Inside College Recruiting

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Early recruiting is a hot topic in the college baseball community these days, as dozens of players each year are making verbal commitments to college baseball programs before they ever play a game in their high school career. Coaches who speak publicly sound increasingly weary of feeling compelled to evaluate and woo young players, some of whom have yet to finish middle school, in order to not fall behind their peers who do. But here at Baseball Youth, we want to take a quick look at the process from the perspective of the players and their families.

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HAVING PERSPECTIVE

There is perhaps no bigger stress inducer for a prospective student-athlete than watching one’s teammates receive interest and make commitments, when such interest isn’t coming your way. This problem of proximity applies to parents as much as their kids. To put it bluntly, just because someone on your child’s “elite” travel team who he has been playing with since age five makes an early commitment neither means that your child is ready to do so, nor that he has the requisite qualities that would generate interest from coaches at an early age.

This is where the obstacle of ego comes into play. Neither the date at which your child makes a commitment, nor the school to which your child commits, is a reflection on you as a person or parent. Coaches notice parenting influence in how a player takes instruction from their coach and interacts with an umpire, how a player communicates with his teammates, and how a player expresses his passion for the game when on the field. The name on the front of the jersey, the equipment and apparel sponsor, and the size of a scholarship offer all have their place in a decision-making process and are tantalizing to prioritize (and want to crow about). Impetuous decisions can be made, however, when tying one’s self-worth and perceived public image to the athletic ability of one’s children.

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WHY DO CERTAIN PLAYERS GET EARLY ATTENTION?

While early recruiting is becoming more common due to the ever expanding options through which players can increase their visibility, there are still very specific factors that will cause a player to draw the interest of a coach (no matter how far along someone is in their career).  Butler University head coach Dave Schrage puts it succinctly: “Physical maturity and player tools are what initially draw us to a student-athlete.”

Let’s start with physicality, or the potential to develop it. How physically mature are you? Players who have physically developed faster than their prepubescent peers will naturally draw the eye of an evaluator. As will those who are tall and lanky relative to those of shorter stature, as coaches will generally infer that more strength can be added to a taller frame.

While one could sit around and rue one’s parents for plopping you in the short end of the gene pool, the better reaction would simply be to get into the weight room. It is not necessary, and perhaps not even advisable, to play baseball year-round. Physical development is as important as skill development; and the two are inextricably intertwined. Turning a puerile physique into a mature, athletic build does nothing but help one’s ability to improve foot speed, bat speed, arm strength, and batted ball distance. This obviously must be done safely under the guidance of someone who understands what activities a growing, immature body can and can’t handle. On not playing baseball year-round, Schrage also encourages kids to play multiple sports, as it “builds athleticism and teaches kids how to compete in multiple arenas.”

The second factor that will draw a coach’s attention is a player’s tools, or, more generally, something a player has the ability to do that separates him from others. This typically involves the aforementioned, foot speed, bat speed, arm strength, and power potential. Relatedly, those who have developed faster physically are more likely to stand out on these fronts.

Yes, coaches absolutely look for intangibles and baseball smarts, but they aren’t going to put the full court press on an undersized second baseman simply because he backs up first base on every ground ball hit to the left side of the diamond. Plain and simple, size and tools get the recruiting process started early.

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THE PROCESS

Engagement in the process is critical in terms of finding the right fit. Partaking in communication with coaches who show interest will help develop relationships and foster information gathering.  It’s your opportunity to learn about the campus, academic programs, coaching philosophies, the academic support system, athletic training resources, and a myriad of other data points that could factor into your decision. Conversely, it’s how coaches learn about your personality, your ability to communicate, your family, your goals for your college experience and other signals they use in order to identify players they believe fit the culture of their program.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are in control of the process and you must be in control of the process. While parent involvement is vital, the child must take the lead on contact with coaches, including e-mail exchanges and phone conversations. Keep in mind, early in your high school career, you may or may not get much feedback, but persistence and practice at selling yourself will eventually solicit responses, assuming your talent and academic profile are a match for a specific school.

And if you happen to be one of those 14-year-olds to whom a coach reaches out, remember, they want you. But just because a coach is willing to step on the gas pedal, doesn’t mean you have to do so before you are ready. You don’t have to visit campuses before you buy your first razor.  You have every right to tell coaches that you want to do your due diligence and don’t want to receive scholarship offers before you get your driver’s license. This doesn’t mean that you decline to communicate; quite to the contrary, the recruiting process is all about communication. However, once the money is on the table, the entire dynamic changes. Expectations of a response begin to set in and the process will inherently move faster at that point.

This isn’t to say that navigating the process on a “delayed” timetable might not have consequences, as some coaches may simply move on to other players who are willing to make an early commitment. That being said, if you receive interest as an early teen, it stands to reason that doors will open with other programs, even if programs showing initial interest walk away due to a timetable that doesn’t match their own.

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THE FUTURE

In an article last month, Baseball America noted that the average date of verbal commitment from a top 50 high school draft prospect moved forward nine months from the class of 2015 to the class of 2016. Until systemic changes are made, we can expect this to continue. More and more money continues to flow into facilities and coaching salaries. In recent years, the NCAA has relaxed contact restrictions and expanded a coaching staff’s ability to recruit off campus. Year-round training has become increasingly popular and the number of travel programs, tournaments, and showcases continues to expand.

That being said, note that the cohort analyzed by BA is not reflective of the situation in which the vast majority of prospective student-athletes will find themselves. Most of you  — if you are lucky enough to be one of the 7.1% of high school baseball players (  who go on to play college baseball at any level — will not find yourself on the draft radar. Enjoy the process of making yourself recruitable (athletically and academically), gather information from interested schools that will help you make your decision, and do it on a timeframe that works for you and your family. Schrage advises, “Remember, coaches are looking for a certain fit for their programs but more importantly you need to find the right fit for you.”

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Story by Jacob Gill – former Division I Assistant Coach (Evansville & St. Joseph’s) | Twitter:  Baseball Youth

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