Can a player go from being undrafted in 50 rounds one year to being taken in the early portion of the Draft three years later?
That's an arduous, and perhaps downright impossible, climb. But if Bethune-Cookman junior Peter O'Brien cashes in on the momentum he carries into his 2011 season, it appears attainable for the supremely talented 20-year-old catcher.
"Everything happens for a reason," O'Brien said about being passed up 1,504 times out of high school during the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
"It really, like, lit a fire when I didn't get drafted. It made me work harder. It made me say, 'OK, next Draft, I'm going to make sure that I get drafted.'"
Urban Invitational schedule
Southern vs. UC Irvine
B-C vs. Grambling
UC Irvine v.s B-C*
Grambling vs. Southern*
Grambling vs. UC Irvine
Southern vs. B-C
* Broadcast on MLB Network
All times PT
That can't happen until the First-Year Player Draft is held in June. But later this month, many may get a chance to see just how much of a talent O'Brien is.
From Feb. 25-27, Bethune-Cookman University will take part in Major League Baseball's Urban Invitational, as it has every year since the event began in 2008. Grambling State and Southern University -- two other Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- as well as the University of California Irvine will join the Wildcats.
The purpose of the three-day event, taking place at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., and UC Irvine, is to bring national exposure to HBCUs. And while O'Brien is not an African-American athlete, he certainly deserves his share of attention.
MLB Network will air the second day of games.
"Any exposure that he has to scouts, fans, the media -- all those people that can rate him and can see the things we've been seeing -- can only help him," longtime Bethune-Cookman baseball coach Mervyl Melendez said. "He's a tremendous player who plays with a lot of emotion and passion, and getting some exposure will be great for him."
O'Brien, a chiseled 6-foot-3, has always been a solid hitter with a plus arm. But he didn't start catching until his senior year of high school and was fairly raw as a college freshman. Then, he made tremendous strides -- offensively and defensively -- last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Peter O'Brien (JR, C)
2010: .386 BA, 20 HRs, 56 RBIs
Ryan Durrence (SR, 1B)
2010: .364 BA, 18 HRs, 72 RBIs
DJ Leonard (SR, OF)
2010: .432 BA, 10 HRs, 45 RBIs
After hitting .314 with four homers in 50 games as a freshman, O'Brien put himself on the map in 2010, batting .386 with 20 homers and 56 RBIs in 57 games while, according to his coach and scouting reports, vastly improving defensively. He went on to be named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference MVP, played every day for the USA Collegiate National Team in the summer, and was recently ranked the No. 18 Draft prospect in the nation by College Baseball Daily.
Several mock drafts have O'Brien listed just outside the first round, but there's no doubt he has emerged as one of the top catching prospects in the country. And he should continue to move up with another big season.
"I always knew I had the talent," O'Brien said, "but very few people saw it."
They're beginning to now.
Scouts love his athleticism, power and arm, and they believe he has first-round potential, even though he can still improve on the intricacies of being a backstop -- calling a game, managing a pitching staff, receiving, etc.
O'Brien won't say if this will be his final collegiate season, but considering his upside and promise, Melendez admits it likely will be.
"He has the tools that can make him a star in the Major Leagues," believes Melendez, whose Wildcats will begin their quest for a sixth straight MEAC title when they open their season Feb. 18. "That remains to be seen, because we'll see how he does this year. But he's just a very hard worker; a typical student-athlete. He works harder than anybody I've coached on the field."
O'Brien, by his own accounts, is a workout freak. He'll hit off A tee and do catching drills until 1 or 2 a.m., then wake up five hours later to hit the weights. In hopes of bulking up, he used to set an alarm on his phone every three hours to remind him to eat. He'll take in up to 2,000 calories at breakfast. And if he gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he'll drink a protein shake before going back to bed.
O'Brien, who attended three different high schools in South Florida, was never the fastest of kids, but he nonetheless played shortstop early in his high school career. He migrated to the corner-infield spots. Then, during a showcase prior to his senior season, he put on catching equipment because his team needed someone behind the plate -- "I always thought it was cool to put on the gear," he said -- and suddenly, scouts and coaches were telling him that's where he needed to stay.
O'Brien likes the position. He believes it fits his personality, and -- unlike Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, who was moved to the outfield upon being drafted -- he hopes to stick behind the plate throughout his career.
"I'm at a point now where I'm a lot better than I was when I was a freshman," O'Brien said. "I know I have a lot of work to do, but I know I can stay as a catcher for the rest of my career. I think that's my biggest asset -- that I'll stick at the position."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show,' and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. Reporter Jonathan Mayo contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.