With just days to go before the 2019 MLB draft, everything was falling into place for Brooks Lee.
The San Luis Obispo, California, native had just graduated high school and had his choice of Major League teams vying for his signature. A switch-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop with plenty of pop in his bat, Lee was predicted by many to be a first-round pick and had only bolstered his stock leading up to the June 3 draft.
“He came out to Chicago and put on a show,” Cubs area scout Tom Myers said of Lee’s pre-draft workout with the club. “The wind was blowing out, but he was lifting balls in front of Theo Epstein and our entire front office … He was hitting them out dead-center in Wrigley.”
But on the eve of the draft, Lee and his family notified all 30 teams that he was pulling his name out of consideration and would not be signing. Instead of beginning his pro career like hundreds of other signees did this past month, Lee will spend his summer in Corvallis, playing in the West Coast League with the Knights and honing his craft as he prepares for three years of college ball.
So, what could have convinced an 18-year-old to leave millions of dollars on the table and put his professional career on hold?
A promise to his father.
In the fall of 2016, during his sophomore year of high school, Lee committed to play at Cal Poly, where his father, Larry Lee, has served as head coach for the past 36 years. With teams waving $3 million signing bonuses in front of him, Brooks never hesitated.
“The money was never a big factor in it for me,” Brooks said. “I would say, just how (teams) view you as a player and as a person. The teams I met with, they were all based off how well they would take care of me as a human being.”
This wasn’t an act of Brooks mortgaging his future just to help his father’s team produce a few good seasons; the pair came to an agreement long ago that every step Brooks took needed to be made with the intention of bettering his long-term career.
Brooks Lee wanted to land somewhere in the top 15 picks of the draft. He wanted to make sure he ended up with an organization that would take care of him, and that is where his father’s advice proved incredibly valuable — after spending decades watching scores of promising players go through the grueling journey of pro ball, Larry is one of the most well-respected coaches in college baseball and has a unique insight that most parents do not.
He knows which clubs handle their young infielders well, and he knows that the clubs that promised to fast-track Brooks to the big-leagues were not always being transparent about just how difficult minor league ball can be. The right offer never came and the family was just fine with the consolation prize.
“I wanted to make sure that Brooks was making the decision,” Larry Lee said. “He wants to really have an impact here at Cal Poly. He wants to make me good. And I said, ‘You can't think like that — we have to do what’s best for you.’ In the end, we just thought that school was best.”
It wasn’t solely the idea of playing for his father that kept Brooks home. He loves surfing and wanted to stay near the ocean so he can continue enjoying his second passion. He could see himself ultimately ending up in San Luis Obispo long-term when his career comes to an end.
But in an era when so many young adults are eager to get far away from home and forge their own path, Brooks Lee was convinced that his father’s cerebral coaching style would only benefit his development.
“Shoot, I would play for Larry if I could,” Corvallis Knights coach Brooke Knight said. “He’s a calming voice and he’s a real intellect in the game of baseball. I don’t necessarily see Larry as a yeller and screamer and I think he would rather dig deep and get inside of a guy’s mind I think that’s where Brooks doesn’t feel that dad pressure.”
Ironically, Larry Lee may have been the last one to realize just how good his son was going to be. Around the time he was 12 years old, Brooks came home one day and told Larry that he wanted to play for him.
Larry has always tried to view Brooks’ career as objectively as possible and he never wanted to be in the awkward position of having to tell his son he wasn’t up to Cal Poly’s standard. It became apparent early that he would never have to have that conversation.
“I had seen him in high school his freshman or sophomore year workout at Cal Poly with his dad’s team,” Myers said. “You’re like, ‘Who’s this new recruit?’ I remember the first time seeing him at one of Cal Poly’s scout days. Guys are like, ‘That’s Larry’s son.’ I was like, ‘Uh, what?’ Everybody across the board, all the area scouts, immediately compared him to the college guys, if not better than some of the college guys at the time on the field.”
During his freshman year of high school, Pac-12 schools began offering. Throughout his sophomore and junior seasons ACC and SEC schools came calling. But everybody knew trying to pry Brooks away from Cal Poly was an act of futility.
“(Cal State Fullerton’s) assistant coach, Chad Baum, was like, ‘I’m not even gonna offer you because I know you’re just gonna play for your dad,’” Brooks Lee said.
It meant even more to Larry that Brooks could have played for nearly any team in the nation but still chose to remain home.
“I think he wanted to know that he could go to those programs if he wanted to,” Larry said. “But I just think he enjoyed the idea of playing for me. It’s just a strong bond that we have.”
Now, with a pro career on the backburner, Brooks has a clear set of collegiate goals and hopes his time in Corvallis will be a launchpad to help him reach them. Larry Lee has a long relationship with Knights CEO Dan Segel, and always tries to land his best players in Corvallis.
Thus far, Brooks has handled West Coast League pitching well, batting .367 with four doubles in 30 at-bats while battling an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for a week. Knight is glad to have the early production in the Corvallis lineup, but is even more impressed with the energy and maturity that Brooks brings to the field each day.
“He’s outstanding,” Knight said. “For his age and just a young, 17, 18-year-old kid, he’s one of the best young position players this league has ever seen. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be, most likely, a first-round pick in three years out of Cal Poly and probably a top-10 pick and who knows.”