A Never Ending Process

Nov. 20, 2011

STING DAILY

Matt Winklejohn

– Eight high school seniors last week signed letters of intent to play baseball at Georgia Tech, but head coach Danny Hall and assistants Tom Kinkelaar and Bryan Prince are so far from finished recruiting that it’s difficult to imagine.

They can’t even be sure those players will ever make it to Tech because they might be drafted next June so for this and other reasons they never finish recruiting, ever. And as the nature of the college game continues to evolve, there are high school freshmen already on Tech’s recruiting radar.

“You get done with 2012 [the class of eight just signed], and now you’re going at 2013 and you’re starting to look at 2014,” Hall said. “Recruiting gets earlier and earlier. I don’t necessarily like it, but that’s the way it’s breaking down.

“My son [a high school freshman] . . . was hurt most of last summer, but there were more college coaches watching his team play in a 16-and-under tournament than I’ve ever been aware of.”

“One game it was almost like a who’s who of nationally-ranked programs watching up in East Cobb. We’ve got seven commitments for the 2013 class. None of them have played a game yet as a high school junior. That’s scary.”

Recruiting is unique in every college sport. Some of the differences in baseball are stark.

First, Hall won’t know until next summer which of his current juniors will leave the program upon signing professional contracts after the June draft.

Add that to the fact that some of the players in every autumn signing class almost always get drafted, too, and there are plenty of moving parts.

It’s not like Hall and other Division I baseball coaches can over-recruit to create a safety net to backstop unpredictable departures, either. NCAA rules allow a modest 11.7 scholarships to be handed out by a baseball program. They’re routinely divided up. With about three dozen players on Tech’s roster, they’re really divvied up. That’s standard everywhere.

Tech signed two left-handed pitchers in Sam Clay of Buford, and Jonathon King of Murfreesboro, Tenn. They also inked a pair of right-handed pitchers in Hayden Barnett of Houston, Texas, and Jared Jillson of Vero Beach, Fla.

Clay, who also quarterbacks the vaunted Buford football team, is a candidate to be highly drafted next spring.

When the Jackets go out of state to recruit, they’re not looking for players to merely fill out the roster. Since they’re not eligible for Georgia’s Hope scholarship while at Tech, they’re typically more expensive to recruit and keep at Tech.

So, coaches had better be right when they sign student-athletes from out of state.

“Exactly,” Hall said. “When we get an out-of-state kid, we’re looking for somebody who can play and impact the program as a freshman. For us to go get an out-of-state kid, we’re going to have to spend more money than we would an in-state kid. The last two years we’ve had two first-round pick pitchers, both from out of state.

Deck McGuire [A Richmond, Va., native chosen by the Blue Jays in 2010] was on a 50 percent scholarship, but his parents were still paying $15,000-$20,000 per year for him to go to school here. Jed Bradley [a Huntsville, Ala., native drafted by the Brewers in June] was 25 percent. Do the math. His parents were putting up a pretty good chunk of change.

“It’s probably considered a pretty good investment on their parts because they both signed for $2 million or more, but it was a major sacrifice. Neither of those families had a lot of money.”

Tech’s other four signees are Georgia prospects: infielder Matt Gonzalez from Kennesaw, first baseman Cole Miller of Rome, catcher Grant Wruble of Alpharetta and outfielder Dylan Dore of Johns Creek.

Tech coaches stay in touch with prospects almost year-round as NCAA recruiting guidelines allow, yet they do the bulk of their in-person scouting at summer tournaments. Chiefly, Prince and Kinkelaar travel near and far, although Hall last summer hit the trail more himself – a trend that is sure to continue.

“There will be a guy here and there that we go see in high school [which coincides with Tech’s season], but the bulk of it is done in the summer,” the head coach said. “I don’t like to miss much of my sons in the summer. I try to see them as much as I can.

“The good thing is because of my [older] son’s age, I’m getting a look at kids much earlier. The kids are freshmen and sophomores in high school and he plays in some great national tournaments. Kiddingly, I’d say he may be my best eyes because he knows who’s good and he hears from the kids he’s playing against who’s recruiting them, and who’s doing what. He’s kind of my secret recruiter.”

I have a hard time imagining how difficult it is to manage all the moving parts while running a college baseball program. I don’t know if that would be a good job for a control freak. Comment to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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