The entire baseball recruiting process is long and sometimes confusing. STACK's here to provide some basic info you need to know.
First, the good news: NCAA Division I baseball teams are allowed a maximum 35 roster spots per year. The bad news: For the upcoming 2009-2010 season, there's a projected 11.7 full scholarships available for fully funded programs. Basic math indicates that not every D-I baseball player will receive a full ride.
Ben Hyman, co-owner and director of amateur scouting for Real Baseball Intelligence, says, "Some schools are not fully funded, so they only have a handful of scholarships, [which] they're spreading around to all of their athletes." Hyman adds, "If you're really good and you're getting recruited, you're only going to get some money to go D-I, and it's probably not going to cover the cost of tuition."
Even worse news: Division III and Ivy League colleges offer only academic scholarships; and just a handful of D-II schools have baseball programs. Not to paint a bleak picture, but unlike football, basketball and other D-I sports, it's extremely difficult for a baseball player to get a full ride, or even a half scholarship—that is, unless he's a stud left-handed pitcher with a 90+ mph fastball and a wicked slider. The good news is that there are other options—including junior colleges (JUCOs) and D-III schools—where you can continue your baseball career in college. You just have to realize that for baseball recruiting, scholarship money is scarce.
College baseball recruiting is unique in that JUCOs, which aren't NCAA-affiliated, offer tremendous opportunities for high school athletes to continue playing at the next level and beyond. Hyman comments, "At the NCAA level, a player is not eligible to get drafted until after his junior year, or unless he turns 21 before the draft." But this is not the case for players who pursue the JUCO route.
Hyman explains, "At junior college, draft eligibility occurs after freshman and sophomore year. If a player transfers to a D-I school from a JUCO, he enters his junior year (after losing the first two years of eligibility), and then he's available for the draft after his first season of NCAA baseball." Thus, even if you're not on the MLB Draft radar, JUCOs provide a benefit to an athlete looking to break into NCAA baseball. "Junior colleges are good for the student who is not satisfied with [his] NCAA opportunities coming out of high school, academically speaking, and [who] wants a chance to boost [his] grades and transfer to another school," Hyman says.
Don't think that JUCOs have an inferior reputation or a scarlet letter among NCAA coaches. Some of the best players start their careers at junior colleges. Jamey Shouppe, associate coach of powerhouse Florida State, comments, "The good thing about the junior college system is a high school player can call a junior college coach and set a time to work out. If that coach likes him, he can sign him right there, on the spot, on his campus, or the coach can go to the school and watch the kid play. D-I coaches can't do any of those things." Shouppe adds, "I've called junior colleges that I've worked closely with and said, 'I've got this kid who's a pretty good player and wants to work out for you, so set a workout for him.'"
Many junior college coaches have great relationships with NCAA coaches, and it's always best to impress both to keep your options open.
3. Getting Noticed
Now that you understand the scholarship situation and the opportunities available in all NCAA divisions and JUCO, it's vital to get your game out there to scouts and coaches.
Hyman provides the following advice and comments:
• If you're a top guy, the pro scouts will find you
• If you're looking to go from high school to the NCAA or to JUCO, make a list of schools that you want to attend based on academics, athletics, location, facilities, coaches and social atmosphere.
• Keep in mind that being a scholarship athlete at an NCAA institution is a full-time job. If you don't like the school, the coaches or the time commitment, then more than likely you'll have to start the process over again. So be wise with your first decision.
• Attend NCAA summer baseball camps and clinics to showcase your skills.
• MLB provides free tryout camps across the country, which are open to all. Granted, you're probably not going to sign a contract on the day of a tryout, but it's a great opportunity to compare your skills with other top prospects and get a free assessment of your game from a professional scout. Info on camps in your area can be found at http://www.mlb.com/.
• If you're a top high school player, sometimes you can compete in collegiate summer leagues, which are usually swarming with pro and college scouts.
• Once you're on a college campus, most teams will offer you an open tryout if you're not being offered scholarship money or preferred walk-on status. The chances are small, but it's worth a shot if you think you can earn a roster spot.
Shouppe offers the following suggestions:
• Attend a national showcase, like the Perfect Game National Showcase, which is usually held during the College World Series, or the 17 and Under World Wood Bat Tournament.
• Geography plays an important role in the process. Most state schools are inclined to recruit in-state players, because the cost of tuition is lower and it's more economical and convenient for college coaches to scout local players.
Definitions of periods, per NCAA rules
Contact Period: A college coach may make in-person contact with you and/or your parents on or off the college's campus. The coach may also watch you play or visit your school. You and your parents may visit a college campus, and the coach may write and call you.
Dead Period: A college coach may not have any in-person contact with you or your parents on or off campus, at any time. However, the coach may write and call you or your parents.
Quiet Period: A college coach may not make any in-person contact with you or your parents off the college's campus. The coach may not watch you play or visit your high school. You and your parents can visit a college campus. A coach can write or call you or your parents.
Shouppe's Recruiting Tactic: "Juniors and seniors are the only ones we can actively recruit. Recruiting 9th and 10th graders has to take place on a college campus. If we get a 9th or 10th grader in camp who we love, then we're able to talk to him. For most of our kids, we start sending them letters around September 1 of their junior year, and then we're able to make phone calls to them July 1. A player can call us any time."
4. When in Doubt, Ask
If you're truly committed to playing baseball at the next level, be proactive in the process. If you're interested in a school, contact the coaching staff or attend the school's camp. If you're unsure about certain rules and regulations, contact the NCAA Eligibility Center or a school's compliance office. It's a tough process, but that doesn't mean it has to be arduous, confusing or time consuming. Take control of your baseball career and don't be afraid to pursue schools or ask questions.