GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jonathan India was already on campus at Florida when the Milwaukee Brewers called during the summer of 2015.
It was the last day teams could sign their draft picks that year. India, Milwaukee’s 26th-round selection, remained unsigned and was preparing to focus on playing college baseball for coach Kevin O’Sullivan at Florida, but the Brewers wanted to take one more shot.
“He got a call from the Brewers at 3:30 p.m. on that Friday and 5 p.m. was the end of the signing period. So he got a call from the GM from the Brewers, he called Jon and asked if he was interested in still becoming a Brewer,” recalls John India, Jonathan’s father. “He said, ‘Well, I’m up here at school in Summer B [classes]. You’ve got to call my dad.’ They called me. At the same time Sully’s calling to see what’s going on. I guess he got wind of what’s going on.
“They indicated that they had some money leftover. … I said, ‘Well, you know what our number is. What do you have?'”
After discussing the matter together in the lead-up to the draft, the family had decided to ask for $2 million wherever India was drafted and would hold firm at $1.85 million. His father said that played a factor in India not being drafted higher, despite more than 20 teams making home visits and the Brewers and Seattle Mariners both telling the family they would be interested in him in the early rounds.
The Brewers, after completing other signings, had $1.1 million left in their allotment for that draft class and decided to see if they could sway India to sign.
“I said, ‘You know what our number is. He’s already up at school and we’re just going to stay in school,'” the elder India recalls. “… So it was pretty close.”
Sitting in the team hotel in Hoover, Ala., a couple weeks ago as Florida prepared for the SEC Tournament, India, the Gators’ junior third baseman, reflected back on that pivotal moment and everything that has come from that decision.
A College World Series championship, an SEC Player of the Year award and what should be a very good Monday night for he and his family as India is now projected as a potential top-10 pick in the MLB draft, which starts at 7 p.m. on MLB Network.
According to MLB’s assigned draft pick values, being drafted in the top 10 likely means India gets a deal in excess of $4 million.
“It was down to the last minute for me,” he says of that life-shaping decision back in 2015. “Originally, I wasn’t really going to come to college. I had everything set, but things didn’t go right at the end and I’m glad I’m here. … It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Leaving his mark at UF
India’s father also had come to Florida to play baseball, but he had a falling out with then-coach Jay Bergman. As the story goes, the JV program had been cancelled so John India had to immediately try out for the varsity and felt Bergman had embarrassed him in front of the team while remarking that there were only 20 uniforms for 21 players.
“I left my glove there and never came back,” he says, thinking back.
But John India continued his education at Florida and carried no ill will toward the program as his son became a hotly recruited prospect from American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla.
“Florida has always been my dream school. … I always wanted to be a Gator,” Jonathan India says.
And when the decision was made to pass on the Brewers’ final offer, India immediately became a key cog on a stacked Gators team that would reach back-to-back College World Series while, of course, winning the program’s first national championship last year.
India started 64 games as a freshman and hit .303 with 4 home runs, 2 triples, 16 doubles, 40 RBI and 43 runs scored.
He’d start 57 games as a sophomore, missing some time because of a right elbow injury, while finishing with a .274 batting average, a team-high 15 doubles, 6 homers, 34 RBI and 13 stolen bases.
India had established himself as a very good SEC player, but he wasn’t in the first round of the mock draft projections when this season started. Nor did he worry about that. He knew he hadn’t put it all together yet, but that was coming soon enough.
“In my eyes, my freshman season was getting used to the league, getting used to college baseball. I thought it was fine, but to me last year wasn’t a good season to me,” India says. “Just battling injury and not playing to my abilities, it was very upsetting. So I was really determined to come out this year and show everyone who I am and how I play baseball.”
Entering the finals of the NCAA Regionals on Monday, India was hitting a team-best .364 with 18 homers, 12 doubles, 3 triples, 45 RBI, 60 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. A gaudy .504 on-base percentage and .733 slugging percentage reflect a dominant breakout season, and he had his batting average all the way to .438, ranking among the national leaders, before his 24-game hit streak ended on April 19.
“I just had a better approach this year. I stuck with it the whole year, trusting my approach, trusting where I want to hit the ball and hitting it where it’s pitched,” India explains.
While his numbers tailed off down the stretch, he remained the obvious choice for SEC Player of the Year honors and has turned it back up during the NCAA postseason so far.
The third baseman went 2 for 3 with 2 RBI in Florida’s NCAA Regionals opener against Columbia, and he crushed his 18th homer the next day against Jacksonville.
His sublime offensive numbers have perhaps overshadowed what has been a tremendous defensive season as well, and India’s father notes that his son is a shortstop at heart and hopes he gets a shot there at the next level.
All the while, the younger India has simply been trying not to think too much about the MLB draft and the future he’s earned for himself.
In its mock draft a few days ago, Baseball America had India projected as the No. 6 overall pick to the New York Mets.
“It’s just mock drafts. They’re not the guys drafting. It is cool … to see my name that high, but the draft is one day and you never know where you’re going to be,” he says. “So you just have to keep playing until that day and have fun with it.”
That day is here. The MLB draft starts Monday night, either a few hours after Florida wraps up NCAA Regional play or potentially during if a second finals game is needed against Florida Atlantic.
India is one of three Gators projected to go in the first round, along with junior right-handed pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar.
“We’re completely thrilled he’s risen to where we thought he would end up at the end of his college career,” John India says of his son. “We thought he would be one of the top players in the game.”
The proud father notes that he ran into a front office official for the Brewers at a Florida game a month or so ago, and they revisited India’s decision to choose the Gators over $1.1 million.
“He’s like, ‘I’m glad things worked out because he’s going to make more money now and we’ll still have a chance to pick him,'” John India says. “He goes, ‘I want you to know we were all in top to bottom.'”
The family finds itself talking a lot about that decision between themselves these days as well.
“We talk about it almost every day, ‘Imagine if you took your money out of high school? See what happens?’ It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” the younger India says.
Financially, clearly, but also for how he has grown as a player these last few years and what he has accomplished along the way. And what he still might accomplish the rest of this season with Florida, the top overall seed in this NCAA Tournament field.
India was asked recently if legacy matters to him, because his is now set in Gators lore.
“Of course. I want to be remembered as a kid that plays hard and plays for his team, for Gator baseball. I want to come back and people know me and say, ‘That’s India, man. A kid that loves to play the game, has a passion for the game and loves to win,'” he says. “I hope I made my mark so far. Just having fun out there.”