College : : Story
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Variables Complicate Signing Process

David Rawnsley        

OMAHA, Neb. – The NCAA early-signing period for baseball, which is shared with numerous other sports, including basketball, and runs from today through Nov. 17, isn’t nearly as well-publicized or glamorous as the Feb. 2, 2011 signing date for football will be, but it has become more closely scrutinized in recent years.

The recruiting/commitments links on the Perfect Game website are some of the most heavily visited of any of the thousands of links on the site, something we are definitely aware of. Expect more expanded coverage of the recruiting process on in the future.

The ever increasing popularity of college baseball has been an important factor in the increase in attention given to where the best high school baseball players will be attending school. But much of the reason behind the increase in interest is simply a function of our society right now? So much information is available so quickly and in so many different places that it feeds fans’ natural hunger for the latest on their favorite school/team.

Pro Baseball in the Process

College baseball recruiting itself has become much more complicated in the past few years as schools are still adapting to changes in roster sizes, the distribution of limited scholarship money and the increased accountability of graduation rates.

Professional baseball, not surprisingly, has a major and ever-evolving effect on the recruiting process. Baseball is the only major sport where the colleges are forced to compete directly against the professionals for a player’s services. High school football players must wait three years before they are able to explore their professional options, while basketball players must have been out of high school at least one year (the infamous “one and done” scenario that many of the most talented hoopsters take).

The ever expanding signing bonuses paid by pro teams, especially the recent trend of “overpaying” in the middle rounds of the draft for premium high school prospects, is one of the banes of a college recruiter’s existence.

The uncertainty created by this competition between pro and college has been lessened a bit in the past few years by the adoption of a firm Aug. 15 signing deadline. Before a recruit could literally be standing outside the doorway of his first college class and still be eligible to sign. It’s safe to say that almost everyone involved on both sides would like to see this hard signing deadline moved to an earlier date, such as July 15 or even July 1.

Still, the biggest change in the recruiting landscape in the college vs. pro equation might be coming soon.

It has been strongly speculated that the next Basic Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association will contain the same sort of defined draft slotting system that exists in other major sports. MLB has a strong desire to reign in signing bonuses and create a more-level playing field for all 30 teams in the draft process.

A strong and less frequently discussed motivation for the powers that be at MLB is to push more high school players to college baseball, and let the colleges serve as the de facto minor leagues for developing players. The bottom line would simply be to shift a portion of the player-development costs from the existing minor leagues (i.e., 30 major league teams) to the colleges.

The benefit for the college game is obvious: More talent. More talent means the sport becomes more popular, thus making more money for some of the beleaguered and football top-heavy college athletic departments.

That will make the ability to identify and recruit the best high school and junior college talent even more important.

Highlights of the Current Period

As Perfect Game’s Allan Simpson pointed out in his story Tuesday, almost every top player (95 of PG’s Top 100-ranked high school prospects for the 2011 draft) had already made a verbal commitment to a college as the signing deadline approached. So there won’t be much of the last-minute drama that exists on the football signing deadline.

Still, there have been some interesting last-minute commitments, like Georgia SS Julius Gaines (Florida International), Georgia OF Dwight Smith (Georgia Tech), California OF/LHP Aaron Brown (Pepperdine) and Kansas OF Dakota Smith (Kansas). Very few baseball recruits change their mind at the last minute.

Even though college baseball rosters are now capped at 35 players, some schools still have extensive lists of verbal commitments. That makes one wonder how the math is going to work next summer when the effects of the 2011 draft are felt.

Some of the larger presently projected classes (and this is just high school players, not potential JC commitments) include North Carolina (17 players), South Carolina (17), Georgia (16), Arkansas (15) and Florida (14).

It’s a matter of constant discussion on the recruiting trail about the value of a school targeting players who appear destined to sign professionally directly out of high school. Some schools recruit “name” players simply because of the prestige of having the name associated with the program, but when one of these players does decide to pass on the professional dollars in the short term, the effect can be profound on a college program.

Texas Christian LHP Matt Purke (Rangers, 2009) and UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole (Yankees, 2008) are two recent first-rounders who passed on multi-million dollar offers out of high school and have had a major impact on college baseball. Florida RHP Karsten Whitson (Padres) and San Diego RHP Dylan Covey (Brewers), both unsigned first-rounders in 2010, are current freshmen who could do the same.

There seems to be more high-level baseball prospects this year than in recent years who will be signing football letters-of-intent on Feb. 2 while intending to play both sports in college if the baseball draft doesn’t intercede. Among them are Oklahoma prep RHP Archie Bradley (committed to Oklahoma), KansasOF Bubba Starling (Nebraska), Florida OF Jeff Driskel (Florida),South Carolina OF Shon Carson (South Carolina) and Mississippi OF Senquez Golson (Ole Miss).

Is there a defining recruiting class out there this year? In recent years, Vanderbilt, Lousiana State, Virginia, Florida and Stanford (perhaps twice) have had recruiting classes that have strongly pointed the whole direction of the program forward. Who will it be this year? And what schools are lurking just below the elite group, where a big recruiting haul could push them to the next level?


Baseball Early Signing Period by Allan Simpson
Recruit Scoop; Insider Recruiting Updates
2011 College Commitment List

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