College baseball coaches hate the mid-August signing deadline. When players sign unexpectedly at the last minute, it’s extremely difficult to replace them in the days between the deadline and the start of classes. Major League Baseball’s insistence that teams wait until right before the deadline to complete major over-slot deals makes it even harder on coaches, who are forced to wait months to find out if their recruiting labors bore any fruit.
“We now deal in hard work for two years and prayers in the last week,” one coach said Monday while awaiting word on his drafted players.
College coaches are always going to get their hearts broken by the draft as long as high school players are draft-eligible, but coaches wish the deadline could at least be moved up a month to give them more time to make contingency plans. An earlier deadline would seem to have its advantages for teams, too: signing earlier means more development time in pro ball.
“It seems like there should be a better system—this is almost ridiculous,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “It seems like to me, the slot recommendations, (teams are) almost insulting their own commissioner, because that was completely ignored, wasn’t it? I guess it would be even worse on me if I feared for my job. It would really be rough if I was in that position. You’d kind of be watching your career go away on the last day. But as it is, we’ve developed a strong use of the serenity prayer—just controlling what you can.”
As it turned out, Graham was one of the lucky ones this year. Here’s a rundown of the biggest winners and losers from signing deadline day—from a college perspective. It’s important to note that the teams on the “Losers” list did not necessarily wind up with bad recruiting classes. Our full recruiting class rankings are still more than a month away, and this list is not intended to rank which classes are the strongest and weakest. Instead, it’s a breakdown of which teams were hit harder than expected or fared better than expected in the days and hours leading up to the deadline.
• Florida. The Gators landed the biggest prize of any college team Monday in righthander Karsten Whitson, who did not sign with the Padres as the ninth overall pick. Equipped with a fastball that reaches 95 mph and one of the draft’s best sliders, he gives Florida a Gerrit Cole/Matt Purke caliber ace to anchor its already embarrassingly deep pitching staff. Whitson alone would have been a boon, but the Gators also landed two other high-impact arms in lefthander Daniel Gibson and righty Keenan Kish. After reeling in the nation’s best recruiting class last year and reaching the College World Series with a young club, the Gators were already the front-runner for preseason No. 1 in 2011. But the rich just got richer.
• San Diego. Like Florida, the Toreros landed an unsigned first-rounder in righthander Dylan Covey, the 14th overall pick by the Brewers. Like Whitson, Covey reaches the mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with a wicked slider. If healthy (Covey was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes), he gives USD its next high-profile ace, following in the footsteps of Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski, Kyle Blair and Sammy Solis. San Diego’s ambitious class did suffer some losses, as third-rounder Tony Wolters signed minutes before the midnight deadline and second-rounder Marcus Littlewood signed earlier in the day, but USD did land a second impact recruit in slugging third baseman Kris Bryant, who did not sign as an 18th-round pick by the Blue Jays. San Diego also landed lefthander Tyler Painton (a 13th-rounder by the Jays) and righty Mike Wagner (Red Sox, 28th), adding quality depth to the pitching staff.
• UCLA. The Bruins, like Florida, already headed into next season as a preseason favorite for the national title. But like Florida, they helped themselves further Monday, landing three players who were drafted in the top 10 rounds: righthanders Adam Plutko (sixth round) and Zach Weiss (10th), plus outfielder Brenton Allen (ninth). Righthander Nick Vander Tuig (39th round) would have garnered first-round consideration if he hadn’t had Tommy John surgery. He follows Erik Goeddel—one of the Bruins’s bigger losses having signed as a 24th-rounder with the Mets—as highly touted prep righties in recent years who have headed to UCLA after having Tommy John.
• Stanford. The Cardinal had the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class last year (after Florida) and followed it up with another banner haul. Stanford secured its top three recruits in righthander A.J. Vanegas (a seventh-rounder) plus outfielders Austin Wilson (12th) and Brian Ragira (30th). All three are elite talents. Ragira and Wilson have massive raw power and will team with Jake Stewart to form one of the nation’s best outfields. Vanegas is the complete package on the mound; he gives Stanford an marquee pitching recruit for the third straight year, following Brett Mooneyham and Mark Appel.
• Rice. The Owls lost No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon, as expected, and fifth-rounder Dicke Joe Thon, who signed with Toronto for $1.5 million. They also were surprised to lose 28th-round righty Jaime Esquivel for $225,000 on Monday. But Rice still landed two marquee players in righties Austin Kubitza (a seventh-round pick) and John Simms (39th). Undrafted Georgia prep righty Connor Mason is a high-upside sleeper if healthy, giving Rice a trio of potential front-line starters to build around.
“We could have done a lot worse, I think, with Simms and Kubitza, but we were holding our breath until 11 o’clock last night, because those are two pretty good arms,” Graham said. “Those are actually two of the best arms coming out of high school we’ve ever had—(Joe) Savery was probably the closest coming out of high school to what these guys are. We knew we were going to lose Taillon, and we knew in June we were going to lose Thon . . . This recruiting class gives us pretty good hope.”
• Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were hit hard by the draft in recent years, but they safely navigated the perils of the draft this year, securing their top two recruits in eighth-round pick Logan Ehlers and 11th-rounder Jon Keller—a lefty and a righty. The polished Ehlers will be an impact pitcher right away for the Huskers, while Keller had big-time upside but is still learning to refine his command and mechanics. Nebraska also landed a third drafted pitcher in 26th-rounder Brandon Pierce.
