When you think of a player jumping up a grade, there are none more famous that when Bryce Harper announced he was foregoing his senior season and instead enrolled as a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada as a 17-year-old freshman, a season in which he won the Golden Spikes Award before going first overall to the Washington Nationals in 2010.
Using one of the best players in baseball isn’t necessarily a fair example in terms of setting the bar, but over the last couple of years we’ve seen a subtle increase with players jumping grades, expediting either their draft process or the college experience by a year. In 2020 we saw both Blaze Jordan and Nick Bitsko leap up a year before hearing their names called in the third and first rounds, respectively, and signed for a near combined $5 million. Just this past year we saw another pair of prospects forego a year of their high school career as Cam Collier went the same route as Harper as he enrolled at Chipola (Fla.) in place of his senior season before signing for $5 million as the 18th overall pick while Walter Ford skipped his junior season and got the call from the Seattle Mariners in the second round, signing for $1.25 million.
As mentioned above, some players do it for draft purposes while others announce their intentions of either foregoing the draft and enrolling in college early or seeing how the draft process works out before arriving on campus. Former Perfect Game All-American Robert Stock enrolled at USC as a 16-year-old in August of 2006 despite first round draft projection before making his ascent to the big leagues, a path current freshmen Brady Neal (LSU) and Cade Kurland (Florida), both PG Select Festival alum, look to follow while paying immediate dividends as SEC powerhouses.
We are still well over a year out before the 2024 draft cycle starts but we’ve already seen three prominent members of the 2025 class jump to the 2024 now with the latest coming in California native and current IMG Academy left-hander/outfielder Noah Franco who has announced he will become a member of the 2024. Ranked as the No. 1 ranked player in the country as a 2025 at the time of his reclassing, curiously enough, Franco is the second top ranked player in the class to springboard up as he follows the footsteps of Mississippi outfielder Konnor Griffin who made the jump at the onset of this past summer cycle and debuted at No. 2, never breaking stride as one of the most electric prospects in the country. Rounding out the trio of 2025s to 2024 is Florida outfielder and left-hander Michael Torres, former 13u Select Festival MVP, who’s currently ranked No. 21 in the class and shows an intriguing combination of tools in all facets of his game.
Now that we’ve done some background and brief recap of others, lets dig in and see who Franco is as a player. Since the initial class rankings which appeared in December of 2020, Franco has been viewed as a top prospect in the class with a debut of No. 21 before a surge in 2022 which is when the broad shouldered, taper waisted 6-foot-3 Franco began his ascent up the rankings, ultimately securing the top spot this past July. It was during the High School Showdown where Franco truly cemented himself on the heels of an MVP performance where he slashed an otherworldly .733/.765/1.631 over 4 games while striking out a pair in his lone inning on the mound. That performance set the tone for the young Mississippi State commit for the rest of the summer, leaving no doubt as to his talents, though one question did and still does linger. At the end of the day, is he a bat or an arm?
Why are we seeing a slight uptick in players reclassing upwards? A quick look at the prep picks in this past year’s MLB Draft who were selected in the first round reveals the average age was 18.4 (including Cam Collier, 18.5 without his inclusion) at the time of the draft, something that certainly is factored into the evaluation process. Let's go back a couple more years: 2021 average was 18.4, 2020 was 18.3 and 2019 was 18.5.
If we use that mark and look at Franco’s current age path, assuming a July draft come 2025, he’d be a bit north of the 2022 average at 19.2 age and thus a draft eligible sophomore should he arrive in Starkville. By making the move, not only can he go through the draft process a year earlier, but he’ll do so while playing the entirety of his junior season as a 16 year old and doing the summer circuit as a newly turned 17 year old before being ~ 18.2 on draft. Every player and family has their own reasons for doing anything they do along their own journey and whether or not the age at draft has anything to do with Franco’s decision, it’s an interesting aspect none-the-less.