LSU Reloads Again
Tigers' recruiting class stands out
See also: Top 100 High School Prospects
Dan Canevari knows a little something about recruiting in the wake of a national championship. As an assistant under Skip Bertman, Canevari hit the recruiting trail shortly after Louisiana State won titles in 1997 and 2000. So he knew exactly what was in store for LSU recruiting coordinator David Grewe after the Tigers won their sixth national championship in June.
"He came into my office and said, 'Hey, it's a lot harder this year, isn't it?' " Grewe said. "I said, 'Yeah, it's way harder.' "
Conventional thinking suggests recruits should be knocking down the door after teams win the College World Series. Grewe said the reality is much different.
"A lot of coaches used it against us: 'If you go to LSU you're not going to play. Have you seen their team? They're stacked,' " he said. "So I had to work harder to make kids understand where our program is at. This is the next phase of our program. This class will keep LSU at the elite level. After we won the national championship, I said, 'We have got to meet every single need. We've got to recruit the best players in the country so they know we can win the national championship here and they know we're turning to a new era here.' "
That message has been delivered loud and clear. Louisiana State was perhaps the biggest winner from the early signing period, which began Nov. 11 and ended yesterday. The Tigers officially signed five members of Baseball America's Top 100 prospects from the high school class of 2010, and they'll have a sixth when the football team announces the commitment of two-sport star Zach Lee (No. 50).
Add in athletic outfielder Marcus Davis, who just missed the Top 100 cut; promising righthanders Josh Burris, Kurt McCune, and Ryan Eades; and physical two-way talent Kevin Koziol, and LSU's class has the kind of quality depth that could rival its watershed 2007 crop. That class—head coach Paul Mainieri's first in Baton Rouge—ranked second in the nation and served as the foundation for two Omaha teams.
"With the rules they have today, you can't have cornerstone classes that take your program to the next level every year," Grewe said. "The last two years have been good classes with several impact players, but this is the next group of LSU players. I personally think it's as good as anybody in the country could have gotten."
Of course, there is always risk when signing elite talents, a lesson that was reinforced this summer when top recruits Slade Heathcott, Zack Von Rosenberg and Brody Colvin signed pro contracts for a combined $4.1 million, decimating LSU's recruiting class.
But Grewe said he feels good about LSU's chances to sneak most of the players in this class through the draft and onto campus. It helps that the two highest-ranked players in the group—flamethrower Kevin Gausman (No. 7) and multi-talented infielder Garin Cecchini (15)—would both be draft-eligible as sophomores at LSU. It's worth noting that the highest-drafted high player to attend college in 2009—Rangers first-rounder Matt Purke—will be draft-eligible as a sophomore at Texas Christian.
"If they get $2 million out of high school, I'll tell them to take it," Grewe said. "But I'll try to convince them, 'Hey, do you want to spend two years in minor league baseball or two years of minor league baseball at LSU?' "
But even if the Tigers lose Gausman and Cecchini, their class should not lack for star power. Cam Bedrosian (28), the son of former big leaguer Steve Bedrosian, can reach 94 and throws a power breaking ball, but his control is still a work in progress. Smooth-swinging shortstop Jacoby Jones (38) has a skill set that evokes former LSU star D.J. LeMahieu, but he could be hampered in the spring by arm and labrum injuries suffered in football. And Austin Southall (81), a Baton Rouge native, gives this class a physical, powerful corner bat.
One thing they all have in common is that they're all big-time LSU fans.
"We're going to fill our team with players who want to be here and won't worry about what position they play and where they bat in the lineup," Grewe said. "I think that's why last year's team won a national championship—those were 35 kids that were diehard LSU boys.
"I'll spend more time recruiting these kids now that they've signed with us than I will all the (high school underclassmen). We'll educate the young kids, but we won't mass recruit all the young kids. These kids are the ones I'll spend the majority of our time recruiting, because they're the future of LSU baseball."
Another Bonanza For USD?
It seems LSU and San Diego are on the same recruiting cycle: one monster class every three years, with solid smaller classes in between. When the Tigers secured the nation's No. 2 class three years ago, San Diego brought in the No. 1 class.
Now San Diego looks poised to restock its cupboards with marquee talent, just as LSU does. The Toreros made the biggest splash of any school on the West Coast in the early signing period, inking five players from the Top 100.
Like the Tigers, the Toreros were walloped by the draft in 2009, losing top recruits Cameron Garfield, James Needy, Aaron Wirsch and Evan DeLuca.
"We got hit in that 2009 group, which made us go back and look at how we approach this, and we're almost thankful for that," USD recruiting coordinator Jay Johnson said. "All these guys are going to be impact guys right away, and they're all phenomenal character guys, which is important at our school. What separates this class is all these guys have a very, very firm commitment to coming to college."
