Jonathan Engelmann sat in a locker room in Goodyear, Ari. listening to sage words from the Cleveland Indians director of player development James Harris.
With an insecure future and a head full of fantasies, Engelmann gathered with all the new Indians signees at at Cleveland’s spring training facility in Arizona. That’s when Harris reminded them all why they were there.
Harris instructed the young ball players to close their eyes and imagine that it was game seven of the World Series and that they were part of the team that had a shot to win it all. He asked them to imagine what that moment would feel like, what it would smell like.
“Now imagine that’s five years from now,” Harris said as the players then opened their eyes. He then followed with a simple question, “What would you do every day to prepare yourself for that moment?”
Through a simple yet effective exercise, Harris had inspired every individual in that room—least of all the now-former center fielder for Michigan.
“It’s something I won’t forget,” Engelmann said, “So leaning on that and carrying that through my professional career for as long as I can is what’s gonna drive me.”
Only a few days prior, Engelmann had chosen to forego his final year of eligibility at Michigan and sign a major league contract. Engelmann was drafted in the 31st round by the Indians and will now embrace the slow grind of minor-league baseball.
It’s a drastic change for any top-tier baseball player. You go from being the go-to guy at a big program to working your way through the ranks. But Engelmann is confident that he’s prepared for this moment.
“It’s funny, going back to the bottom of the totem pole, gotta work your way back up, which is fine,” Engelmann said. “It’s kinda how I’ve lived and I’m no stranger to adverse situations, and this is something that I’ve trained for at Michigan. We always train to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
Another circumstance that Engelmann will have to overcome is his draft position.
As long as sports drafts have existed, players drafted later than expected have been humbled in their abilities. And that’s exactly what happened with Engelmann at the MLB Draft.
Heading into the draft, Engelmann and his camp heard rumors that he could potentially be selected in day two, meaning rounds 3-10. Then, for whatever reason — the draft, much like the game of baseball, is very fickle — Engelmann tumbled down draft boards and was selected in the 31st round.
With a year of eligibility left, getting drafted that late forces the player to make a tough decision — stay in school or go for the pros. Getting drafted in the latter half of the draft does not guarantee the draftee enough money to make it worth it and may not set that person up for immediate success within the organization.
Getting his desired amount of money and a shot to play in the pros, Engelmann signed and never looked back.
Despite being picked so late, Engelmann remains optimistic about his future—but simultaneously will be playing with a massive chip on his shoulder.
“It’s a chip on my shoulder that I’m gonna carry forever,” Engelmann said. “It’s something that you realize, how lucky of an opportunity this is regardless of what round, and I’m extremely happy with that. I mean don’t get me misconstrued, getting a chance to play professionally has been a dream of mine since I was young, so I’m more than happy, but yeah, there is a chip.
“I go out there and it’s time to go and prove some people wrong.”
One of the people Engelmann will not have to prove wrong is Aaron Etchison.
Etchison, a former Michigan coach during Engelmann’s freshman and sophomore seasons, now works as an area scout for the Indians. Knowing what Engelmann was capable of, Etchison rolled the dice and was able to pick up the junior in the 31st round.
Always the first to recognize the scope of an institution like Michigan, Engelmann remains thankful for the connections being a Wolverine has given him.
“So there’s a great Michigan connection right there, just one of the many reasons you go and get your degree,” Engelmann said. “You have that network, and there’s always one person in that big company or firm that knows or has studied at Michigan.”
Now Engelmann will depart the team after having completed a breakout junior season. The center fielder led the team in runs (43), hits (74), doubles (14) and stolen bases (21) and was second on the team in batting average (.351), home runs (6) and RBI (44).
The junior joins fellow teammates junior left-hander William Tribucher and senior right-hander Jayce Vancena in signing major league contracts. Tribucher was drafted in the 14th round by the Colorado Rockies and Vancena in the 31st by the Detroit Tigers.
Engelmann may not don a maize and blue uniform next season, but his time in Ann Arbor is not done yet. He will finish out his degree in Ann Arbor next year, barring the existence of any development camp he would have to attend for the Indians.
In terms of his baseball career as a Wolverine, though, all that’s left for Engelmann now is to reflect on his legacy at Michigan.
“I hope that the one thing that I can say a lot in my head is that I left the uniform in a better place,” Engelmann said. “You put your uniform down and you think, ‘Did I do everything to represent Michigan right and be the best teammate that I could? And I hope that above everything, above any stats or moments on the field, that I was the best teammate and the best person and the best Michigan man that I could be.”