Players and parents often ask “What is the recruiting timetable?” The answer: There isn’t one! Ok, perhaps that sounds like a cavalier, unhelpful response. So how is the question addressed? And what is the truth? How do players plan, get recruited, and what should they expect?
Play the Game; Make Yourself Better
The first fundamental truth is that good baseball players, players who aspire to play in college, play baseball during the summer. They play the game, and they play lots of games. They learn situational hitting, the importance of moving a runner along, taking extra bases. Players need to compete. As Boston College coach, Mike Gambino, told Ruffnecks players, the most important thing is to earn their spot in a lineup, confront competition from teammates who may be better than those you play with on your high school team. Compete in sticky situations where the outcome of a game is in the balance. Make a play that is special… or simply respond to failure in a manner that attracts the attention of the most scrutinizing of college recruiters.
The late, great Red Sox scout, Bill Enos, often remarked, “I learn as much watching a kid strike out with the bases loaded when he walks back to the dugout, as I do when he hits a grand slam. It is easy to look good trotting the bases after a big hit. I want to see how the kid deals with the other side of baseball.”
In the Ruffnecks program, players play a ton of baseball. With a 14 year history, experience, and reputation, the Ruffnecks schedule delivers opportunity, not promises. Our schedule puts players in games, tournaments, and in geographic locations where the blanket of exposure is significant. Our players are seen… unless they are hiding.
And by the way, does anyone believe that when a college recruiter is watching a Ruffneck game, even to see a specific player, that the recruiter’s eyes are closed to everyone else, and everything else that is going on? Ridiculous.
Here is a concrete recommendation: Run out every pop up as if you intend to get to second base, when the infielder drops it. That will catch coaches’ eyes! So will the casual jog and pouty, slow, arrival at 1B when the ball is dropped. Everyone notices both. No one likes the latter guy; coaches love the former.
The Early Commitment
By definition, an early commitment is… early. So why does everyone get worked up about early commitments? First, let’s be honest with ourselves. Status. It is cool to get an early commitment, and even early attention. It validates a player’s self-worth. Envy. It is human nature to question, “Why him, and not me?” If a teammate is getting some love from a Division I school, why am I not getting the same? Anxiety. The entire process makes players and parents anxious. An early commitment means I am done with the pressure. I can relax. My parents’ aspirations are met!
Well, the realities are quite different. Early commitments are an anomaly, not the ordinary. Sure, many top Division I schools are caught in the maelstrom of recruiting and committing prior to the summer before a player’s senior year in high school. But the colleges don’t love it. And the NCAA exercises cowardice in policing the practice. Yet even the most successful D-I powerhouses find room for talented players at ALL times in the recruiting cycle. One example is the Ruffnecks own Will Toffey. Toffey is currently a junior at Vanderbilt, where he has started at 3B since his freshman year. He did not receive an offer from Vandy until September of his senior year in high school. He was not seen by Vandy until June of that summer, when he played with the Ruffnecks in Nashville. Will is not the exception… Will was recruited on an ordinary timetable.
And while most Division I schools commit some players “early,” these are contingent deals, predicated on everyone’s best intentions, maintaining academic standing, and performance on the ballfield. Yes, there are many re-negs in both directions of the process… players who bail on their commitment, and schools that for one reason or another don’t get the recruit admitted. And there is always a reason… sometimes an excuse.
The Division I “Dude” is Easy!
Travel programs boast their list of Division I commits. Some bandy the news on their websites, and tout the player over the team. Many of these programs use disingenuous claims, such as “so-and-so” is a D-I commit, even though the player may have worn that team’s jersey only a few times, pitched or played in a single, showcase tournament with the team, or had a pre-existing commitment elsewhere… but that does not matter. Furthermore, some programs focus all their efforts ONLY on the Division I prospects. But there are many good ball players out there who are not Dudes. Many of these players are perfectly capable of playing at Division I, II, or III schools.
