Justin James, Oakland Athletics
Justin James has to be the idol of every MU Tiger player who rode the ups and the downs of success and failure on the field. Drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox, James instead chose to come play at Mizzou. Drafted after his sophomore year (he had reached the magic age of 21) by the Toronto Blue Jays, he spent part of 4 years with the Blue Jay organization until he reached Triple-A in 2007, and then found himself released. He was picked up by the Reds and rose within one season to their Triple-A team - only to be released again.
He was signed then by the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League, where he distinguished himself in the back yard of professional baseball, a place where veteran players go when they aren't quite ready to call it quits.
James began the 2010 season with the T-Bones, appearing in 11 games, recording six saves with an ERA of 1.69. His contract was purchased by the Oakland A's on June 17 and he was sent to the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, where he pitched in 12 games, posting an ERA of 2.29 and 21 strikeouts in 19.2 innings.
On July 22, he advanced to the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, where he went 1-1 with a 1.37 ERA in 16 games. He recorded four saves while striking out 28 in 19.2 innings.
And then, the Oakland A's parent club called him up in early September. After bouncing around in one organization after another, after finding himself in the unaffiliated backwaters of baseball, Justin James made it to the Show.
■ Justin James glad he listened to little brother (San Francisco Chronicle)
■ September call-up excites James (mlb.com)
"You never want to take the jersey off your back," James said, "but I was going through a rough time."■ Crow latest in line of MU's Friday night fighters (Columbia Tribune, May 2007)
There’s a lot of Justin James in Missouri ace Aaron Crow.■ The diamond hopes (Columbia Tribune,October 2001)
James was a seemingly tireless worker in 2003 as he helped pitch the Tigers into an NCAA Regional. James mentored Danny Hill and Garrett Broshuis, who in turn paved the way for Max Scherzer and Nathan Culp.
Highlighting the class is right-handed fireballer Justin James, who chose Missouri after failed negotiations with the Boston Red Sox.
"He is the highest profile player that we’ve signed," Jamieson said of the sixth-round selection in last year’s draft. "Justin is the biggest name in the group. But we have some really good players who have come here, too."
James wasn’t completely happy with the Boston situation. He wanted to drafted in the top three rounds, which have a significantly higher signing bonus than later rounds.
"At first, I was wanting to go play professional baseball because it’s my dream," said the 6-foot-3 Yukon, Okla., native, who is ranked as the 93rd best prospect by rivals.com. "I hope to someday play professionally. But, to me, the money wasn’t right.
"Now, I am happy to get two years of college out of the way, work real hard on individual things and mature a little more physically," he continued. "Hopefully, in two years I will go in the draft again, and things will work out better than they did this time."
James eliminated several national powers - including nearby Oklahoma and Oklahoma State - before choosing MU over Baylor, which is annually a Big 12 title contender.
"I would rather go to a team that is good - but not as good - and help them out," James said. "It would be more rewarding to make them good. It’s a challenge to help out a team and make them really good."
James is certainly in for a challenge.