Bill Ballew 2015-11-16 03:52:00
Most teenagers get a little sick to their stomachs when they hear a teacher inform them that an upcoming project will involve a considerable amount of research. Unfortunately, that’s what this new column is all about—discovering the things you must know in order to begin your search for the right college baseball program. The good news is in this issue I’ve provided an outline of things to do as you get started in what can be a rewarding and exciting journey. Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat: If you want to play college baseball, you had better start preparing early. By the time your high school freshman year rolls around, you need to be be a well-oiled machine chugging down the tracks. Yes, some players who had no clue they would ever be candidates to play collegiately did not get started until their junior or even early in their senior years. That’s awesome, no doubt, but they’re in the minority. More than eighty percent of recruits are identified by colleges by the end of their sophomore year. And those sample sizes are getting smaller with every passing season. What College Coaches Want So what are college coaches looking for high school players to bring into their programs? It may surprise you to learn that baseball talent is just one piece of the puzzle. As with any selection process, those in charge look for dependable, talented people who can help take their program or organization to a higher level of accomplishment. Many of these qualities are specific to baseball; others are beneficial in any walk of life. Those that possess the greatest amount of these traits are likely to garner the most attention. That’s where packaging the product—in this case, you—becomes important in order to give yourself the greatest opportunity for success. Nothing is more important than attitude or makeup, which is a baseball scouting buzzword for character. It was not that long ago when major league teams gave little consideration about how an athlete carried himself provided he was capable of producing at a high level on the field. Over time those in charge noticed that those with negative personalities tended to poison clubhouses, which hampered unity and eliminated success. As the documented cases added up, teams began to realize that character was as important as talent. In essence, they discovered that when they combined the two qualities and employed as many players with both traits as possible, magical things started to happen. That same evaluation process is rampant throughout all levels of baseball, including the college ranks. Coaches want players who are as low maintenance as possible. In other words, they look for players who are solid citizens and will not get into trouble. They want to see student-athletes with a passion for all aspects of life, which includes their academics, athletic pursuits, relationships and numerous other areas. If a player has the proper makeup, the next thing a coach looks for is athletic ability. Recruiters want not only accomplished players but also those who show signs that their best days on the diamond are still to come. Much like professional scouts, college coaches try to compare the present with the future and determine what awaits. Speed, strength and size are part of the puzzle, but so is the “projectability” of an athlete. A tall, skinny player who has yet to fill out could prove to be a monster on the field after going through the final phases of the maturation process and adding weight and muscle. He, in fact, would project better than a short, squatty player who appears to have stopped growing. Scouts and recruiters like to look at the baseball player’s parents in order to get a feel for what his frame might develop into over the next two to three years. It’s an inexact science, yet it pays great dividends for those who make the proper evaluations. Coaches also look for controlled competitiveness. In football, players who never quit until after the whistle blows are considered to have “non-stop motors.” While recruiting, coaches love to see the same thing on the diamond. Baseball is a game that requires the ability to handle failure successfully. The best in this regard tend to perform on an even keel, never getting too high in the good times or too low in the worst of times. Throwing helmets in disgust and arguing with umpires may be signs of a competitive streak, but they won’t impress a good evaluator of talent due to the player’s lack of emotional control. When current Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin served as the recruiting coordinator at Clemson, he sat behind the dugout of players he was evaluating in order to see a young man’s face upon entering and departing the dugout. Corbin said by watching how a player reacted to the various situations on the field and the way he interacted with his teammates told him a great deal about the youngster’s makeup. “Anyone can tell whether or not a kid can play,” Corbin said. “What I’m interested in is seeing what kind of kid he is.” Corbin and other coaches want to see the intangibles, players who run on and off the field, who display energy, and who are vocal. Leadership is an impressive attribute, especially in the way a player goes about his business, a leader by example. Display a tendency to be a loner and you will be raising a red flag. Coachability and a willingness to accept instruction are also desired traits. Coaches do not want players who believe they already know all the answers. Instead, they prefer players who will take advice as well as constructive criticism and do whatever is needed in order to develop into an even better player on and off the field. The final key to the recruiting puzzle is your academics. Much like those with character issues, players who are constantly on the verge of being academically ineligible are considered to be high-maintenance problems. An inability to stay up on your course work is a sign of a lack of discipline. It also reveals a lack of commitment and a tendency of being a bad teammate. When you commit to a program, you are accepting a position that includes doing everything necessary to help your team have success. And if you are not cutting the muster in class, chances are you won’t be taking your cuts on the field. In essence, college coaches want players who have the total package. Acquiring each of these traits in every recruit is difficult, but there is no doubt that is what head coaches and their staff want to find when looking to add fresh blood to their programs. Starting The Process So how do you get your ducks in a row to make yourself as marketable as possible to college coaches? Once again, first and foremost are your grades. Remember, your goal of playing college baseball means taking the field while representing an institution of higher learning. Getting serious about your grades is easy, and it’s something you can do right now. You may not be the next Albert Einstein, but who is? If you have the desire and the discipline, you can make the grades that can help make playing college baseball a reality. In reviewing your application for admission, schools look at your grades, beginning with your freshman year of high school. That’s when you start building your cumulative grade-point average (GPA). As a student athlete you should maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school in order to prevent some schools from eliminating you from consideration for their institutions. A trap countless high school players have fallen into centers on the ill-advised belief that if your skills on the diamond are exceptional, your grades will not matter because a coach will “get you in” the school. That may have been true prior to modern-day legislation by the NCAA, but those situations are few and far between nowadays. With baseball receiving such a limited number of scholarships as well as minimal pull in many athletic departments, you can be certain that academic fraud is not considered to be a worthwhile gamble for any college coach. If you are very close to making the cut and being accepted, there are a few who might go the extra mile in a special situation. The more likely scenario, however, will have the coach looking elsewhere for more academic-worthy student-athletes. What Admissions Want If you want to take the field in college, you are going to have to be admitted by the school’s admissions department. You must be able to carry your own weight by being a well-rounded student in high school who becomes an attractive candidate to those who make the decisions regarding whom to admit. College admissions officers want to see more than the basics from students they decide to accept. Schools like to see students challenge themselves by taking at least some honors or advanced placement (AP) classes. Most high school athletes will take weight training or something equivalent, which is fine, but attaining the necessary credits in core classes will be more impressive if at least some of them are attained in a more challenging environment. Schools also want to see students who are more than one-trick ponies. There’s no doubt that practice, conditioning, games, travel and everything else associated with developing into a potential student-athlete in college add up. Yet schools prefer to have students on campus who are capable of bringing a multitude of attributes to their campus. That’s why admissions officers want to see participation in extracurricular activities, including clubs and organizations. There’s no need to inflate or exaggerate what you are involved in. Quality trumps quantity. By contributing to organizations such as the National Honor Society, the Interact Club or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes shows a desire to give back to the community and provide assistance to others. Academic clubs show a willingness to learn and go beyond the normal classroom setting. Interests outside of school also make a positive impression on college administrators. Being active in your church youth group can be rewarding for its service opportunities while possibly allowing you to expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. Having the talent and dedication to play a musical instrument shows the ability to do more than one thing well. Volunteering at a local charity, homeless shelter or non-profit organization can have a world of benefits. Doing any of these activities not only looks good on an application, they also help shape you and help you become a better person. Playing baseball at the collegiate level is hard work. In many ways, it’s as much a job as it is a fun and memorable experience. Those that put in the work early in their high school days can make rising to the next level a reality. And the sooner you get started, the more likely it is you’ll be happy with the end result.
Published by Baseball Magazine. View All Articles.