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August 19, 2007

Wait 'Til Next Year

Back to School

by Bryan Smith

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At various points on last Wednesday, the draft's signing deadline day, Mike Moustakas was going to USC, and Matt Wieters was supposedly returning to Georgia Tech. At different times, both Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner were all but packed to head to Chapel Hill. Jack McGeary was, without question, going to continue Stanford's decade-long streak of bringing commits to Palo Alto.

But as midnight passed and the deals trickled in, each player would sign on the dotted line. The teams' individual drafts broke records, like the Tigers, who spent easily more than ten million dollars on their draft. What's lost in talk of record bonuses and new prospect lists are the college programs that were either unexpectedly spurned or given a gift from a steadfast organization. Perhaps more than anything else, the August 15 deadline may have made the largest impact on the 2010 College World Series.

From a Division I college standpoint, the August 15 deadline had few noticeable impacts. Perhaps the clubs would have a better opportunity at players like Jordan Walden or Matt Latos, high-round draftees who could no longer hope to earn seven figures through the draft-and-follow process. Or, in this scenario, maybe Max Scherzer or Luke Hochevar would have decided to return to become seniors rather than join the Fort Worth Cats in the Independent Leagues. However, these cases are rare, leaving little impact for the majority of college programs.

In most cases, the August 15 was an arbitrary minor change for college coaches, or an ironic one. "I chuckled when I heard the date," Auburn University coach Tom Slater said, as the school began classes the previous day. In the previous ruling, players would lose their eligibility if they missed the first day of classes, so the Collective Bargaining Agreement deadline only pushed things up about eight hours for many southern schools.

"It gives me the weekend to see where we stand," said Indiana University coach Tracy Smith, who lost Florida southpaw and 15th round pick Chris Jones to the Indians for third-round money. School begins in Bloomington on Monday. "But it's not as if you can fill that scholarship spot in that time frame."

Players were left in the same boat, unsure on Wednesday morning what their fall plans would be the next day. Matt Harvey was ready for a potential trip to Chapel Hill, and after the Angels failed to meet his bonus demands, Harvey began to make plans to leave Connecticut for college on Friday. The highest unsigned player, Georgia closer Josh Fields, didn't know until about six or seven on Wednesday whether he would be attending classes the next day.

In talks with many Division I coaches on Thursday, the large majority agreed the idea of a deadline day was sound, but the date was wrong. "The whole process is completely out of whack," said University of North Carolina coach Mike Fox. "It's gotta be a tough process because there's so many people in the kid's ears over the summer. Push it forward a bit where the clubs have three or four weeks, and then let's try to get it done."

Indiana coach Tracy Smith echoed Fox' opinion. "In my opinion, a kid is going to sign on July 15 if he's going to sign on August 15," Smith said. "So moving it to July would be beneficial to everyone. The pro teams get the players in the systems faster, the players aren't left in limbo and we know earlier what we have."

Some coaches, however, believe the date wouldn't make a difference. Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall insisted that even if the deadline had been July 15, the Yellow Jackets wouldn't have been able to fill the scholarship space of a guy like Neil Ramirez, who spurned the Yellow Jackets for a $1 million bonus with the Texas Rangers. Auburn's Tom Slater was confident on signing day that Hunter Morris--the draft's highest unsigned high school player--would attend school and D.J. Jones (a 10th-round pick signed on Wednesday by Tampa Bay) would not. "Ultimately I don't think the date makes a difference. Either the kid wants to sign and go into pro ball, or he wants to go to college."

Whatever the date, the nature of the modern draft has added a new element to recruiting for college coaches. "Signability is going to become a big issue for us given the NCAA changes," said University of Georgia head coach Dave Perno, referencing the new NCAA ruling to allow teams only 30 players on scholarship for 2009 and 27 the following season. Previously, college programs could have as many players on scholarship as possible within the 11.7 total scholarships that are available. "We're going to have to work with the player to determine his number and the teams to determine it's feasible." Otherwise, teams could depend on players to fill their roster maximum, and if the player opts on August 15, be forced to enter fall ball with an unfilled roster.

Alternatively, they can try the strategy of Mike Fox and the rest of the North Carolina staff. The Tar Heels had commitments from Rick Porcello, Matt Harvey, and Madison Bumgarner, who BP's Kevin Goldstein rated as the first-, fifth-, and seventh-best prep pitchers in the nation. The weeks leading up to the deadline, Fox listened as people guessed which future ace would land on campus. It was the perfect position.

