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Northeast Georgian photo by ZACH LEE  

Alex McFarlane in action

St. Thomas native Alex McFarlane delivers a pitch during an early-season game with Habersham Central High School’s baseball team in Mt. Airy, Ga. McFarlane moved there for his senior year after attending school at Virgin Islands Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy.

McFarlane chooses college over pros

Alex McFarlane may be the latest U.S. Virgin Islander to have his name called in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be playing in pros anytime soon.

Instead, the St. Thomas native has decided to stick with his original plan — to play college baseball for a few years and develop his skills.

In just a few weeks, McFarlane will begin summer school classes at the University of Miami, where he signed in December 2017 to play for the Hurricanes’ baseball team, a perennial NCAA contender.

That’s despite McFarlane being chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday with the 18th pick of the 25th round (755th overall) in the 2019 MLB Draft.

“I feel it’s the best decision for me and my future,” McFarlane — who turns 18 on Sunday — said in a telephone interview Friday. “It puts me in the best position to succeed and develop as a baseball player, and gives me a better opportunity to be a professional in the long run.”

McFarlane, a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher and outfielder, has been drawing interest from both college coaches and major league scouts since joining the mainland travel-ball circuit three years ago with Team Elite Baseball in Winder, Ga.

“The travel ball, it really helped me as a player,” said McFarlane, who chose Miami over fellow Atlantic Coast Conference teams Clemson and Wake Forest. “The competition and the number of games played, that’s what it’s going to be like in college. It was a different experience, but it worked out for me.”

However, hurricanes Irma and Maria nearly derailed McFarlane’s baseball dreams — at least for a while.

The damage from the storms kept him from traveling to the mainland for several months, but it also changed McFarlane’s approach to training and game preparation.

“That first year, it was hard but it really developed my independence, especially my work ethic,” he said. “Immediately after the storms, I took it upon myself to really develop my skills, both personally and mentally, as well.”

But the hurricanes led McFarlane to travel stateside for his senior year of high school. So instead of finishing at Virgin Islands Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy, McFarlane moved to Mt. Airy, Ga., to attend Habersham Central High School.

That time with Habersham Central High’s baseball team also proved to be beneficial for McFarlane, who led the Raiders to the playoffs and a 19-13 overall record. He finished the season with a 4-0 record, with a 1.66 earned run average and 68 strikeouts to just 21 walks allowed.

“High school ball, it was amazing,” he said. “It was one of the first times I had like a real team throughout the whole year, connecting with a team. You practice with them, and they’re your teammates. It was such a great experience.”

McFarlane could have gone even higher in the MLB Draft had it not been for his strong interest in playing college ball, a factor that was well-known by the major league teams.

Major League Baseball’s own website, MLB.com, had McFarlane ranked 115th among its top 200 high school and college prospects. Another baseball prospects website, www.baseballfactory,com, had him as the 78th-best high school recruit. And one draft prediction website, www.draftsite.com, had him going somewhere in the fourth round to either Philadelphia, Cincinnati or the New York Mets.

“It’s good to hear that, and it motivated me to work harder,” McFarlane said. “You can never be satisfied with where you’re at; you always have to keep pushing.”

In turn, that would have earned McFarlane a considerable sum — according to noted baseball news website www.baseballamerica.com, the slot value (the potential signing bonus) for fourth-round picks ranged from $478,300 (with Philadelphia’s pick), $487,900 (with the Mets’ pick) to $507,400 (with Cincinnati’s pick).

But those numbers pale to what the first-round picks are slotted for — for example, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick, is slated for a signing bonus of nearly $8.42 million, and all but the bottom few of the second-round picks will get signing bonuses of $1 million or more.

So instead of getting ready to start in the Cardinals’ minor-league organization — most likely with their rookie-league teams in the Gulf Coast League or Appalachian League — McFarlane will move to Coral Gables, Fla., where the University of Miami’s campus is located, on July 1.

“I was pretty set on college,” McFarlane said. “It would have had to be a pretty high number to be able to persuade me to not go to college. For me, I don’t look at the now, I look at how my life is going to be in the future. I feel like getting a college education just puts me in a better position, not only for baseball but for life.”