Hefty signing bonus lured outfielder away from football

Waldrop is the Dragons’ highest-rated prospect this season.

DAYTON — Two years ago, the Cincinnati Reds made Kyle Waldrop an offer he couldn’t refuse. Otherwise he might be going through spring practices with the University of South Florida football team right now instead of suiting up in the outfield for the Dayton Dragons.

Waldrop was drafted in the 12th round in 2010 out of Riverdale High School in Fort Meyers, Fla.

He would have gone higher except most teams expected him to play college football. His family had season tickets to South Florida games, and his older brother Cody went to school there at the time.

The Reds lured Waldrop away from college football by paying him a $500,000 signing bonus and agreeing to pay for four years of college on top of that. Even though Waldrop was a Division I prospect in football as a wide receiver, he knew he had a chance to go further in baseball.

“It was definitely a hard decision picking between college and pro ball,” Waldrop said Wednesday before the Dragons lost their fourth game in a row, 7-4 to Lansing at Fifth Third Field. “It was going to take a bit of a signing bonus to get me to play pro ball. The Reds came up with it, so I went for it. I figured I’d just take it and run with it and enjoy this journey as long as it lasts.”

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Waldrop hasn’t ruled out returning to football. He hasn’t taken any classes, so his eligibility clock hasn’t started.

“If this doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll go back and try the football route,” he said.

Waldrop, 20, didn’t sign until August 2010, so he played just seven games in the Arizona League that season. Last year, he hit .273 in Billings, Mont., with nine home runs, a team-best nine triples and 22 doubles.

Because of that performance, “Baseball America” ranked Waldrop as the 22nd-best prospect in the Reds organization. He’s the highest-rated Dragons player, just ahead of second baseman Ryan Wright (No. 23) and first baseman Sean Buckley (No. 24).

Waldrop has yet to find his stroke this season, hitting .071 in four games, but he’s not worried.

“I feel all right,” he said. “I’ve had a couple bad breaks with guys diving at balls. I’m only 14 at-bats in. I’ve got hundreds of at-bats left. I’m not stressing or anything. I’m seeing the ball well.”

Waldrop is one of many Dragons from warm-weather climates. He had never played in cold weather, so this week was a challenge.

“You just have to keep your mind right and not think about it once you’re in the box,” he said.

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