"If we thought we could get one it might be Rick [Porcello]," Fox said. "Then it became, maybe another one, or maybe this one." Porcello's signing didn't bother Fox, who would have pushed the New Jersey right-hander to sign for anything over five million. However, he admits things were "stressful" towards the deadline last night, waiting to see if the Angels would up their ante for Matt Harvey, or if fifth-round pick Nate Striz might sign with the Twins. Fox spent the night texting with Tar Heel alum Andrew Miller on the subject, his last top-ranked freshman hurler.

Harvey is just that, a dominant right-handed pitcher that struck out all six hitters he faced in the East Coast Showcase a year ago. Harvey has a fastball in the mid-90s and a premier slow curveball. Fox has shown few reservations in the past putting freshman in his weekend rotation--Miller, Daniel Bard and Alex White in recent years--so Harvey should be in that spot by March. Striz will be a contender for the Tar Heels' closer role, as he's a bulldog (having entered alligator-fighting contests in the past, he earns the otherwise overused label) with a heavy fastball.

Behind Harvey on the freshman ladder is Kyle Blair, a fifth-round pick that wanted seven figures from the Dodgers to bypass the University of San Diego. Blair might not pitch on weekends with the Torreros' weekend staff returning, but the star is likely to replace Brian Matusz on Fridays in 2009. He joins a top-heavy freshman class, as San Diego hardly entered Wednesday with guarantees that southpaw Sammy Solis (18th round, Arizona) or catcher Victor Sanchez (25th round, Cubs) would ever reach campus.

Not all colleges benefited from the Wednesday deadline, especially Stanford, which lost a commitment for the first time in nearly a decade when Jack McGeary signed with the Nationals for $1.8 million. The Cardinals had invested heavily in the Roxbury, Massachusetts native, and now will need other star recruit Drew Storen to become a Friday ace. Texas A&M was hit hard by the Boston Red Sox, as the organization struck deals with two Aggie commits--two-way star Will Middlebrooks and southpaw Drake Britton--within hours of the deadline.

While big-market organizations stole from many college programs on Wednesday, some teams simply couldn't sign everyone. The Red Sox' late slew of signees didn't include Justin Grimm (Georgia), Yasmani Grandal (Miami), and Nick Tepesch (Missouri). The Yankees saw Greg Peavey go to Oregon State, and the Tigers lost southpaw Chris Hernandez to Miami. Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall was worried he'd lose out on recruit Derek Dietrich when the shortstop was drafted in the third round by the Houston Astros. It was Houston's first choice in the draft, but the Astros were frugal with their first two choices, so in Hall's words, "their loss is our gain."

Adding a universal signing day certainly adds drama, as every college coach I spoke with was up past midnight tracking everything. The best thing for college baseball (and probably for the prospects and professional baseball, as well) might be to push the drama to Major League Baseball's All-Star break. At least then southern coaches would know which kids were going to the first day of class.

Five Programs to Remember

LSU: Some raw talent in footballer Chad Jones and 6-8 thrower Anthony Ranuado.
North Carolina: Landed a Friday night pitcher (Harvey) and closer (Striz) with depth.
Oregon State: Joey Wong not guaranteed shortstop spot with Garrett Nash coming to Corvallis.
San Diego: Two fantastic weekend pitchers and a bona fide slugger in Victor Sanchez.
UCLA: Fantastic depth, especially in pitching, with Tommy John returnee Erik Goeddel.

Fourteen High Choices in 2010

Kyle Blair, RHP, San Diego: Nasty two-pitch combo will replace Brian Matusz admirably.
Taylor Cole, RHP, BYU: Young and pretty developed; BYU's best player in ages.
Kentrail Davis, OF, Tennessee: Good athlete, just a few changes away from putting everything together.
Derek Dietrich, 3B/SS, Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets like him up the middle, but has the bat for third.
Yasmani Grandal, C, Miami: Defense already there, bat puts him in '10 first round.
Justin Grimm, RHP, Georiga: Dangerous weapon on weekdays for Bulldogs next spring.
Rick Hague, SS, Rice: Great all-around game; should replace Brian Friday with ease.
Matt Harvey, RHP, North Carolina: One of nation's best curveballs, could jump into Friday nights.
Chad Jones, OF, LSU: Athletically at the top, but raw and distracted by football.
Hunter Morris, 1B/3B, Auburn: Morris and Kevin Patterson could hit 40 home runs in three years.
Tanner Robles, LHP, Oregon State: Big lefty with good stuff; better than Greg Peavey.
Nick Tepesch, RHP, Missouri: Tigers continue to add power right-handed arms to staff.
Tommy Toledo, RHP, Florida: Dangerous sinker-slider pitcher needs to hit weight room.
Brandon Workman, RHP, Texas: Has the makings of an ace, but shouldn't pitch much in 2008.

Bryan Smith is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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