PROVO — BYU pitcher Jarod Lessar was such a big New York Yankees fan growing up in Carbon County that he wore No. 13 to honor his idol, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, and played on a Little League team called the Price Yankees.
So it was “really kinda surreal” on Sunday morning, Lessar said, when that particular Major League Baseball team called and offered a $20,000 free-agent deal to the right-hander whose senior season at BYU was shortened last spring.
Lessar said it took him “about two minutes” to mull over the offer and call the Yankees back with news that he would sign the contract. He will report to the Yankees’ training camp in Tampa, Florida, as MLB begins to re-open training facilities and set playing dates for the upcoming season.
“I hung up the phone and I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and gratitude,” said Lessar, who has been splitting time between his parents’ home in Price and the Provo area since BYU’s season was canceled in mid-March. He has also been coaching the Helper American Legion baseball team.
Lessar’s situation was detailed by the Deseret News last month; Two other BYU players were hoping to get free-agent offers over the weekend: pitcher Justin Sterner and catcher Abe Valdez.
Because the MLB draft was shortened to five rounds this year, instead of the usual 40, teams are allowed to sign as many draft-eligible players as they want. The draft ended Thursday night and the free-agent signing period began Sunday morning at 7 a.m. MT.
Lessar said he had been contacted by the Astros, Angels and Orioles in recent weeks, then heard from the Yankees for the first time last Monday.
“It was weird, because I felt like I was being recruited again,” he said.
The Yankees sent him a “personalized” presentation of what it would be like to join their organization, complete with a mock photo of Lessar playing in Yankees Stadium. They contacted him at 11 a.m.
“They definitely made me feel wanted,” he said.
Lessar has just one class remaining to finish his degree at BYU, and the club has said they will pay for it if he wants. Had he not signed a professional baseball contract, he would have been welcomed back to BYU for an NCAA-allowed re-do of his senior season, coach Mike Littlewood has said.
“I couldn’t be happier for Jarod,” Littlewood said. “He is such a great example of how hard work and dedication to your craft pays off. Jarod earned this opportunity and I’m glad the Yankees recognize his talent. We will miss him, but we wish him the best of luck as he begins his professional career.”
Lessar began his collegiate career playing football for Southern Utah University. He transferred to USU Eastern to play baseball, then moved on to BYU where he played the last two seasons with the Cougars.
As a junior in 2019, he helped BYU win the West Coast Conference title, posting a 3-2 record with a 4.4 earned run average. In the shortened 2020 season, he made four starts and totaled 15 strikeouts and a 4.41 ERA over 16.1 innings.