Deadline Winners & Losers
TCU tops the list with first-rounder Matt Purke
As manic as Monday was for players, agents and major league executives, it was just as nerve-wracking for many college coaches. Coaches in other major sports like football and basketball can breathe easy once their recruits sign official letters of intent, but for baseball coaches, securing a commitment is just the beginning. Every August, some college teams are devastated by prized recruits unexpectedly signing last-minute professional contracts, leaving the college coaches in a lurch.
What follows is a quick snapshot of the signing deadline's winners and losers, from a college perspective. 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.
The Horned Frogs are the biggest winners from deadline day, having landed the biggest prize of any school in lefthander Matthew Purke. The No. 14 overall pick by the Rangers, Purke was expected to be a very difficult sign, but TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was holding his breath right up until midnight ET. News reports have suggested Purke turned down $4 million from the Rangers, but according to Randy Galloway's illuminating column in Wednesday's (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram
, Major League Baseball is controlling the purse strings for the Rangers, whose owner Tom Hicks has significant debt issues, and MLB did not approve a final offer greater than $2.3 million.
"Ten minutes after (the deadline), he called and asked if we had a roster spot," Schlossnagle said, "and I said we'll find one. He's pretty emotional, because it was a really tough night for him and his family trying to figure it out . . . It was really hard for him—he was under the impression they were going to meet his demands, but for whatever reason it didn't work out."
Purke, who owns a 92-95 mph fastball and a hard slider that ranked among the best in the high school class, immediately becomes the best arm in a TCU staff that returns 12 key contributors and should be one of the nation's deepest in 2010. He is the second high school flamethrower in the last two years to be drafted in the first round but elect to attend college instead, joining UCLA's Gerrit Cole, who went 28th overall to the Yankees last year.
"It's obviously huge, to be able to sign and hold onto an elite player," Schlossnagle said. "But as we saw with, for instance, with UCLA, it doesn't guarantee you anything. We had a couple of our returning players excited and come in here today, and we reminded them that Gerrit Cole had a great freshman year and UCLA didn't end up where I'm sure they wanted to end up. There are plenty of examples of great recruiting classes that did not perform. But from a programmatic standpoint, publicity, keeping positive momentum going with the TCU program from where it was six years ago, this is obviously a great thing."
The Horned Frogs also kept their No. 2 recruit, catcher Josh Elander, who was drafted by the Nationals in the 37th round. The Nationals offered Elander $500,000 to $600,000 earlier, according to multiple sources, and they indicated they would increase their offer if they failed to sign Stephen Strasburg, which created some more anxious moments for the Frogs. In the end, Washington signed Strasburg, and Elander (the No. 25 prospect in Texas, ranking just outside the national top 200 overall) headed to TCU.
"He's a huge piece to it—huge," Schlossnagle said. "Elander can really run; he's in the mold of (former Frog) Matt Vern, a big physical guy that can run, can go out and play left field, right field, and hit for some power. He's going to catch a fair amount this year, but we really needed that power bat."
The Sun Devils landed impact recruits in shortstop Deven Marrero, righthander Jake Barrett (a third-round pick of the Blue Jays) and outfielder Jacob Morris. Though reports surfaced that righthander Chad Thompson signed as a 17th-round pick of the Yankees, he wound up not signing, but he will not be heading to ASU to rehab from Tommy John surgery because he did not qualify academically, according to one source. Arizona State did very well to land a third-rounder in Barrett, a 6-foot-4 hulk who can reach 94 mph. Marrero, another 17th-rounder (by the Reds), has the look of a cornerstone player for ASU thanks to his elite defensive skills and power projection. Morris, an outfielder from Texas, dropped to the Nationals in the 35th round after a mediocre spring, but he is a switch-hitter with legitimate five-tool potential. On top of all that, the Sun Devils kept All-America lefthander Josh Spence (a third-round pick).
Lefthander James Paxton, a supplemental first-round pick (37th overall), was the highest-drafted college player to return to school. He has an electric arm capable of reaching 97 mph with good life, and sometimes he flashes a plus curveball as well. Kentucky might have benefited from Paxton's affiliation with Scott Boras Corp., which had other big fish to fry right before the deadline (Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Donavan Tate, Grant Green and Jacob Turner, to name a few). Paxton will rejoin Alex Meyer to form perhaps the most electric mound duo in college baseball next season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats also landed their top recruit in righthander Jordan Cooper (17th round, Pirates), whose velocity jumped into the 92-94 range late in the spring. In Luke Maile (43rd round, Red Sox), the Wildcats hauled in the best prep catcher in the state of Kentucky.
Stanford's strong recruiting class got a major boost Monday afternoon when Tampa Bay announced it would not be able to sign second-round pick Kenny Diekroeger out of his Cardinal commitment. Stanford's coaches were still holding their breath on outfielder Jake Stewart (14th round, Phillies) until later Monday, because the Phillies made a late run at him. In the end, Stewart elected to head to Stanford, where he could blossom into an elite five-tool talent. As expected, the Cardinal also kept 6-foot-6 righthander Mark Appel (15th round, Tigers), and they have several other talented recruits who went undrafted because of their signability.
