'Professor' DeJong in Draft class all his own

Cards' fourth-round pick to put med school on hold, begin pro career

'Professor' DeJong in Draft class all his own

ST. LOUIS -- Paul DeJong headed off to college in the fall of 2011 as most athletes do, eager to extend his baseball career but cognizant that his chances of playing after his four-year eligibility expired at Illinois State University were slim. That's why, undrafted out of high school, DeJong began his collegiate career with medical school not as a backup plan, but the primary one.

Four years later, DeJong has a new Plan A.

One month after graduating with a Bachelor's degree in biochemistry/pre-med, DeJong was taken by the Cardinals in the fourth-round of the 2015 Draft on Tuesday. The right-handed-hitting utility player had been a 26th-round selection by the Pirates last summer but returned for his redshirt junior season to improve his Draft stock and complete his degree.

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"Since I wasn't sure what my baseball prospects were going to be, I didn't want to waste my education," said DeJong, who graduated with a 3.76 cumulative grade-point average and earned Academic All-America honors as a result. "As the last couple of years unfolded, I began to see a potential career in baseball. That's what I'm going to be focused on from here on out."

He described juggling high-level chemistry courses with his college baseball schedule as "tough," and he is content to put dreams of being a doctor aside to see how his pro baseball career unfolds. He plans to sign quickly so he can join an affiliate this summer and doesn't anticipate a recent thumb injury to stop him.

That same diligence with which DeJong pursued his education also helped him develop into an amateur prospect.

"As one of my colleagues once said, 'Talking to him is like talking to a professor,'" Illinois State head coach Bo Durkac said. "He has that kind of personality, that kind of intelligence. Guys like that tend to max out their ability, and Paul certainly did that in his four years here.

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A shortstop in high school, DeJong learned to catch while redshirting his first year. He opened the next season as a catcher until Illinois State developed a need at second. DeJong moved there without issue. He later played in the outfield and at third, the latter the position the Cardinals are likely to start him at in their system.

Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa sat down to discuss defensive options with DeJong on Sunday, when the 21-year-old attended a private workout at Busch Stadium.

"He's a really bright kid, as you might have guessed," Correa said. "He could go to medical school if he wanted to, but he's ready to get his pro career started. He told me he feels comfortable at third base, so that might be where we give him a chance."

Durkac estimated that DeJong put on about "20 pounds of strength" over the last three years, which helped him tap into some power potential last season. After hitting nine home runs as a redshirt sophomore, DeJong led the Missouri Valley Conference with 14 this spring.

DeJong led his team in hits (70), doubles (15), slugging percentage (.605), total bases (127) and RBIs (48), as well.

"I think a lot of it was physical, just becoming more developed and stronger as I got older," DeJong said of his offensive improvement. "I think a lot of it was my mental approach, too, and demanding the perfect pitch and not missing it."

The developments propelled DeJong onto the All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team and up Draft boards. And along the way, it forced him to do a little rethinking about those long-term career plans.

"If the pro baseball world views character and intelligence as something they really value and not just as a line that they use with parents and kids, Paul is worth three to four rounds in the Draft based on those two things alone," Durkac said. "He really blossomed so much as a ballplayer and found a different calling in life -- which is to play ball as long as you can. The possibility of going back to medical school later on, very few guys could do that. But Paul DeJong could."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.