Signing deadline day is a white-knuckle ride for many college coaches. If everything breaks right and a few elite talents shun the professional ranks to head to school, a program can turn itself into a juggernaut almost overnight. But with a mid-August deadline, there is very little time to scramble to fill holes if players sign unexpectedly.
“The 15th of August is no fun for anybody,” said North Carolina State recruiting coordinator Tom Holliday. “But if we’re going to keep the rule the way it is, it’s going to be a D-Day. Kids are going to be reluctant to sign early if they know they can wait until the last day and get paid big money.”
Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers of signing day from a college perspective. Remember, it’s all about expectations and relativity; some teams might still have landed great recruiting classes, but if they were hit harder than expected Monday night they could still wind up in the “losers” column for the sake of this exercise.
The Commodores landed the lone first-round pick to spurn pro ball in favor of the college ranks in Massachusetts righthander Tyler Beede (No. 21 overall by the Blue Jays), who followed in the footsteps of Karsten Whitson (Florida) and Dylan Covey (San Diego) last year, Matt Purke (Texas Christian) in 2009 and Gerrit Cole (UCLA) in 2008. (For the record, it worked out pretty well for Cole and Purke, who signed for a combined $10.75 million in bonuses Monday night). Beede was always regarded as a very difficult sign, and he told Baseball America that he turned down a final offer of $2.4 million at 11:58 p.m. Monday.
“My number was $3.5 (million), and I stuck to my guns,” Beede said Tuesday. “I had a number I wasn’t going to go anything less than, and it just didn’t get to that point. It wasn’t a financial decision ultimately. I come from a middle-class family, a modest family. I understand the value of that money in present day, and in three years a lot can happen. Life is not without risk, and I plan on working hard for three years. I’m going to go to school and try to win the national championship. Going to school is about getting the education first, and I’m tremendously excited about it.”
Beede, like Cole and Purke, should be an instant ace for the Commodores, who must replace their entire weekend rotation. He owns a premium fastball that tops out at 95 mph, a quality changeup and curveball, advanced command and remarkable feel. Beede’s off-field maturity matches his mound polish, and his relationship with the Vanderbilt coaching staff factored heavily into his decision to head to school. He first met the staff at a Vandy camp in ninth grade.
“Obviously the academics stuck out to me, the campus, the area, and the coaching staff and Tim Corbin—he’s a second father to me,” Beede said. “I’ll be going down there by myself, so it’ll be important to have that type of figure to help me off the field and outside the classroom as well. I’m excited to be with such a great leader.”
That excitement is certainly mutual.
“Anytime a first-rounder comes to school, no one anticipates that,” said Vandy recruiting coordinator Josh Holliday. “That’s just an opportunity where a kid and a family felt very convicted and in the end chose the education for three years. I think the recent successes of guys like Gerrit Cole and some of the other guys told them that if you’re really a special talent, your talent’s going to improve.”
Vandy did get hit when supplemental first-rounder Kevin Comer signed with the Blue Jays right at the deadline and 11th-rounder Shawon Dunston Jr. signed with the Cubs for $1.275 million earlier in the day. But the ‘Dores won their other battle with the Blue Jays, landing 12th-rounder Johnny Norwood, who turned down a reported $800,000, according to a Vandy press release. The New Jersey outfielder has excellent speed, good feel for hitting and the instincts to be Vanderbilt’s center fielder of the future. Norwood and Beede give Vandy’s recruiting class a strong core, which is surrounded by other impact talents like lethander Philip Pfeifer and righty Adam Ravenelle (who both went in the 44th round because of signability).
Of the 12 members of Vanderbilt’s 2011 team who were drafted, 11 signed, but righthander Will Clinard (Twins, 30th round) did return, giving the ‘Dores a potential closer or another rotation piece.
“Will Clinard’s one of our keys to the whole thing,” Holliday said. “His declaration as a sophomore-eligible to come back was just huge. He got the last out to get to Omaha, then got a lot of key outs there. He really came on for us.”