The deadline was a mixed bag for the Gamecocks, who lost elite recruits Monday in catcher Wil Myers (who signed for $2 million as the Royals' third-round pick) and righthander Brooks Hall ($700,000 as the Brewers' fourth-rounder), 10 days after losing shortstop Chris Owings ($950,000 as the Diamondbacks' supplemental first-rounder). Still, South Carolina should be thrilled to have hard-throwing righthander Sam Dyson (10th round, Athletics) back for his redshirt junior season. Midway through the season, Dyson looked like a first-round pick, with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a hammer curve at times, but a poor second half and medical concerns hurt his stock. He could blossom into a bona fide ace in 2010. The Gamecocks also got their leading home run hitter back in first baseman Nick Ebert. A 32nd-round pick by the Yankees, Ebert never seemed very likely to sign, but the way the Yankees were throwing money around in the late rounds, South Carolina likely feels fortunate to get him back. Even despite their high-profile losses, the Gamecocks brought in a number of solid recuits in Ethan Carter, Christian Walker, Tyler Webb, Evan Marzilli and others.
The Gators signed the nation's best class last fall, with six players who ranked among the nation's top 100 high school players at the time, and they had 12 recruits drafted in June. Though slugger Bobby Borchering signed, as expected, as a first-round pick, the Gators were probably taken more off guard to lose lefthander Patrick Schuster for $450,000 as a 13th-round pick on Aug. 11. Still, at least seven of the 12 drafted recruits are coming to school, headlined by catchers Austin Maddox and Michael Zunino, righthander Michael Heller and lefty Brian Johnson. Speedy outfielder LeVon Washington did not sign as a first-round pick by the Rays, but he might never play for the Gators, as one source confirmed that Washington contacted Santa Fe (Fla.) CC on Tuesday. Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he did not know what Washington was planning and that the two planned to talk soon. Even if Washington does not attend Florida, the Gators did well with their incoming class, and they return a potentially elite senior in center fielder Matt den Dekker, who slipped from first-round consideration to the 16th round after a rough spring.
No team was hit harder than Arizona, which lost top recruits Ian Krol ($925,000), Tommy Joseph ($712,500) and Matt Helm ($500,000) in the last four days. Earlier this summer, the Wildcats lost Trent Stevenson ($350,000) and Randal Grichuk ($1,242,000). Krol and Helm both signed on Monday night, devastating Arizona's chances to land an impact class.
Heading into Monday, indications were that the Ducks had a very real chance to land lefthander Tyler Matzek, the top prep prospect in the draft. Signability concerns caused Matzek to drop to the Rockies at No. 11 overall, and the sides appeared very far apart in their negotiations this weekend. But Matzek wound up accepting a $3.9 million bonus just before the midnight deadline, a smaller contract than most observers expected him to accept. Oregon also took a hit Monday afternoon when outfielder Jacob Marisnick signed as the Blue Jays' third-round pick for $1 million.
LSU lost its three biggest recruits in the last 10 days. The first to sign was righthander Zack Von Rosenberg, who received $1.2 million as a sixth-round pick by the Pirates on Aug. 8. For the sake of perspective, that's the same bonus that LSU outfielder D.J. Mitchell (the College World Series most outstanding player) received as a first-round pick earlier this summer. LSU couldn't have been too shocked when the Yankees signed outfielder Slade Heathcott for $2.2 million as a first-round pick Monday—after all, there was now way New York was going two straight years without signing its first-rounder. But losing righthander Brody Colvin on Monday afternoon was a blow. Colvin signed for $900,000 as the Phillies' seventh-round pick.
The Cowboys surely expected to lose lefty Chad James as a first-round pick to the Marlins, and it was no shock when he signed for $1.7 million this weekend. They also were not caught off guard when outfielder Max Walla signed as a second-round pick earlier this summer. But OSU suffered three significant losses on deadline day. OSU held out hope on shortstop Mychael Givens (second round, Orioles) until the last day, when he signed for $800,000. And Oklahoma State lost two of its three drafted juniors from its weekend rotation on Monday, as lefty Andy Oliver signed with the Tigers as a second-rounder, and righty Tyler Blandford signed with the Mariners as a fifth-round pick at the last instant.
The Toreros were hit hard earlier this summer, when top recruits Cameron Garfield (second round, Brewers), James Needy (sixth round, Padres) and Aaron Wirsch (seventh round, Orioles) signed. But they were blind-sided late Monday night, when New Jersey lefty Evan DeLuca signed with the Yankees for a $500,000 bonus as a 44th-round pick. DeLuca drew lukewarm interest from scouts this spring, partly because of his strong commitment and partly because of his spotty command, and this deal came as a shock.