Story of how Trevor became a Cub one of max stress, triumph

Former Heritage Mountaineer Trevor Clifton follows the Major League Baseball draft from his parent’s den Thursday night. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

“The Cubs select ID number six, six, one, zero — Clifton, Trevor, right-handed pitcher, from Heritage High School in Tennessee.”

Trevor and mom, Besty, confer with Trevor's draft advisor.

Finally, it was over.

The room exploded in celebration as the television announced Chicago had taken the Mountaineer pitching phenom with the second selection of the 12th round of the Major League Baseball draft Saturday morning.

“It’s awesome!” Trevor said.

The selection ended three days of maximum stress for the Cliftons, which includes mom, Betsy, and dad, Dennis.

Taken much later than projected, Trevor will be compensated handsomely with a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $570,000, money generally reserved for third round selections and higher.

That’s where Trevor, whose fastball reached 97 mph this past high school season, with a Cubs scout in attendance, was projected to land in a consensus of pre-draft analysts. How he fell to round 12 was a grueling ordeal for the Cliftons, only fueling Saturday morning’s outburst of relief.

“We couldn’t be happier right now,” Dennis said.

Trevor will forgo a National Letter of Intent signed with Kentucky last fall and report to the Cubs spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., later this week.

Clifton makes the delivery this past high school season. Photo by Brandon Shinn

Clifton entered the draft ranked 148 on “Baseball America’s Top 500” prospects list regardless of position, high school, college or amateur classification. Over three days and 40 rounds of the draft, 1,216 players were selected, with Standford right-hander Mark Appel going No. 1 overall to the Houston Astros Thursday night.

American Heritage School pitcher Shaun Alexander was taken with the final selection Saturday night by the Washington Nationals.

Baseball America had Clifton off the board in the second round with the 71st selection overall to the Oakland Athletics in its mock draft. It was a solid projection, said Bergen Beach coach Steve Bort, who coached Clifton on the national AAU circuit two seasons ago.

Bort’s Bergen Beach club has seen 21 of its former players make major league rosters, including household names Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton and Johnnie Damon.

Clifton would be around no later than 73, the last pick of the second round, Bort said. When the selection came and went, a room full of family, friends and well-wishers at the Clifton home dispersed. When the draft resumed Friday afternoon, it quickly became obvious something had gone very wrong.

Clifton, in center, follows the draft with family and friends.

Even the most conservative mock drafts had the 6-foot-6, 180-pound Clifton going no later than No. 85 to the Seattle Mariners early in the third round. When Friday came and went, along with the completion of the draft’s first 10 rounds, a major threshold had been crossed.

Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement with its players’ union, clubs are allotted a set amount, or pool, they can use to sign prospects. Each selection through Round 10 has a bonus attached. Exceeding that amount for a selection counts against a team’s overall pool for the rest of the draft.

Beginning with Round 11, all bets are off.

Once there, bonuses of any kind are rare. More importantly, teams no longer forfeit the value of a bonus from their overall pool if a player selected later declines an offer. It’s why prospects or their agent/advisor are contacted before each name is announced.

The Cliftons were in constant contact with Trevor’s Florida advisor Thursday and Friday. Not once did the call come to accept or decline an offer. Late Friday, they found out why.

The draft accelerates on Day 2 with teams given only a minute between selections. To help things go as smooth as possible, clubs ask prospects long before the draft for minimum bonus demands.

The Cliftons set that number at $800,000, a negotiable amount well within market value for someone of Trevor’s draft credentials. Through insistent phone calls Friday, they learned clubs were being told the number was $1 million.

Clifton agonizes as the draft nears the end of Day 1.

Sources had Trevor at the top of a team’s draft board four times Friday. None of the slots, under collective bargaining rules, would have allowed a $1 million bonus to sign.

“It was hard because I knew after the first 10 rounds the slot money was gone,” Dennis said. “It was a whole new ball game.

“We just rode it out. I don’t know how to put it into words. We just rode it out.”

When the Cubs were made aware of the discrepancy, they acted quickly, offering to take Trevor with their first selection Saturday morning. Word spread, and two additional teams put forth offers by the draft’s 1 p.m. resumption. The Cubs played the ace, offering bonus money in keeping with where Trevor likely would have been selected.

“It was stressful,” Trevor said. “I lost sleep over it, but I knew I’d eventually get the opportunity, either after college or whatever.”

Saturday’s selection ended a perilous three days for the Cliftons, with late Friday, by far, the most gut-wrenching.

Once the 10th round closed, any money Trevor would likely get to sign wouldn’t be worth the risk of a minor league contract. If he went to Kentucky, NCAA rules would prohibit him from reentering the draft for three years.

He could go to junior college and reenter the draft next year. National powers Walters State and Miami-Dade Community College both had scholarships on offer.

Asked how she kept it together over the three days, Betsy said, “I don’t know that I did.”

Clifton gets the sign during a Heritage home game.

Close friends Brandi Kern, Jennifer Harper and Rich Holmes were either at the Clifton home for much of the weekend or a phone call away, she said. Next-door neighbor Gerriann Phillips was there for the whole thing in the Clifton den, from Thursday’s first pick to the shouting Saturday morning.

“You talk about support!” Betsy said. “When I was crying, she was there. It’s been a hard one.”

Betsy raced upstairs to find a Cubs t-shirt once the selection was made. Dennis slipped on a Chicago baseball cap he had at the ready.

“My parents have been there throughout the whole thing,” Trevor said. “They’re the ones who got me to this point.

“It’s pretty crazy. You saw how they were jumping around in there.”

Trevor?

He was just glad it was over. He went to the mall.


 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Kristie Tuck says:

    The Tuck’s whish Trevor the best, we are very proud of you. Congratulations!!!

  2. Ricky Robinson says:

    The Robinson’s are so proud of Trevor!! Great job Dennis and Betsy.

  3. Momsgh says:

    So excited for Trevor and his family! Thanks for a great story, Stefan!

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