Cornelius Randolph isn’t worried about what you or I think about him. When he says that, he’s not being arrogant. He’s being smart. With the help of a psychologist and a good dose of maturity, he’s learned to block out the naysayers and focus solely on the one thing that he can control – himself.
The Phillies selected Randolph with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 Draft and he’s seen other players pass him on the way up the ladder to the majors. Adam Haseley, who was taken two years after Randolph, even reached the majors this season before he wound up on the IL. It’s easy to find those who believe Randolph should have advanced further than he has, some who even believe he should be a major leaguer by now. Some will even throw around the word “bust” when talking about the Phillies drafting Randolph with such a high pick.
Of the 32 players drafted after Randolph in the first round in 2015, 10 of them have reached the majors for at least a cup of coffee. Keep one thing in mind; the Phillies drafted Randolph out of Griffin High School in Georgia and had he not been drafted, he would have just finished his college playing career. While other kids his age were having fun and learning about life after high school, Randolph was faced with pressure from all sides about how quickly he could move through the Phillies system and fans watching his every move.
“I won’t say it affected me a lot, but at times you kind of feel it, especially when you’re struggling,” said Randolph about the pressure he faced as the 10th overall pick. “I think a lot of the time other guys put a lot on it. Because I was a first-rounder you have to prove that you’re good and you can do this or that; that’s gone, that was four years ago and that’s in the past.”
Randolph has moved at a pretty slow pace through the minor league system, but he played in his 170th game at the Double-A level, the level that he feels has been the most difficult to learn on his way through the system.
“Everybody talks about how the pitching gets better, but what I’ve noticed most is that the defense gets better. Those hits that split a gap and you think for sure are going to be a hit until the guy chases them down. It makes it tougher to do well and that’s what I’m learning is that every at-bat has to be consistently good. You can’t go up there and throw ABs away,” Randolph explained.
The naysayers say he’s throwing away a lot of at-bats. Through 52 games this season, Randolph has a line of 5-20-.227/.293/.370 with Reading and he has struck out 59 times. Defensively, the Phillies drafted Randolph as a shortstop, but he’s played outfield in the minors and has not only taken to left field, but is in the process of learning to play both right field and center.
“I’m mainly just playing the game and figuring out how guys are going to pitch me. I break down a lot of video and learn from how a guy pitched me before. It’s good to know at least a little about a guy and what to look for from him,” said Randolph about his offense. “Defensively, I feel that I keep getting better. It’s part of just being an athlete, but it’s also part of doing the work before the game and taking flyballs off the live bat during BP; that stuff has kind of helped me to become a better defender.
“I’ve played in center a couple of games this year, played in right for a few games and am expanding how and where I can play. You have to be out there and be able to play all three positions. I feel like it makes it easier for the guys up top to make decisions because if you can play all three, that makes you a little more valuable and it helps break some of those logjams when you can play all over because they can rotate you into those other spots.”
Of the players drafted behind Randolph in the first round who have reached the majors, four of the 10 were high school players just like Randolph. It’s likely that Randolph doesn’t know that because he doesn’t pay attention to those things.
“I’ve seen high schoolers go in and click and keep rising and I’ve seen late round college guys that go in and click and go to the big leagues. There are middle-round guys who make it, but it’s about you finding what clicks for you,” said Randolph. “At the end of the day, if you’re playing professional baseball, the talent level is there, it’s just a matter of making it all click for you. I need to perform regardless of how old I am. Luis Garcia [Lakewood] is just 19 years old and the guy from Erie [Isaac Paredes] is 20 and is in Double-A. It’s all about performance and not about how young or old you are. Some of the guys you’re on the field with are older and some are younger, but we’re all just trying to reach our goals.”
As for the people thinking that Randolph should be in the majors or at least knocking on the door, Randolph simply isn’t listening. “People say that, but I never think about it. I would just be graduating college, but instead, I’m here and that’s the only thing on my mind is making the majors one day. It’s not about how young I am and not how long it’s taking me to mature; those are all excuses.
“It’s my career, it’s not their career. If I worry about them, then I’m not going to succeed and they’re going to be right. I’ve used psychologists and have learned how to block that stuff out. Even watching guys on my team perform when I’m struggling; I can’t worry about what they’re doing, I just have to focus on me and getting myself straightened out.”
On Tuesday night, Reading reached double-digits in runs for the first time this season in beating Akron 10-2. Randolph finished the night 1-for-4 with a stolen base and a run scored. The win was big because it could have given the Fightins the first-half championship in the Eastern Division of the Eastern League. The bad news was that Trenton won their game against Richmond to fight off Reading and take the division crown for the first-half.
“Everybody wants to be playing for something,” said Randolph of his team’s chances before the game. “I won’t be worrying about Trenton though, because I can’t do anything about that. I’m going to focus on me just like every other night and what I can do to help this team, because that’s what I can control. It’s not the World Series, but while I’m here, I want us to win a championship and I can help to control that.”