Ethan “EQ” Workinger’s path to pro baseball came with a curve or two. Fortunately for Workinger, an Encinitas resident, he declined to flinch.
Workinger, who didn’t play for a high school team during his senior and junior years, is a freshly minted member of the Atlanta Braves organization. He recently signed a free-agent contract and now the speedy outfielder awaits his orders of when and where to report.
“I’ll probably be headed out to an instructional league but first they have to figure out what the big-leaguers are going to do,” Workinger, 18, said. “I’ve even heard some talk that they might send us to Australia to play in a league.”
COVID-19 has flipped the baseball world to a degree that Workinger could go down under. After his peculiar route, it’s just another bend in the road.
Workinger’s final two prep years were spent staring into a computer instead of sitting in a North County classroom. He earned a high school diploma through California Connections Academy.
But his on-line institution didn’t have a spot for him in between the chalk lines. Void of offering athletics, Workinger had to hustle for his at-bats.
“I started playing in a league up in Orange County,” Workinger said. “And I started hitting home runs and the scouts started showing up for the games.”
It was doing a stretch of Workinger smacking eight dingers in 17 contests that originally caught the Braves’ eye. They kept in touch with him and in some ways led Workinger to believe he might be selected in the 2019 June draft.
Instead, he was blown away when the Braves didn’t clear their throat to say his name. While they’re supposed to be no misty eyes in baseball, Workinger admits that’s not always the case.
“It was definitely a downer, for sure, and I cried a little bit when I didn’t get the call,” Workinger said. “Then I got fired up and decided I was going to work even harder because I wanted to make it happen.”
That patience paid off as Workinger wore out opposing pitchers. He showed the pop in his bat in various amateur leagues and briefly when playing for San Diego City College prior to the schedule being canceled due to COVID-19.
SDCC got in roughly 20 games and Workinger flirted with a .400 batting average before the chair was pulled out on the season. Then when this June’s draft rolled around, it was restricted to just five rounds from 40 as the owners saved money.
While Workinger, again, didn’t get selected in the annual dispersal of talent, this one didn’t come with a haymaker to the polite teenager.
Instead, he was among six non-drafted players to be signed and get invited into the home of the Braves.
“It was the best decision I ever made to not play in high school,” said the right-hand hitting Workinger. “Playing in those different leagues made me a better player.”
Workinger’s overnight success was years in the making.
As a 12-year-old with the Encinitas Little League, Workinger’s All-Star team went to the Western Regional finals in San Bernardino. The following year, the Juniors squad he played on advanced to the regional finals in Vancouver, Wash,
“He hit many home runs on ESPN,” his mother, Rachel, said with a smile.
Workinger’s grin wears well in a Braves uniform, although it flashed in knowing that the hard work awaits.
Bring it on, says Workinger.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4 years old,” he said, “and I just love it.”
Love sometimes hurts and Workinger can attest to that. After last year’s heartbreaking June, this one arrived with the Braves swooning for Workinger.