PRINCETON: PU’s Ford signs with Yankees

It may not have happened just the way that Mike Ford imagined, but he couldn’t have foreseen a better ending to his Princeton University baseball career and beginning of his professional career.

By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
It may not have happened just the way that Mike Ford imagined, but he couldn’t have foreseen a better ending to his Princeton University baseball career and beginning of his professional career.
   Ford, who just completed his junior year at Princeton, was disappointed when he was not selected in June’s amateur baseball draft. Undrafted, he returned to the Cape Cod Baseball League for another summer with the Cotuit Kettleers.
   Last Wednesday, however, Ford moved on in a couple of ways. He signed a free agent deal with the New York Yankees, his favorite team while growing up in Montgomery and playing at The Hun School.
   ”Definitely for me, it worked out way better in a few ways,” Ford said. “The deal I got was probably better than what I would have gotten if I had been drafted.
   ”It was an interesting situation. The Yankees blew me away their package and their plan.”
   The Yankees gave him a package equivalent to a top-10 round pick, and Ford hopes to complete his history degree over the next two falls at Princeton, but his amateur playing career is done.
   ”I think there might be some local scouts that might get themselves in trouble for not having him turned in higher,” said PU head coach Scott Bradley. “He ended up making a lot more money than if he was a regular draft pick.”
   Ford, who was the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year as well as the Player of the Year — the first in conference history to win both — is giving up pitching to be a position player.
   ”For now,” Ford said, “my pitching days are behind me. If the whole thing didn’t pan out, and the option to do it was there, I’d go back to it. I didn’t even pack my glove, which was weird.
   ”I’ve always been doing something, one or the other. It’ll be weird to concentrate on just one. It’ll be nice to focus on one.”
   Before he left, Ford led the Cape Cod League with a .407 batting average, a .663 slugging percentage, a .495 on-base percentage and was tied for the league lead with five home runs. Those numbers raised inquiries from teams about his interest in signing this year and surrendering his senior year at Princeton.
   Things snowballed quickly for Ford, who left the Cape Cod League bound for the Yankees’ Class-A short season affiliate, Staten Island, on Friday. He expected to be activated for their Monday game.
   ”It’s been nice to be around the guys,” Ford said. “It’s a great group of guys. The locker room is beautiful. It’s top of the line stuff, and everywhere you’re playing with the best people in the country.
   ”I was trying to enjoy being there (Friday). That was the take it in moment and realize what’s going on and then you get to work the next day.”
   Ford had offers from five different teams, but it was the Yankees who had offered first and who seemed most persistent. In the final days of negotiations, Ford was talking to major league team representatives up to five minutes before Cotuit games, then getting right back on the phone for more talks right after games ended.
   ”I’m really happy with how it worked out obviously,” Ford said. “It stunk not getting drafted. It was tough not getting drafted, but I went and played and got an offer. I had some offers and decided on the Yankees. It’s pretty much a dream come true with playing for a team I’d always hoped to play for.”
   Ford took a cautious approach, even though he was being wooed by a host of suitors. He had the time to weigh his options, even as some were advising him to take the first offer he saw.
   ”I just had to put a pause button on everything,” Ford said. “We just did it day by day. I played three nights and I had enough time to think about it. The fourth night, I said, let’s not play and make the decision the next day.
   ”It was definitely hectic. I was getting pulled two different directions. I sorted everything out and made my own decision. It worked out well.”
   The local product remains very much a local with the signing. Friends and family won’t have to come far to see Ford continue his career at the pro level.
   ”There were some West Coast teams involved, but he’s going to play in Staten Island,” Bradley said. “And in a couple years he’ll be in Waterfront (Park). Everything worked out. It’s the best situation. We’re so excited for him.”
   Ford impressed with his hitting ability in the Cape Cod League. Last year, while working on a new swing, he hit .252 in 32 regular-season games and .636 in three playoff games with Contuit. He started swinging the bat better toward the end of the summer and carried that into his junior year at Princeton. He remained hot with the bat this year for Contuit.
   ”It was a comfort thing,” Ford said. “I was familiar with how things work. It was having a relaxed mentality and thinking, I have to get things done.”
   Ford put together a terrific summer to raise interest in him, while also showing he could hit off high level pitching.
   ”I was confident in my playing abilities,” Ford said. “I’m a confident person in general. Going up after not getting drafted, I had a chip on my shoulder. I carried the end of the school season into it. I had two goals — that and make the all-star game.”
   Bradley had mentioned the possibility of entertaining offers this summer if Ford’s Contuit numbers were good enough. It didn’t take much to prove himself.
   ”With the way Mike was playing, people had questions whether he should hit or pitch,” Bradley said. “He was so good with the bat, it removed all doubt that his future lies as a position player.”
   Bradley expects that Ford has the tools to continue his level of play as he adjusts to playing for Staten Island.
   ”He’s been playing every day against top competition,” Bradley said. “If he had waited until after the draft, it would have been like starting all over again. He’s in mid-season form. He’s swinging the bat better than ever seen him. They had him play a little third base in addition to first base, and that’s given him the opportunity to move around. With all the teams, we were thinking that the Yankees were the best spot for him.”
   Ford is the first undergraduate Princeton University player to sign the same summer that he was not drafted. Now, he turns his attention to moving up the pro baseball ladder. He is hoping to stay locked in offensively, and his versatility gives Staten Island the chance to play him at either corner position.
   ”I’m comfortable in both spots,” Ford said. “It’s nice, it gives me more opportunities to play. Ultimately my bat is going to determine where I play and when I play. I’m not too concerned about it. Wherever they stick me, I’ll pick it up.
   ”I definitely think speed is one thing I need to improve on and getting more comfortable defensively in both spots,” he added.