From MLB Draft Pick to NCAA Champion?

C.J. Henry (Getty Images)

C.J. Henry (Getty Images)

I know, I’m like you. That sounds totally backward to me.

In the course of doing research for an upcoming college basketball project, I looked into the much-vaunted Henry brothers, both of whom were set to play for the Memphis Tigers this season before coach John Calipari bolted for Kentucky. Instead, the brothers opted to switch their allegiance to the University of Kansas, which happens to be my alma mama, and that of Henry mom and pop, both of whom starred in basketball there.

This is all nice, Eric, but what does it have to do with baseball?

Well, while both Xavier and C.J. Henry are listed as freshmen on the KU roster, only one of them is truly a spring chicken. Xavier is a hotly-recruited blue-chipper who is only in college because of NBA rules. C.J. is a 23-year-old walk on who spent four years swinging a bat for the farm clubs of the Yanks and Phillies before deciding his future lay on the hardwood.

The Yankees made Henry – a 6’3″, 205-lb. shortstop from Oklahoma City – the #17 pick of the 2005 June draft. That’s the draft that gave us Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ryan Braun, not to mention Troy Tulowitzki and our hero, Jay Bruce. For perspective, the following players were drafted lower in the first round than C.J. Henry: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus, and Clay Buchholz.

The elder Henry brother had a modest first season with the GCL Yankees, then started 2006 with the Charleston RiverDogs. 77 games into the Sally League season, he was traded to the Phillies as part of the deal that sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to New York. Henry was racking up errors as a shortstop, and his hitting was nothing to write home about, so 2007 saw him auditioning at third base and every position in the outfield for the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws. The experiment failed, and Henry was released.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t his last gasp. The Yankees re-signed CJ in 2008 and even moved him up a level, to the A+ Tampa Yankees. He played in 20 games, put up a .237 average with no errors in left field, and then abruptly quit. He walked on at Memphis but sat out the season as a redshirt with a foot injury. Then Calipari left, and CJ rode his younger brother’s coattails to national title contender KU.

C.J. Henry has actually played this pretty well. As a walk-on, he doesn’t have to take up a precious scholarship, which would probably have limited his options, though his ability to bring his superstar kid brother along might have induced someone to burn one on a guy who might still be able to play. At 23, he probably still has his skill-set intact, and he had a year of practice time while sitting out at Memphis to shake off some of the rust. One assumes he still has some of his bonus-baby money to keep him in pizza and beer while he lives the college life. Even if he isn’t a major contributor, he’s going to be a member of a team that has Final Four written all over it.

They say there are no second acts in American lives. C.J. Henry begs to differ.

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