weekend games, but I have to have the same approach," Stafford said on the day Garrido announced the news.*

 

*Of all my interviews with Stafford, this remains my favorite: in the Texas training room, holding my voice recorder up to Stafford's mouth as he spins on the stationary bike.

 

Let's skip ahead to June 2, 2011, when Garrido announces Stafford will start the postseason opener against Princeton in the Austin Regional. At this point, Stafford has five wins with a 1.70 ERA. But, evidenced by his 37 walks in 63 innings, there are some command issues.

 

"He's had trouble being consistent from inning to inning, pitch to pitch, but he's brought most of that under control now," Garrido says at the time.

 

It doesn't hurt that Stafford has experience facing something-to-prove teams, as he did most Tuesdays.

 

"Princeton is going to come in with a chip on its shoulder," Stafford said.

 

June 3, 2011: Stafford tosses seven innings, giving up two hits and one run, as Texas beats Princeton 5-3.

 

June 6, 2011: With the season on the brink, Stafford takes the ball against Kent State in the Austin Regional Championship. The Longhorns used six pitchers in the game -- including Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green in relief scenarios -- but it was Stafford who set the tone, going 3 2/3 innings and striking out five. Texas wins, 5-0.

 

June 7, 2011: One day later, the New York Yankees take Stafford No. 88 overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Stafford is definitely ready for the jump, and that's apparent to all in his same-day availability.

 

"Who wouldn't want to be drafted by the Yankees?" Stafford said. "To go from the University of Texas to New York is awesome. I couldn't imagine myself going to a better ballclub. I've always loved the watch them play."

 

June 13, 2011: With a trip to Omaha on the line, Stafford pitches four innings against Arizona State in the Super Regional Championship, giving up two runs, all off a home run in the first inning.

 

June 20, 2011: In a win-or-go-home situation in the College World Series, Stafford enters the game against North Carolina in the sixth inning, with his team trailing, 2-0. He goes three innings, giving up run. Texas loses, 3-0. Stafford's last ever pitch as a Longhorn? A swinging strike.

 

August 15, 2011: Shockingly, MLB's deadline to sign draft picks passes without Stafford inking with the Yankees. Whispers of "shoulder tear" are prevalent.

 

September 29, 2011: The Longhorns begin fall practice, and 'ole No. 19 looks ready to fill the role as staff ace.

 

"At first there were mixed emotions about coming back," Stafford said. "I thought I was about to start my professional career...but it's a business. I keep saying everything happens for a reason, though, and I'm excited to begin this year."

 

February 13, 2012: A crushing blow: Texas announces Stafford will have season-ending shoulder surgery a week before the opener. Continued tightness had led Stafford to get an MRI, which told him his left shoulder -- the one the Yankees were so worried about -- had not fully healed.

 

May 24, 2012: The Longhorns lose to Kansas, 4-2, in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, and are not invited to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

 

June 5, 2012: Despite being out of baseball a full year, Stafford is selected in the 13th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers. No. 426 isn't quite No. 88, but there's no way Stafford is passing it up. Stafford signs two days later.

 

"I'm extremely excited," he told MLB.com. "In my opinion, as a pitcher, you can't have a better boss than Nolan Ryan. He's the best one to do it. It'll be a lot of fun. I'm a Texas guy, so I'm extremely excited to be staying with a Texas team."

 

Some things just don't change. 

Texas pitcher Sam Stafford talks to family members after being drafted by the Yankees on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

It has been quite a week for Sam Stafford.

On Friday, he started and won Texas’ opening game of the Austin Regional against Princeton. Monday, he again led a winning effort, throwing three innings against Kent State for the regional championship.

Oh, and he became a New York Yankee on Tuesday.

The junior pitcher’s name was called No. 88 overall on the second day of the First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees, the most successful organization in professional, American sports.

“Who wouldn’t want to be drafted by the Yankees?” Stafford said. “To go from the University of Texas to New York is awesome. I couldn’t imagine myself going to a better ballclub.”

Stafford admits he does have a decision to make, alluding to the fact that Cole Green was selected in the fourth round of the draft last year and turned down a six-figure signing bonus for the opportunity to return to school. But the amount of money the Yankees may throw at him, plus the opportunity to play in New York, could be too much to turn down.
“I’ve always been a Yankee fan,” he said. “I’ve always loved to watch them play. They play great baseball.”

Stafford was in junior shortstop Brandon Loy’s room following the draft updates on his computer when he saw New York was on the clock.

“I looked at that and said, ‘Oh, yeah, I wouldn’t mind playing for them,” he said.

Then he looked back at the computer screen, and he saw his name.

“I got a call from their guy to tell me that they had selected me, but he heard Brandon screaming in the background so he figured I already had found out,” Stafford said.

And then his phone started blowing up.

“I’ve talked to all the immediate family already; they’re excited,” he said. “I’ve also gotten texts from the teammates. We’ve got a bunch of guys who are Yankee fans and they think I’ll look good in pinstripes.”

Ironically, Stafford was drafted out of high school by the Yankees’ arch nemesis, the Boston Red Sox, in the 40th round of the draft. He elected to go to school and, after two seasons spent as a reliever, has put together a solid year as a starter. His 1.57 ERA ranks second on the team among the starting pitchers, and opponents hit .188 against him this season.

Safe to say, he made the right decision. Not only has his draft stock improved substantially, but he has the opportunity to help the Longhorns chase their seventh College World Series Championship.

“Being drafted is a dream of mine,” he said. “But at the same time, you have to focus on maybe even a more exciting thing — chasing the dream of a national championship. I feel fantastic.”