Transfers Rush To New Schools Before Rules Change
For years coaches have bemoaned college baseball's "transfer epidemic," as it was labeled at the 2007 American Baseball Coaches Association convention. Unlike football and basketball, college baseball had no rule that required players to sit out a year after transferring from one Division I school to another, so players have been virtual free agents.
But the mass player movement sabotaged baseball's score in the Academic Progress Rate, which rewards schools for retaining student-athletes, so legislation was passed this year to eliminate the one-time transfer exemption, requiring all transfers to sit out a year starting in 2008. Players will still be able to transfer freely after this fall semester as long as they're enrolled at their new school at the start of the spring semester, but this summer was the last great transfer bonanza—and many schools took full advantage (see chart below).
The biggest winner was Tulane, which added three potential high-impact Division I transfers in Vanderbilt righthander Josh Zeid, Texas shortstop Josh Prince and North Carolina lefty Matt Petiton.
Zeid has a power arm, running his fastball up to 93-94 mph in the Cape Cod League this summer, but has battled command issues his first two years at Vandy. Prince batted .371 in 89 at-bats as a freshman at Texas and will step right into Tulane's starting shortstop job, which was left vacant when Cat Everett signed as a 44th-round pick of the Astros.
Petiton is a lefthander with a good feel for pitching who provides much-needed pitching depth, as the Green Wave looks to finish re-stocking the cabinets after essentially losing a year of recruiting because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Toward that end, Tulane added five junior college transfers as well.
"When Katrina first hit, that first fall was basically a lost recruiting year—we were (working out) at Texas Tech and we had no official visits that whole year," Tulane recruiting coordinator Mark Kingston said. "We were so concerned with taking care of the kids that were in the fold, recruiting took a backseat to all of that. We basically lost a year of recruiting, and I think (the struggles of) last year had a little bit to do with that. Slowly but surely, we've gotten back to where we were in '05, coming off going of Omaha, and then the storm hit."
Green Wave head coach Rick Jones said the current recruiting cycle is progressing much more positively, and the sparkling renovations to Turchin Field have a lot to do with it.
But even though Tulane is now returning to its usual recruiting approach, which places a heavy emphasis on high school players over transfers, Jones has problems with the new restrictions on transfers.
"I think the transfer rule is one-sided against the player," Jones said. "I don't think it protects the player—you can still run the player off. You can take the APR hit if you want to, or if he's not on scholarship, he doesn't count against the APR. At the end of the day, I think all (the NCAA) had to do was just make the penalties (for low APR scores) tougher."Cowboy Way
Oklahoma State has landed the most high-impact bat on the transfer market two years in a row, bringing in future supplemental-round pick Matt Mangini from North Carolina State to play third base a year ago and netting Washington third baseman Matt Hague this summer. Hague also throws a low-90s fastball and will get some time on the mound, according to Cowboys recruiting coordinator Billy Jones.
Oklahoma State also welcomes the nation's best catcher transfer in Luis Flores, formerly of Houston. Flores was a freshman All-American two years ago as a two-way player, but he was limited to 21 innings as a sophomore by injuries; the Cowboys plan to use him predominantly as a catcher, but he could see a few innings on the mound as well.
But despite OSU's recent successes bringing in top transfers, Jones is in favor of the new transfer policy, though he called it a double-edged sword.
"I like it because not enough kids stick it out. And I don't like it because sometimes there's a situation where there's not enough room for a guy, and you're hurting him by not giving him a chance to get an opportunity elsewhere," he said.
Still, recruiting is all about building relationships, according to the Cowboys coach. OSU was able to land Hague in part because he went to the same high school as Jones, so there was a connection. Being opportunistic and drawing upon relationships helps coaches recruit high school players as well as transfers.
"I think it's one of those things where you develop good relationships with people and treat people the right way, and that always comes back to you," Jones said. "That Mangini thing, I knew him since he was a freshman in high school. If they're going to leave, I'm going to try to get in there with the people I know. We don't get those guys if we don't have a past relationship."
Regardless of how programs go about their mission, netting impact D-I transfers will soon become a thing of the past—unless the team and player are willing to wait a year.