North Carolina State
The Wolfpack hit the jackpot by landing catcher Brett Austin, the highest-drafted player to head to school after Beede. A standout spring for Providence High in Charlotte boosted Austin’s stock, and the Padres drafted him in the supplemental first round with the 54th overall pick. The switch-hitting Austin has good strength and a very pretty swing from the left side, and he figures to hit in the middle of N.C. State’s lineup for the next three years.
“The Padres did go down to the wire,” said N.C. State’s Tom Holliday, the father of Vandy recruiting coordinator Josh. “Right around midnight, there was a phone call that made Brett feel very honored, but the highest up in the Padres system said, ‘Do you just want to go to school?’ He said yes, and that’s where it is. Brett is a totally honest young human being who felt college is his avenue from the get-go. I know it’s unusual that people turn down that much money, but he knows he has three years to improve his skills and get that money again. Was I sweating it out? Absolutely sweating it out, but you have to think what the kid is going through.”
The Wolfpack was holding its breath on two other marquee recruits heading into the final week, and it went 1-for-2 on them. Righthander Jake Junis signed with the Royals for $675,000 in the 29th round, but lefthander Carlos Rodon (No. 198 on BA’s pre-draft Top 200 prospects list) spurned the Brewers in the 16th round, giving N.C. State a second blue-chipper to carry its recruiting class. The loose, athletic Rodon can run his fastball up to 92 mph, and his slider and curveball both flash plus potential.
Another key recruit, infielder Trea Turner (20th round, Pirates), made it clear to scouts all spring that he was dead-set on going to N.C. State, and he was as good as his word.
“He told us, ‘You don’t need to worry about me,’ ” Holliday said. “But we worry about everybody that was hanging out at midnight. So to get a freshman you can throw into the infield mix, that’s a positive thing. Rodon is going to be in the rotation somewhere, whether it’s No. 1, 2 or 3. We could have lost him last night and had to really redo the rotation. And getting our center fielder back—Brett Williams is a pretty darn good center fielder, and he hit really well during the last 30 days of the season. Yeah, the 15th of August will be a memorable day.”
In years past, the Rebels tended to take a more conservative approach to recruiting, largely avoiding players who were major draft risks while loading up on junior-college transfers and less heralded high schoolers they could develop into stars. But Ole Miss has been considerably more aggressive since Carl Lafferty became recruiting coordinator, and Monday the Rebels were rewarded. Mississippi landed nine of the 11 drafted players in its recruiting class, headlined by outfielder Senquez Golson, shortstop Jake Overbey, and righties Hawtin Buchanan and Josh Laxer.
“When I took over this job as recruiting coordinator, I started looking at how did the best programs in the country recruit?” Lafferty said. “Certainly you have to go after those blue-chip guys with the knowledge that you’re going to lose some of them. If you can get a Tyler Beede or a Matt Purke, if you can get one guy per class that’s going to be a difference maker, that’s when you start getting some big-time talent.
“We’re going to be really young this year. We wanted to get back to a lot of high school kids, and I’m excited about it.”
Golson rated as one of the best athletes in the draft and could start immedately at cornerback for the Ole Miss football team this fall. The Red Sox took a shot on him in the eighth round, and the two sides negotiated all Sunday afternoon before he boarded a plane for Boston on Monday morning to take a physical and continue talks. Eventually, the lure of playing two sports at Ole Miss was too strong, and Golson turned down a seven-figure bonus offer.
“Obviously him being in Boston, I think the general consensus was there was a likelihood that he would sign,” Lafferty said. “But he was in Boston and negotiated with the Red Sox on their home field so to speak, and came out of there without an agreement. I think immediately, there’s no doubt he’ll have an impact as a freshman. He’ll compete to play center field. His athleticism just changes the game, his speed changes the game. You look at the combination of speed and power, bat speed, and he does have some baseball instincts—that’s what made him an eighth-rounder and the Red Sox pursued him as they did.”
