The offer came early, and D.J. Burt said yes.
What 15-year-old high school baseball player would turn down a chance to play for the South Carolina Gamecocks, which had won the NCAA championship the prior year and were on their way toward back-to-back titles?
That was after Burt’s freshman year, when he had appeared in mostly junior varsity games.
Now at the midway point of his senior year, Burt’s future is different and he is prepared to handle what’s next.
Major League Baseball scouts are coming around, and the likelihood is growing that a team will select him during this year’s draft in early June.
“He’s getting a lot of attention. We’ve got guys even coming to practice just to watch him take batting practice, not just the games and stuff like that,” said Fuquay-Varina coach Milton Senter.
Nothing goes in writing until a player’s senior year of high school, and Burt’s freshman-year commitment never made it to a dotted line. When that fell through during his junior year, he made a different kind of commitment.
And this one had more staying power.
With help from his family and coaches Senter and Tom Hayes, he first planned a proper path off the field. Hayes and Senter had just a simple message to Burt: “no harm.” The young player needed to make sure he wasn’t hurting his bright future.
In Burt’s words, it included staying focused “not just on the field but off the field, keep a positive attitude and choose who you hang around with.”
“They just made a big impact on my whole high school career,” Burt said.
Also around that time, Burt, now a three-year varsity starter, began to put into practice the advice older players gave him about work ethic.
“They told me to bust my butt in practice, and that’s how I became the player that I am,” Burt said.
Next, Burt committed to Chipola, a junior college in Florida. If he doesn’t wish to sign with a MLB team this summer, he can be drafted any year while at the junior college.
Whether he knew it or not, Burt has been preparing to be evaluated for more than just his skills.
“Everything he’s going to do is going to be scrutinized,” Senter said.
Through 13 games this season, Burt is batting .500 from the leadoff spot with 20 hits, four home runs and five steals. His power belies his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame and he can play multiple positions.
“In terms of our high school program, he is probably the best athletic prospect we’ve ever had,” Senter said. “He has all of the tools you’re looking for. He can hit for average, he can hit for power, he’s got a lot of speed, he’s got a plus arm.”
This year’s MLB Draft is the same weekend as the high school baseball championships.
If he and his Fuquay teammates can return to the title series where they fell just short last year, it could be quite a weekend. Either way, Burt’s Bengals teammates will be glad to see how his second commitment paid off.
“It’s easy for other guys on the team to become jealous of that if the guy doesn’t have the right attitude about it. But D.J. is just a great teammate,” Senter said. “He loves his teammates, he loves the game, he plays the game the right way. And he would never do anything to jeopardize giving his team a chance to win.”