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 Minor League News & Autograph Blog Home

In the Spotlight - Mark Ellis

By Jason Blasco

      Oakland Athletics shortstop prospect Mark Ellis came from Stevens High School in Rapid City South Dakota, a place which doesn't even have it's own high school baseball team.
    "One of the reasons we don't have a baseball team is pretty much because of the weather.  You just couldn't play that many games with the type of weather we have in South Dakota.  The competition is good there, though.  Some of these players, if they played in California or Florida, would have probably gone further in baseball," said Ellis
    So how does a player get from a place where the weather isn't baseball weather, to playing for the Florida Gators baseball team, to getting drafted in the ninth round by the Kansas City Royals?  The answer is simple for Ellis.  Make do with what you have.   
    Ellis may not have had a high school team, but he had talent and the guidance of Coach Dave Ploos, who has been in baseball for 34 years, and was the coach of the American Legion teams in Rapid City, South Dakota.  With the American Legion team, Ellis was dominant with a .471 batting average, 11 homeruns, and became an RBI machine with 91 RBI's in just 83 games.  In addition to the statistics that Ellis put up in the American Legion League, he also made history by becoming the only player in the state to receive the South Dakota American Legion Player-of-the-Year, and was the only shortstop in the state to ever achieve this award.  
    "We have some great programs in the American Legion League.  I really learned a lot from Coach Ploos.  I don't think I would be where I am today without his help.  He got a lot of players to junior college level baseball and college baseball," said Ellis. 
    Shortly before graduating at Stevens High School in Rapids City, Ellis was starting to get attention from the professional scouts.  For Ellis the transition from American Legion baseball to pro ball was not something he was ready to take on.
    "I talked to ten or twelve different teams.  I decided not to go in the draft because I didn't feel I was mature enough.  For me, it was the right decision.  I wasn't mature enough to deal with the daily pressure that goes on in professional baseball.  I was also only around 150 pounds," said Ellis.
    At first the transition from high school baseball to college ball was difficult for Ellis.  Ellis soon adjusted to the demanding schedule of a student athlete.  
    "It was tough at first, because you had to go to class, and then there might be a baseball game later that day.  You are also playing against some of the best players in the entire country, "said Ellis.   
    Towards the middle of the season, after adjusting to the daily rigors of college life and baseball, Ellis started receiving more playing time.  Ellis took advantage of the playing time with a .351 average, nine doubles, one homerun, and 26 RBIs.   
    During games, Ellis began to rise to the occasion as the pressure and stakes increased.  Perhaps one of the most interesting game-winning hits came on Feb. 16, 1997, in a game against the third ranked Miami Hurricanes.  The baseball looked like it was going to be caught, but it wasn't as the baseball came out of Hurricanes Ryan Grimmett's glove. 
    That became one of Ellis's most memorable moments, there was still more clutch moments to come against the number one ranked Florida State Seminoles.  Playing with a strained rotator cuff, he was able to get the game-winning hit in the eleventh inning to help the Gators drown their rivals.  Although these are some Ellis's is most memorable moments in college baseball, they still don't top playing in the College World Series in 1996,1997, and 1998.  

    "That was the first time we went to the College World Series.  It was our freshman year and it was the first time on national television," said Ellis. 
    Ellis had no idea what round he was going to go into in the draft.  When he did receive the call informing him he was drafted, there was only one way for Ellis to describe the feeling of being drafted. 
    "I was really excited about getting drafted in the ninth round.  I was very happy to be drafted," said Ellis.  
    Before his first professional season began, Ellis had heard nightmare stories about the first season.  For Ellis, his first season was not a nightmare at all and he actually describes his that season as fun.  Fun included the way Ellis hit .327, with seven homeruns, and 14 doubles, and caused pitchers to keep a constant watch out when he was on base by stealing 21 in single A.  
    In Wilmington in 2000, he received some help in the area that was considered one of his weakest since he got drafted: his arm strength.  He worked everyday with Coach Jeff Garber on his throwing mechanics.  Ellis also got a taste of the upper minors playing in double A Wichita.   
    "Jeff really helped improved my throwing mechanics and strength.  That is something I continue to work on, and I feel I am getting better at everyday," said Ellis.
    In the off-season, Ellis was dealt a surprise that he was traded from the Kansas City Royals organization to the Oakland Athletics organization as part of the Johnny Damon deal.  
    "It was tough because I never had any idea before I got traded.  I made a lot of good friends in the Royals organization. I quickly found out that Oakland has a great organization and they had great facilities in Scottsdale," said Ellis.

    At the Oakland Athletics minor league camp, Ellis quickly became adjusted.  After learning routine of getting up, eating breakfast, taking batting practice, doing drills, and taking one ground ball after another, he began to fit in. 

    "I knew a couple of  the players from college.  Even though I didn't really know that many people at first, after a few weeks everything started clicking," said Ellis.   
    Shortly after the season, making the leap from single A to triple A was mind bending, having never faced most of these pitchers in his career.  Also, being only 24 years of age, Ellis has found himself in a veterans' domain with several former big league players and pitchers.  
    "The biggest difference between single A and triple A is that the pitchers in single A want to throw the ball by you.  Here, the pitchers are smarter.  I am learning how to make adjustments everyday," said Ellis.
    Ellis has also learned a lot from a former big leaguer F.P Santangelo, who has six years of big league experience.  
    "It is amazing to watch the way he works on the field and way he conducts himself off the field," said Ellis.  
    For Ellis, his long-term goal is to make it to the major leagues.  And that looks like it is going to happen, being just one level below the major league level.  Another goal that Ellis has in his drive to succeed as a baseball player is simple. 
    "I would like to improve everyday," said Ellis


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