Benefield: Jake Scheiner's selection in Major League Baseball draft should surprise nobody

Hey, CBSSports, local baseball minds are crying foul.

When Maria Carrillo High and Santa Rosa Junior College alum Jake Scheiner was picked in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft Tuesday, the CBS site reported that it “was something of a surprise.”

Cue the head shaking and chin scratching. For those who know Scheiner and have watched the career that he has put together thus far, the Phillies calling his name with the 113th pick is less a surprise than a super-sound investment by the Philadelphia brass.

“It’s kind of hard to ignore what he’s accomplished this year and what he’s done,” said Derek DeBenedetti, Scheiner’s coach at Maria Carrillo.

Let’s start with what he’s accomplished this year.

In his junior season with the University of Houston, the third baseman hit .346 with 64 RBIs. His slugging percentage was .667 and he hit 18 homers.

Scheiner was a second-team All-American pick by Collegiate Baseball, third team Baseball America All-American, was the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and the American Championship Most Outstanding Player. He was also on the watchlist for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the player generally considered the best in college baseball. There were some other awards in there, but I only have so much space here.

There is a theme to Scheiner’s baseball trajectory: Work, work, work, get an opportunity, don’t let it go and work some more. He did it in high school. DeBenedetti pulled him up to varsity halfway through his sophomore year and the kid never left the field after that.

At the JC, Scheiner was behind on the depth chart, so he redshirted his freshman year. When coach Damon Neidlinger made him a starter the next season, he never left the field.

“He was good, but that year of redshirting allowed him to grow both mentally and physically,” DeBenedetti said. “Not many players can accept that. You can call it a sacrifice, but he accepted that part of the process with open arms.”

Not to say it was easy for a competitive guy to sit out.

“It was hard,” Scheiner said. “That was the first season I have taken off. I don’t like watching.”

But he was realistic. He could have played a little, but he didn’t want to play a little. He wanted to start games and he wanted to finish games.

As a redshirt freshman at the JC, he didn’t sparkle, but he was competitive. He produced and he kept working.

“If you look at his freshman stats ... in the state of California, junior college-wise, he was probably right there in the middle of the pack,” Neidlinger said.

That summer, with those “average” numbers under his belt, he approached Healdsburg Prune Packers coach Joey Gomes about playing summer ball. Gomes told him that if he wanted a spot, he’d have to go through an open tryout. Instead of being insulted, Scheiner shone.

“Jake immediately just stole the job. Jake wanted it way more than those other guys,” Gomes said.

And Gomes, who has college players from all over the country coming to play wooden-bat baseball for the Prune Packers in the California Collegiate League, just might have burned a bridge for Jake Scheiner - not that he’s complaining.

“I sent home a Div. I infielder just to make room for him,” he said. “I’m probably never going to get a kid from that school again, but I don’t care. I said, ‘This local kid is kicking your butt.’”

And then came his sophomore year at the JC.

“He was the best player in the state of California, in my opinion,” Neidlinger said. “He hit .402, eight home runs, three triples, 20 doubles and 61 RBIs.”

He was voted Big 8 MVP, NorCal Player of the Year, All-American and state championship MVP while leading the Bear Cubs to the state title.

And, with scouts from the University of Houston in the stands for a late-season game against American River College, Scheiner smacked a three-run walkoff homer with two outs in the ninth inning.

So it was off to Houston.

He made the jump from junior college ball to Div. I this season look effortless.

“I knew I was prepared,” he said. “Ever since I was young I feel like I have gotten better at baseball. I didn’t think of it as anything more. Obviously the players are better, but it’s still the same ball, the same game.”

Riding the high of his junior season and with an eye on the draft, Scheiner made the unlikely decision to suit up for the Prune Packers this month. For two games.

Why not?

Well, a good financial advisor could give you a million reasons why not: the possibility of a rolled ankle or torn hamstring - any kind of anything that could go wrong before the draft.

“After Houston got eliminated from the regionals, Jake said, ‘I’m flying in on this date.’ He said he would love to play for the Packers until the draft,” Gomes said. “I was like, ‘You had me at, ‘Hi Joey.’”

So just for fun, Scheiner hit a grand slam June 10 against the Walnut Creek Crawdads. The Prune Packers were losing by three in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs and a full count.

“Oh my god, unbelievable,” Gomes said. “The sixth pitch of the at-bat, Jake Scheiner hits a home run to left field. Of course he did. That’s what he does.”

And just like that, Scheiner hung up his Prune Packers uniform and waited for his phone to ring. With the 113th pick in the fourth round, the Philadelphia Phillies picked Scheiner. He flies out for his physical this weekend.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s something I have been working for all my life, ever since I was five years old.

“It was the best day of my life,” he said.

And if his sporting trajectory is anything to go by, better days are yet to come.

“It’s just a fantastic story,” Neidlinger said. “It makes you believe that things are possible.”

Scheiner’s rise was not meteoric, was not even in a straight line. Scheiner’s journey was one of chipping away, of steady progress, of consistency.

DeBenedetti remembers an 11-year-old Scheiner playing on a traveling team, telling him he wanted to be a pro baseball player. DeBenedetti also knows that just about every kid, including himself, says that at that age.

“His success was borne of resolve and hard work,” DeBenedetti said. “Everyone’s path is different.”

The coaches who know him and have seen him work and grow say the next stage of his career will be no different.

“When he gets to the next level, everyone is going to know who Jake Scheiner is,” DeBenedetti said.

Going by Scheiner’s track record, it’s hard to doubt it.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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