Austin Cousino credits his experiences with the Dublin Coffman High School baseball team for the opportunities he has had in the sport since graduating in 2011.
Among those opportunities were receiving a scholarship to play for the University of Kentucky and being selected by the Seattle Mariners with the sixth pick of the third round (80th overall) of the Major League Baseball draft June 6.
An outfielder who bats and throws left-handed, Cousino, 21, signed his first professional contract June 12, agreeing to a $400,000 signing bonus. He also is receiving a monthly minor league salary of $1,100.
"I was pretty excited for it to come," he said of being drafted. "I wasn't thinking about it too much. I just wanted to get on a team and start playing again, so that was my real focus."
Cousino reported to the Mariners' short-season Class A team in Everett, Wash., and made his pro debut with the Everett AquaSox on June 16. Starting in center field and batting leadoff, he went 1-for-4 with a solo home run, an RBI, a run and two strikeouts in a 7-3 loss to the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in a Northwest League game.
The home run came in his second at-bat.
"It felt good to get back playing again. I just happened to run into one," Cousino said of the home run.
In his first seven games as a pro, he had a .250 batting average with one home run, one double, two RBI, six runs and five strikeouts in 28 at-bats.
Cousino, who is 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, was selected higher in the draft than most experts expected, considering that he was rated the 182nd-best prospect available for the draft by MLB.com.
According to his MLB.com profile, he is a contact hitter with occasional gap power and, defensively, was among the top outfielders at the college level. The website said he has solid speed and gets great reads and jumps, allowing him to chase down balls from gap to gap. It also said that while he has an average arm, his arm is better than most center fielders.
"Once you sign, you go where they tell you to, and it's all about working your way up (through the minors)," said Cousino, who grew up a Detroit Tigers fan. "I don't read much into what (experts are) saying or projections. Ultimately, it comes down to one team really liking what you bring to the table."
Cousino credits Coffman coach Tim Saunders with much of his development.
"Coach Saunders has been with me the entire way," he said. "He's helped me along the journey. I always get a text or call when I have a couple good games or a bad stretch throughout the season. He's helped me immensely throughout my high school, college days. He's a great person, a great coach, but the relationship we have off the field is a lot closer."
Cousino played three seasons at Kentucky. In 61 games this spring, he hit .308 with four home runs, 15 doubles, four triples and 38 RBI and had 19 stolen bases in 20 attempts. He also was named to the Southeastern Conference all-Defensive Team.
As a freshman in 2012, he was named SEC Freshman of the Year and second-team all-SEC, made the SEC all-Defensive Team and was a consensus freshman All-American honoree.
In 2013, he earned the Gold Glove award as the nation's best center fielder and was on the SEC all-Defensive Team.
In addition, Cousino played for the USA Collegiate National Team the past two summers. He made program history by becoming the first Wildcats player to earn a spot on the team in multiple years.
"It wasn't too tough," Cousino said, when asked about his decision to leave Kentucky a year early to begin a pro career. "It's always been my goal to go play professional baseball. With where I got picked and playing three years of college, I felt that I was ready to move on with my career."
As a senior at Coffman, Cousino batted .529 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs, 31 RBI and was 28-for-28 in stolen bases. He set program records for runs (42) and stolen bases and was named district Player of the Year in Division I.
Cousino missed most of his junior season with the Shamrocks because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery.
"Austin just wants to play," Saunders said. "He's a smiley, fun kid and he just wants to play, and to be (drafted) in the third round versus the eighth round is something. He had one more year at Kentucky, but it's one of those things that worked out in his favor. Good for him."
Cousino, however, plans to get his college diploma. As part of his contract with the Mariners, he will be compensated financially for his remaining education once he decides to complete his degree requirements.
"I'll definitely go back to school," he said. "I only have 26 more hours (of class credits left), so it will be real easy to go back and finish. That will be my goal -- to go back eventually whenever that may be and finish up."