Overbey, a 10th-round pick by the Phillies, also has a football background, having played quarterback in high school, but he lacks Golson’s standout tools. But Overbey is plenty athletic, owns a nice swing and a projectable frame, and he looks like a future star at shortstop for the Rebels.
Buchanan is another former high school quarterback, but at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, he was born to pitch. He ranked No. 137 on BA’s Top 200 prospects list, but he is an Ole Miss legacy who was intent on heading to school, so he dropped to the Nationals in the 19th round. He has a big power arm and a good changeup. Fellow Washington draftee Laxer (20th round) lacks Buchanan’s tantalizing size, but he pounds the zone with a power sinker and good breaking ball. He’s polished and fiercely competitive, and Lafferty was thrilled to land him.
“It’s a good day in Oxford, I promise you that,” Lafferty said.
The Golden Eagles struck gold Monday, landing big-name recruits Connor Barron and Mason Robbins. Barron, an athletic five-tool shortstop, turned down seven figures as a third-round pick by the Marlins, giving USM a true cornerstone player to build around. And Robbins garnered top-five-rounds buzz as a high school outfielder this spring, but his commitment caused him to drop to the Mets in the 20th round. He has a smooth lefthanded swing and should be an impact two-way player in Hattiesburg.
The Eagles also landed two other impact recruits who were drafted inside the top 20 rounds. Third baseman Brad Roney, an 18th-rounder by the Orioles, also elected to head to Southern Miss, where he could be an offensive everyday player as a freshman. And righty Taylor Nunez (Pirates, 19th round) has arm strength and projection, giving USM a potential future ace.
South Carolina lost marquee recruits Taylor Guerrieri ($1.6 million as the 24th overall pick) and Brian Goodwin ($3 million as the 34th pick) on deadline day, but the Gamecocks never truly expected to get either. And Jackie Bradley Jr. signing for $1.1 million as the 40th pick was the way it was supposed to go—All-America juniors with first-round talent just don’t return for their senior years very often.
But the Gamecocks did get two All-Americans back for another year—and they are two of the most central figures in South Carolina’s back-to-back national championships. There was never a chance that junior lefthander Michael Roth would sign as a 31st-round pick—he spent his summer studying abroad in Spain and made it clear he had no intention of going to pro ball. There was a lot more uncertainty about the other bookend to the South Carolina pitching staff, and it’s a huge victory for the Gamecocks to get closer Matt Price back as a sixth-round pick. A proven championship-caliber ace and a proven championship-caliber closer coming back to school amounts to better news than the addition of almost any freshman.
“Unbelievable that they got Roth and Price back,” said a rival coach. “It’s like the perfect storm.”
And South Carolina also landed an unsigned eighth-round pick in projectable righthander Evan Beal, who declinded to sign with the Royals. Beal broke off negotiations last week, so the Gamecocks were spared some anxiety on deadline day. Outfielder Tanner English, a 13th-rounder of the Rays, also spurned pro ball and could be an impact freshman due to his top-shelf speed.
Getting outfielder Aaron Brown and infielder Austin Davidson to campus was a coup for the Waves. Brown starred in the California Collegiate League this summer and looked like he might induce the Pirates to pay him as a 17th-round pick. The athletic Davidson (21st round, Red Sox) gives the Waves a potential starting shortstop with a nice lefthanded swing and a hard-nosed mentality.
Maybe Purke didn’t come back for his junior year, but TCU did well to land third-round first baseman Kevin Cron (younger brother of Utah All-American slugger C.J. Cron), plus righthander Jerrick Suiter (Blue Jays, 35th round) and third baseman Derek O’Dell (Red Sox, 42nd), who both turned down good money on deadline day. And outfielder Jason Coats—a Top 200 talent—returned to school for his senior year, declining to sign with the Orioles as a 12th-round pick.
The Bruins have been in the “winners” column frequently in recent years, landing blue-chippers like Cole, Adam Plutko and others. This year, deadline day was not as kind.
