May 25, 2011

Bonilla wants to make his own way

Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- He's not going to be the only pick in this year's MLB draft whose father was a former All-Star. Not by a long shot, what with names such as Bichette, Dunston, Garvey and Rodriguez expected to be among those called early on June 6.

And while some of the other dads had their share of off-the-field incidents, perhaps no player has dealt with the issues that have surrounded pitching prospect Brandon Bonilla of the Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy.

"My father was able to play for 17 years so I have been able to learn a lot from him," the younger Bonilla said. "But I am my own person. The back of my jersey says Bonilla, but I am not him. I want to be my own person and want to be treated fairly."

His father, Bobby, put up numbers that few can compete with while being named an all-star six times. He finished with more than 2,000 hits, 250 home runs, 400 doubles and well over 1,000 RBI while playing for eight teams, most notably the Pirates, Mets and Marlins.

But for all his dad's success on the field, there were his well-publicized missteps off it.

Being like dad ...
Brandon Bonilla will not be the only high school-aged son of a former MLB player in this year's draft.
Jack Armstrong - son of Jack Armstrong
Dante Bichette, Jr. - son of Dante Bichette
Tyler Bream - son of Sid Bream
Shawon Dunston - son of Shawon Dunston
Ryan Garvey - son of Steve Garvey
Dan Lockhart - son of Keith Lockhart
Kemer Quirk - son of Jaime Quirk
Dereck Rodriguez - son of Pudge Rodriguez
Tyler Serveis - son of Scott Serveis
Dwight Smith, Jr. - son of Dwight Smith
His dad was alleged to have threatened a Pirates' clubhouse attendant; his dad called a press box during a game to complain about an error he was charged with; his dad told a reporter he would "show him the Bronx" while challenging him to a fight in the clubhouse; and his dad was reported to have been playing cards in the dugout during extra innings of a playoff game.

The big numbers led to Bonilla once being the highest-paid player in the game. The incidents led some to question whether he was able to handle the increased scrutiny that came with it.

Fairly or unfairly, all of it now points back to 17-year-old Brandon - and he knows it.

"A lot comes with the last name," he said. "Some people may be jealous at that fact he is my dad and some may just not like him very much, but that fuels me to be better. To be honest, I want to be treated fairly. It is just my last name, it is not me. I have to work hard to make people see that I am worth all of this attention and not just leveraging my father."

Brandon started his high school career at Greenwich (Conn.) High - his father has an $8 million dollar mansion there. He transferred to IMG Academy before his junior season. And even though all the players at IMG share big-league aspirations and possibly big-league talent, Bonilla always stood out.

"We identified him early," IMG Academy pitching coach and former MLB player Steve Frey said. "We have been nuturing him for a year leading up to this. This is a unique situation for him; it is something different than most other kids and we let him know that. A lot of eyes are on him not just for his talent but for who his dad is. It was important to make sure he was doing everything professionally."

While Frey acknowledged that Bonilla has been going about his business of becoming a professional baseball player, it has not changed who the younger Bonilla is.

"He is a fun-loving kid. You would not know any of this draft stuff was happening if you talked with him," Frey said. "He is a great person and he was brought up very well. He has never been anything but a pleasure to be around and he is like a sponge trying to learn all he can about the game."

His on-field abilities speak for themselves. In 43 innings this season, Bonilla was 2-2 with a 1.38 ERA and 63 strikeouts.

At 6-foot-2 and 183 pounds, he already has the size to be a big-league pitcher. And as a lefty, he throws from a coveted side of the mound.

"He is big and strong," Frey said. "He is only going to get stronger as he matures. I feel very confident in saying he will have a very bright future."

It was his numbers and potential - not his last name - that helped him earn a scholarship to Arizona State, one of the top collegiate baseball programs in the country.

Bonilla has been projected to be selected anywhere from the second to the fifth round. As with all high school prospects, how willing teams feel a player is to sign is their top concern when drafting.

Bonilla acknowledges that his family circumstances allow for more flexibility than many other kids in the draft. Money, simply put, will not be an issue when he decides whether to go pro or go to college.

"My family has been blessed and I do not need to make a rushed decision," he said. "Right now, I am a 17 year-old pitcher that is planning on going to Arizona State."

If he chooses to go directly into professional baseball it would be a family decision, according to Frey.

"From our side at the Academy, we just prepare them for the draft. After that, it is a family decision," he said. "Bobby has been great nuturing Brandon from afar, but when he is drafted that will be a kitchen table discussion as to whether or not he goes to college or straight to the pros."

And while it remains to be seen whether he can separate himself from his father, the younger Bonilla said he is preparing for the draft like any other player - with the help of his family.

"My dad always tells me to put a smile on your face and enjoy it," he said.

Related: Top 100 High School Prospects | May Mock Draft

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