Carter Stewart’s decision to bypass MLB is risky, but it may pay off


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The Atlanta Braves logo. Stewart decided to not play for the Braves and play in Japan instead.

Nineteen year-old MLB draft prospect Carter Stewart and 5 star high school basketball recruit RJ Hampton are both setting precedents in their respective sports: Stewart is turning down Major League Baseball to play professionally in Japan. Hampton is turning down college basketball to play professionally in Australia. Both decisions were unexpected moves for the young athletes. The question is why did they do it? And, was it the right move? Let’s first start with Stewart.

Stewart’s decision to play in Japan is truly unprecedented. We’ve never really seen a top American baseball prospect turn down the MLB in favor for an international league.

To understand why he did it, let’s give some background on Stewart’s journey to professional baseball. Stewart was a top pitcher coming out of high school in the 2018 MLB draft. He was drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Braves. However, because of a wrist injury, the Braves did not offer Stewart as much of a signing bonus than what an eighth overall pick would typically receive. So, Stewart decided to head to junior college in order to be eligible for next year’s draft.

But this time, Stewart was not projected to go in the top 10. Rather, he was seen as a late first, early second round draft pick. This prompted him to sign a six year, $7 million deal with a professional team in Japan.

This is, no doubt, a risky move. But it’s easy to see why he did it. According to Forbes, most minor leaguers make below $7500 in a year. Pay is atrocious. Now, had Stewart been a late first or second round pick in this year’s draft, he would’ve been in position to sign a $1 to $2 million signing bonus. So, he would’ve been better off than most minor leaguers. However, he also would be spending probably at least three years, if not more, in the minors on a lowly salary. Instead, he now gets to make over $1 million dollars per year as a professional in Japan. He’ll be 25 years-old when his contract is up, putting him in position, if all goes well, to sign a deal with an MLB team and make even more money. Most players aren’t free agents until they hit their late twenties, and they have to play under team friendly deals for a lot of their prime. For Stewart, this won’t be the case. His move to Japan could have a big payoff for not only the short term, but for the rest of his career as well.

There’s just one catch though: he’s going to have to perform. He’ll be a 19 year-old kid playing in a foreign country with teammates who don’t speak the same language as him. He’s going to have to grow up fast, while being under lots of pressure to perform. How will he respond to it? And although Japan has good baseball, the minor leagues is still seen as the best preparation for major league baseball. Pitching well in Japan will not guarantee him major league success. At the very least though, even if Stewart does not ever make it to the majors, he’ll still have $7 million dollars to his name. That’s more than what most minor leaguers can say if they don’t make it.

Stewart’s decision may have been risky, but if it works out, look for many future MLB prospects to follow in his footsteps.