Former New York Mets infielder Andrew Ely gets second chance

PORTLAND, ME - APRIL 14: Portland's Cole Sturgeon slides into second base as Andrew Ely of Binghamton turns a double play for the Rumble Ponies Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - APRIL 14: Portland's Cole Sturgeon slides into second base as Andrew Ely of Binghamton turns a double play for the Rumble Ponies Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images) /

Minor League life is not always as glamorous as it seems. The job is fun, sure, but the lifestyle can be difficult. There are many things out of a players control. This is something former New York Mets farm hand Andrew Ely has learned in his brief career.

It flew under the radar to most when the New York Mets cut Andrew Ely back in September. In fact, the announcement came via his Twitter account. A lot had happened to that point in the infielder’s five year career in affiliated baseball, but the dagger came from him playing through a torn labrum per the request of the team.

All is not lost for Ely’s career, though. He recently signed on to play with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association. Independent baseball. A second chance and another bump in the long road to a dream. It stands as further proof that Minor League life is not as glamorous as it appears.

Ely’s baseball career was not always so complicated. He seemed destined to play the game before he could even muster a full sentence.

“As far as I can remember, I’ve been interested in all sports,” Ely said. “So much so that my first word was ‘ball.’ I can remember hearing stories from my parents of when I was 2 or 3, swinging the plastic baseball bat and blasting my grandpa’s front toss pitches over the juniper trees into the neighbor’s yard.”

Those juniper trees soon turned into actual fences. Ely played through high school and committed to play baseball at the University of Washington. He entered with a competitive class in 2012 that added to an already talented roster with players like Nationals top prospect Austin Voth. When Ely was drafted by the Cubs in round 32 of the 2014 draft, he was one of eight players from his college to be selected that year.

One of the first bumps in his career was a small one. As the First-Year Player Draft rolls around, the word ‘draftability’ is used and abused. As a junior in college, there were questions to whether Ely would sign with a team or go back to college for his final year. Ultimately, he signed with the Cubs. As a 32nd rounder in a system that emphasizes pick value, it was a crapshoot what kind of deal he would get.

“The new draft has changed the way teams take players with spending limits and whatnot,” Ely said. “I was fortunate to be drafted by an organization that made personnel and player development decisions based on production, rather than draft order.”

Getting drafted was just “mile one of a marathon,” according to Ely. There was a long way to go. After a .326 showing in 25 games at the Rookie level in 2014, he made the long jump up to Triple-A to end the season. The college-matured Ely appeared to hold his own pretty well with a .229 average in 35 at-bats.

In some ways, Ely actually thought Triple-A was an easier level to be at. The pitchers are more refined in their abilities, as opposed to the Rookie ball guys who throw hard with no idea where it is going. The flip side is that getting results is much harder.

To be only months removed from college and in Triple-A is an accomplishment no matter what. Ely’s ticket relied heavily on his glove more than his bat. Defense is widely regarded as his best tool.

“Defense requires preparation and focus, but never slumps,” Ely said. “There are always going to be physical errors on the diamond, but at the high levels, mental errors won’t fly. Being ready and having a plan once the ball is hit is entirely controllable, and just requires effort.”

At the end of 2014, things were looking up for Andrew Ely. In fact, things were pretty standard for a few seasons. He even earned an invite to Spring Training with the Cubs in 2017. Unfortunately, Minor League life is not always as glamorous as it seems, and that fact was getting ready to rear its ugly head.

Fast forward to December of 2017 and the Rule 5 Draft. Ely caught the eye of the New York Mets, and they decided to take him as the fourth overall pick of the Triple-A phase of the draft. At the time, Ely handled it like he had anything else in his career: a new chance to prove himself and earn a spot.

“It was a good opportunity for me, and they were filling a need for MiLB middle infield depth,” Ely said.

Looking back, not everything is as peachy.

“I don’t see a dollar of the [fee] that the Mets paid to the Cubs for my contract,” Ely said. “I just show up in Mets Spring Training instead of the Cubs.”