Sure-shot Division I players are rarely missed in the recruiting process. That does not mean Division I players are not missed… but the top guys are obvious. Prospective players should be encouraged by the fact that many, many, Division I players find their ways onto college rosters late in the process. The “Dude” is an easy recruit. Building a solid Division I program takes work. Does anyone believe that Boston College just snuck up on opponents last year? They worked hard, found competitive guys that other schools either missed or ignored, and competed.
There is also texture to the Division I canvas. Mid-level D-I programs are later in the commitment cycle than ACC or SEC programs. IVYs and Patriot League are on different timetables as well. It is a nuanced process that creates its own “domino effect.” And by the way, playing Division III college baseball is no easy accomplishment.
The Truths: And What to Do
Back to the beginning. What is the timetable? Generally, the following is a guide to the timetable that, by definition, is inconsistent at best.
- Everyone’s timetable is not the same.
- Finding the match can be difficult. Schools may, or may not, be looking for players who play your position in your class. Catcher is an obvious example.
- Pitching trumps most recruiting decisions. Left handed pitchers have an advantage.
- “Eye Candy” matters. Players who “look the part” attract recruiters’ eyes. Players are the masters of their physical preparation and conditioning, but players cannot make themselves 6’3” and 200 pounds.
- The five tools matter. Work to develop at least one or two outstanding tools.
- Your academic profile really matters, and opens doors. The more an athlete pays attention to the details of academic performance, the more doors open.
What to Do
- Get honest, regular, appraisals from your coaches. We are your advocates, but we have to be honest in two-way conversations: With the athlete and with the college.
- Communicate your interests to your coaches. If you have a high school coach who is well connected with college coaches, be sure to cultivate a relationship. Encourage your high school coach to connect with us as your summer program.
- Research college programs realistically. Go to their websites. Check the bios of the coaches. Are there any connections to your region? Scrutinize the roster. Where is the school getting most of their players? Read some bios on players. Check to see how many are graduating in the cycle of classes that affect you.
- Summer after-freshman year in HS: Play ball! Don’t worry about who is watching. Just play and get better. As a Ruffneck, you will be seen. If you did not play REGULARLY, as a high school varsity starter, do not expect too much attention. Just play and develop. You will get on some radars. Ride the coattails of your teammates who may be attracting attention, but don’t be envious.
- Sophomore season and summer following: If you are not a regular high school starter as a sophomore, do not expect too much. But you are not behind. Just earn your time, and make good on opportunities.
- Begin to consider what kinds of schools you might like to attend during your sophomore year in high school. Communicate with your coaches about visiting schools and attending prospect camps and showcases.
- Coaches can serve two purposes: First, we can be advocates, and help get you on a school’s radar. Second, if you have been seen by a school (at a prospect camp or showcase), we can get candid feedback regarding where you sit on their radar. It may not always be what you want to hear, but it will help you focus on the right places.
- Junior Year. Follow up, beginning in August prior to your Junior year in high school with schools that have shown interest. Plan “unofficial” visits. Try to meet with coaches, but it is not necessary. Plan a trip, use the month of August to visit schools.
- If you have little interest or mild interest prior to September of your junior year, you are still NOT behind. Just focus on school, play your other sports, get stronger, and prepare for the best possible junior season and summer possible.
- Play hard junior year, and plan to have a productive, focused summer between junior and senior years. This is the normal timetable for things to come together.
- Develop an “A” list, but be sure you have a “Plan B.” There is a place most Ruffnecks players can play. It just may not be South Carolina! If you want to play college baseball, keep an open mind.
- Remember, not everyone is going to get a baseball scholarship. In fact, most college baseball players participate without a scholarship.
- Remember to communicate, and advocate for yourself. College coaches do not want to hear from your parents about your statistics and your accomplishments.
- Finally, trust that you will be seen in the context of the Ruffnecks program. Communicate with your coaches. Do not just expect to get calls and emails from recruiters, but when you get one, follow up if you sense it is real.
Compete. Don’t expect to play every day. Earn your opportunities, and remember, your teammates have the same aspirations you do…To play in college. Eventually, the playing days end for everyone. Enjoy playing while you can. Enjoy!