College : : Story
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

College Baseball in Momentum

Mike Rooney        
Photo: JT Ginn (Perfect Game)

2018 was an outstanding season for the sport of college baseball and that reality manifested itself in several ways. From the MLB draft to an epic Super Regional round to stellar ratings for ESPN’s postseason coverage, this was a banner year for Division I baseball.

For the first time ever, the first five picks of the MLB Amateur Draft were all college players. Casey Mize, Joey Bart, Alec Bohm, Nick Madrigal and Jonathan India were those five selections, and the attractiveness of proven college hitters revealed itself once again. For the record, this draft featured an exceptionally talented and deep high school class, which further punctuates the accomplishment for the college game.

This also serves as validation that the significant resources college programs have invested in player development are paying off. College coaching salaries have never been higher, not to mention the addition of full-time strength coaches, nutritionists and video coordinators at many of the top programs. Also, the facilities around college baseball rival the upper levels of minor league baseball in both functionality and atmosphere.

On the field, 2018 presented us with the best Super Regional round we’ve seen since this format was adopted in 1999. Six of the eight matchups went the full three games, culminating with an epic Sunday night and four Game 3s on Monday. Regarding Sunday night, College Baseball fans enjoyed simultaneous drama as both the Fullerton and Nashville Super Regionals finished within minutes of each other. Nashville may go down as the best Super Regional of all time, with two walk-off victories to start things off, followed by a deciding Game 3 that went extra innings.

ESPN’s television ratings reflected the excitement of the 2018 season as well. This was the most-watched college baseball postseason of all time and each round of the NCAA Tournament saw an increase in viewership over what was a record-breaking 2017 season. Not only was the 2018 Super Regional round the most-watched round-of-16 since ESPN began covering every game of this round 10 seasons ago, but its viewership was up 40 percent from last year.

College baseball, like all levels of our sport, is about the players. And that is why this final nugget is so impactful. Three first-round picks (JT Ginn, Matt McLain, and Carter Stewart) from this June’s MLB Draft have elected to attend college in lieu of beginning their professional careers right away.

It is important to note that these are individual decisions with unique circumstances. It is always that way and each family must make the decision that is best for their son. And this is certainly an aberration that most likely won’t be repeated. That said, it is exciting that college baseball has grown to the point where families feel that it is a viable option, even as a first round selection.

This long but certainly not exhaustive list of other high-profile prep players who have elected not to sign professionally is equally impressive: Kumar Rocker, Nander De Sedas, Cole Wilcox, Gunnar Hoglund, Austin Becker, Slade Cecconi, and Seth Halvorsen. All of these players, with the exception of Hoglunnd while including both Ginn and Stewart, played in last summer’s Perfect Game All-American Classic, a further testament to their talent.

This is not a conversation that pits college baseball versus professional baseball. The point here is that if college baseball is growing, then so is the game of baseball. And that is what makes the 2018 season incredibly fulfilling.

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