That 50k is a standard fee during the Rule 5 Draft. In order to make the selection, the team being taken from gets compensated. In the MLB phase, that is 50k per selection. For the Triple-A phase it is 12k. Either way, the contract of players do not change.

This feeds into an ongoing debate when it comes to paying Minor League players. Farm hands are pinching pennies as the wage war continues. Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a great job telling the story through life of Pirate farmhand Geoff Hartlieb.

Minor League life is not as glamorous as it seems. It is barely livable at times. As far as morale goes, Ely says “I would say that every player is well aware that they are at the ballpark for 10 hours and getting paid for 3 of them.”

There is little doubt the conversation is happening, and it seems that the case for the players is gaining support by the day. Change has to start somewhere, and for Ely, the conversation is very important. He thinks that other sports are setting a blueprint to follow.

“At this point, I think a productive outcome is at least having the conversation,” Ely said. “The working relationship between the NHL and the Pro Hockey Players Association might hopefully provide a positive example for baseball moving forward.”

That blueprint is not an exact science. The MLB has a 40 round draft, not including compensation picks and undrafted free agents. There are a lot of players entering the farm system every year, which also means there are a lot of players heading out of the system every year.

“It is a respectable accomplishment to work one’s way through a minor league system by finding ways to create value and minimize failures in a hyper-competitive work environment,” Ely said.

Okay, so what is that worth? How can players be properly compensated for the endless work in a highly competitive environment? Not many people have a true number figure, which makes things all the more difficult.

“No minor leaguer thinks that they’re entitled to six figures,” Ely said. “But it would be nice if they didn’t feel like they were being taken advantage of.”

From the team’s perspective, they are just trying to find value in their farm system. They want to find players who can contribute at the MLB level. From the draft on, such a small percentage will be funneled on to the team’s 40-man roster. And an even smaller number will see the 25-man roster. From the time they draft and sign someone, they are making an investment, but the sad truth is most of their investments will fail.

This idea is not lost on the players, who are real humans. A lot of times, people in their mid 20’s are tasked to figure out if they matter enough to their organization to continue. If they aren’t the right investment, a tough path becomes tougher.

Minor League life is not as glamorous as it seems.

“Nobody wants to be a pawn whose purpose is to develop the prospects around you, with no plans of making it to the big leagues yourself,” Ely said. “The flip side to that is that most players in AA and AAA have what it takes to develop into a big leaguer. Teams only keep players that provide value, so in a sense if you’re on a team you have a chance…each mid-20s minor leaguer needs to weigh the options of a more traditional career to the small chance of making it a day in the Show.”

Ely is 26 years old. He has been more successful than anyone would expect out of a 32nd rounder. He’s seen Double and Triple A and tried to make this career work out, but baseball is not a perfect science.

Entering the 2018 season as a part of the New York Mets, Ely encountered a shoulder issue. The injury was to his labrum. It played a large role in his sub .200 batting average, and his ultimate release from the organization.

“Somehow, it didn’t really affect throwing,” Ely said. “The tear was in the posterior part of the labrum, so I’m sure that was why. I did feel like it affected me at the plate, but by the time I could see the trends of lack of hand quickness, there was nothing I could do.”

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Eventually, Ely did get his shoulder fixed. His general rehab is over and he is now on a throwing program. Heading into the 2019 season with the Sioux Falls Canaries, he can only take things one step at a time. His focus is on getting healthy. As of late January, the middle infielder couldn’t throw the ball 90 feet.

Regardless he sees the opportunity in front of him. Independent baseball is neither traditional, nor ideal, but it is a chance for careers to continue. That is not lost on Ely. He looks forward to the impending camaraderie with a new group, and a chance to prove that he can still play the game he loves at a high level.

Minor League life is not as glamorous as it seems. Independent ball is no better. But perhaps Ely’s greatest success is that he knows it is not the only life. Second chances are fantastic, and second acts are inevitable.

“I’m going to be okay regardless of what happens with this opportunity,” Ely said. “We aren’t talking life or death, and I have full confidence in my ability to be a successful individual without baseball.”

The feared second act may not be so feared after all.

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“With that being said, I love baseball and I think I’m still pretty good at it. I’m excited to keep playing.” Ely added.