“You’ve got to have luck in this thing,” Bruins coach John Savage said. “And yesterday, we didn’t have any.”
UCLA was holding its breath on three elite talents taken in the top two rounds of the draft: righthander Joe Ross, third baseman Tyler Goeddel and catcher Austin Hedges. All three wound up signing in the final hour for a combined $7.25 million.
“I think our expectations were that we were hoping to be able to hold on to one of them, maybe two of them,” Savage said. “But at the end of the day, they wanted a certain number, they all stuck to their number, and that’s all you can really ask is honesty from the players and the families. And we got that; all their numbers were exactly what they signed for.”
Ross, the 25th overall pick, signed with the Padres for $2.75 million. The Padres also opened the check book for Hedges, the No. 82 overall pick, inking him for $3 million. Goeddel signed with the Rays for $1.5 million as the 41st pick.
“We do what we do: We recruit, and when you’re dealing with some of the best players in the country, this happens,” Savage said. “You don’t hold on to all of them. Anybody that thinks you do, they’re kidding themselves. We’ve always had a pretty high percentile that we’ve held onto. If your three recruits get $7.5 million on the last day, I’ll take those chances. I’d recruit Hedges and Ross and Goeddel again.”
The Longhorns might look funny in this column, considering they still reeled in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, headlined by Top 200 prospects Dillon Peters, John Curtiss and Ricky Jacquez. But remarkably, UT’s class could have been even better.
Heading into Monday, most everyone thought Texas would land Josh Bell, widely regarded as one of the best bats in the entire draft class. Bell’s commitment to Texas was supposedly ironclad, causing him to drop to the No. 61 overall pick by the Pirates. When the dust settled, he had signed for a $5 million bonus. If more teams thought he would sign for that money, he likely would have been drafted much earlier.
It was no surprise that Texas lost first-rounders Dylan Bundy or Blake Swihart on deadline day, but losing third baseman Matt Dean to a $737,500 bonus as a 13th-round pick was a blow.
But Texas still might have wound up with the nation’s top recruiting class, and it also got a boost with the return of lefthander Sam Stafford, who declined to sign with the Yankees as a second-round pick. All in all, the deadline wasn’t so bad for the Longhorns—but it’s impossible not to think about what could have been.
The Hogs lost three marquee recruits on deadline day. No. 13 overall pick Brandon Nimmo always figured to sign, but teams went way over slot for second-rounder Dillon Howard ($1.85 million, Indians) and fifth-rounder Greg Bird ($1.1 million, Yankees). Bird would have given Arkansas an elite catching talent to replace the departed James McCann, while Howard’s power stuff could have made him an ace. Still, seven of the 11 drafted Arkansas signees made it to campus.
A number of college coaches were left in awe of the record-setting amounts of money being thrown around by professional teams Monday. But several coaches commented that high school players seemed to be the greatest beneficiaries of the spending frenzy after the first round, while pro clubs played hard ball with college juniors.
“I think they really punished the college player yesterday,” one college recruiting coordinator said. “The high school players held all the cards yesterday, but the college players after the first round, they asked them, ‘Do you want $500,000 now or $50,000 next year as a senior?’ The junior in college, I think they got hammered. These pro guys have sold their souls for the high school player. You’re seeing Joe Blow getting $775,000 that’s going to Arkansas or Georgia Tech, then you’ve got Jackie Bradley ($1.1 million) or Ricky Oropesa ($550,000) or Mikie Mahtook ($1.15 million) didn’t really get paid. Mahtook got paid less than Goeddel, and he went before Goeddel.”
“They are assaulting our game, assaulting our talent base by overpaying the high school player, then insulting the college player by underpaying him,” said another recruiter. “They’re not going to have any good college players to watch if they keep signing all these marginal high school guys for $650,000. They’re depleting our supply of quality young prospects in case they become good, rather than letting them come to college and get good.”