• Cal State Fullerton. As expected, the Titans lost supplemental first-rounder Peter Tago on deadline day (for $982,500). But they landed two impact bats drafted in the top eight rounds in outfielder Michael Lorenzen and infielder Josef Terry. The electric Terry, a junior-college transfer, figures to replace departed first-round outfielder Gary Brown as a speedy catalyst for the Titans. The Titans also got a boost when righthander Jake Floethe did not sign with the Diamondbacks as a 29th-round pick. Floethe should be a key piece of Fullerton’s deep pitching staff in 2011.
• Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets never planned to get ace Deck McGuire back for his senior year, so it was not a blow to lose him minutes before the deadline as a first-round pick. Tech also lost eighth-rounder Alex Lavisky to the Indians for $1 million on Monday, so the day wasn’t all good news. But the Jackets did well to land fourth-rounder Matthew Grimes and 14th-rounder DeAndrew Smelter—a pair of righthanders who can reach the mid-90s with their fastballs, and Smelter has exciting two-way talent. Tech also got flame-throwing reliever Kevin Jacob back. The first-team preseason All-American slipped to the 18th round after an injury-riddled 2010 season, and he did not sign with the Yankees before the deadline.
• Texas. Three of Texas’ high-profile junior pitchers were unsigned heading into deadline day, and the Longhorns would have been thrilled to get any one of them back. Closer Chance Ruffin and starter Brandon Workman both signed Monday, but righty Cole Green—a fourth-round pick by the Tigers—did not. Green turned down a reported $300,000. Just getting Green back was a big win for the Longhorns; he is an extremely advanced college pitcher who will team with Taylor Jungmann to form one of the nation’s best one-two punches in 2011.
• Miami. The Hurricanes never expected to get All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal back for his senior year, so it was no surprise when he signed for a $3.2 million bonus Monday. But Miami had six other high-profile question marks—five recruits plus junior lefthander Chris Hernandez—and went 0-for-6. First A.J. Cole signed with the Nationals for $2 million as a fourth-round pick, and Luke Jackson signed with Texas for $1.545 million as a sandwich pick. Unsurprisingly, the Marlins signed first-rounder Christian Yelich right before the deadline, and the Tigers doled out a mammoth $3.45 million bonus to supplemental first-rounder Nick Castellanos, setting a record for a pick outside the first round. Second-rounder Yordy Cabrera signed for $1.25 million, and Hernandez got $375,000 right before the deadline.
• North Carolina. UNC is actually quite pleased with its haul, which includes a solid core in catcher Matt Roberts, lefthander Kent Emanuel and righty Jake Cole, plus good depth. But still, the Tar Heels entered Monday hoping to land one of their three remaining elite recruits—Stetson Allie, Sean Coyle and Ty Linton—and came up empty. Coyle, in particular, would have been a cornerstone player in the UNC infield, but the third-round pick signed with Boston for $1.3 million. The Tar Heels still wound up with a sure-fire top 25 recruiting class—and maybe a top 15 class—but heading into the day it had a chance to be an elite class, and it wound up falling short of that distinction.
• Louisiana State. Again, relativity is key here. Most schools would be thrilled to land three recruits with the kind of talent that Kevin Gausman, Jacoby Jones and Ryan Eades are bringing to Baton Rouge—and indeed, LSU recruiting coordinator David Grewe said in a text message late last night, “I got everything I planned for. Love our class . . . Great day.”
But heading into the final day, LSU had a chance for a historically strong class, in line with Florida’s banner haul a year ago. Big names Zach Lee, Garin Cecchini and Lucas LeBlanc were all unsigned, and heading into Monday it was a decent bet that at least two of the three would wind up at school. Instead, the Dodgers signed the two-sport star Lee for a $5.25 million bonus, while the Red Sox inked fourth-rounder Cecchini for $1.31 million and 11th-rounder LeBlanc for $500,000. But Boston wasn’t finished breaking the hearts of LSU fans until it signed junior righthander Anthony Ranaudo for $2.55 million right before the midnight deadline. Heading into the season, LSU never would have expected Ranaudo back for another year, but after his disappointing, injury-marred junior campaign, his return became a legitimate possibility. It was going to take high first-round money to sign Ranaudo, and that’s just what he got. Maybe it was still a great day for LSU, but it could have been a good deal greater.
• Florida State. FSU’s class was ravaged of its biggest names on deadline day, just like ACC brethren UNC’s and Miami’s. The Seminoles likely never expected to land first-rounder Kaleb Cowart, who signed earlier in the day for $2.3 million. But big bats Ben Gamel and Jose Dore were critical. Gamel, a 10th-round pick, signed with the Yankees for $500,000 on Monday, while Dore snagged $450,000 from the Padres as an eighth-round pick. The Seminoles did get some good news, though, when All-American two-way star Mike McGee returned for his senior year rather than sign as a 41st-round pick, and power-hitting prep catcher Eric Arce turned down the Blue Jays as a 27th-rounder.
• Mercer. Heading into deadline day, the Bears had a legitimate chance to land their biggest recruit ever in third-round pick Aaron Shipman, but he signed with the Athletics right before the deadline for $500,000.