The biggest draft risk is righthander Dylan Covey (No. 6), who complements his 93 mph fastball with an above-average 84 mph breaking ball and a promising changeup. But the other blue-chippers in this class are hitters, which marks a slight departure for a program that has invested many of its scholarship dollars in recent years in top-flight arms like Brian Matusz, Kyle Blair and Sammy Solis. The Toreros could lose as many as seven starters from their everyday lineup after the 2010 season, so they will count on the members of this class to assume key roles immediately.
Sweet-swinging Tony Walters (21) and switch-hitting Marcus Littlewood (32) could give San Diego an elite double-play combination for the next three years, and corner infielder Kris Bryant (41) has big-time power that could make him a centerpiece in the middle of the lineup. Powerful Kellen Sweeney (74), the younger brother of Athletics outfielder Ryan Sweeney, would have been a huge draft risk if he hadn't had Tommy John surgery in September, clouding his draft stock. That could be a good thing for the Toreros.
Of course, San Diego loves to build around lefthanded pitching, and this class has some polished southpaws in Paul Paez, Griffon Murphy and Max McNabb.
But the key is getting most of those Top 100 recruits to San Diego's idyllic campus.
"If just half of them show up—and I think it's going to be better than that," Johnson said, "this might be a once-in-a-lifetime, lightning-in-a-bottle class."
North Carolina and Miami matched LSU with six recruits from the Top 100, tied for the most in the nation. UNC's class stands out as the best on the East Coast, as scouts and other coaches say they believe the Tar Heels stand a good chance to land many of their blue-chippers. North Carolina seems like a long shot to land top signee Stetson Allie (No. 8), whose fastball has touched triple digits at times, but associate head coach Scott Forbes said the Tar Heels are still willing to take high-upside gambles even after getting burned repeatedly over the last few years. Just three years ago, after all, UNC signed the No. 1 player on this list—righthander Matt Harvey—and he wound up on campus the following fall after slipping to the third round of the draft in June.
"We're still willing to take those risks," Forbes said. "If a kid's a first-round kid, he's going to sign—there aren't many Matt Purkes. You have to hope that if the kid's a third-rounder, he's serious enough about coming to college—like Matt Harvey or Andrew Miller—that he'll come to college.
"We really got burnt two years ago, and that class was so small—only six kids. If you're signing players that have the possibility to be drafted pretty high, you have to take that into account. You can't sign eight kids and lose six. You just can't do it."
So this fall, the Tar Heels signed 16 players, giving them plenty a nice safety net. But Forbes still believes UNC has a good chance to land players like outfielder Ty Linton (35), infielders Sean Coyle (44) and Connor Narron (73), catcher Matt Roberts (78) and righthander Andrew Smith (79).
Linton is a premium athlete who is set on playing linebacker for UNC's football team, as well as outfield for the baseball team. Coyle has plus-plus speed and a history of performing on the biggest stages for Team USA, but he is undersized at 5-foot-9, and he has expressed a desire to join his older brother Tommy in UNC's middle infield. Narron, the son of former big league player and manager Jerry Narron, is an instinctive player and a switch-hitter with a pro body that will surely draw plenty of pro attention, but he goes to the same high school as former UNC closer Rob Wooten and current UNC righty Garrett Davis, both of whom have developed a good relationship with Narron.
Roberts is a stellar defensive catcher whose bat is not yet pro-ready. The lanky Smith has come on strong, showing a 90-93 mph fastball with good sink and a quality breaking ball, but he's an excellent student and a lifelong Tar Heel fan, so he won't be an easy sign.
With such a talented, balanced core and a very strong supporting cast, UNC's class has a chance to keep the Tar Heels in Omaha for years to come.
"I feel great about it, really," Forbes said. "I feel really good about the ability, number one, and we just feel like we've got a good group of kids, hard workers, hard-nosed, and they're very serious about their educations."
Around The Nation
• Evaluating recruiting classes during the early signing period is difficult, because typically only about half of the Top 100 will set foot on college campuses the following fall. Over the last four years, an average of 50.25 players from the Top 100 wound up in colleges. Less than 40 percent of the top 50 prospects have reached college each year, but nearly two-thirds of the players in the 51-100 range made it to schools.
• Few schools get more of their top recruits to campus than Rice, a private school with elite academics and a legendary coach in Wayne Graham. The Owls are selective when it comes to going after top prospects—last fall they did not sign any of the Top 100—but since 2005, they have landed five of the seven Top 100 players they have signed in the early signing periods. This year, Rice signed four players in the Top 100, including the No. 1 overall prospect in towering righthander Jameson Taillon. Even if the Owls can't reel in Taillon—and don't count them out—they stand a good chance to secure three other talented righthanders in John Simms (No. 40), Connor Mason (63) and Austin Kubitza (92).
• Florida and Stanford brought in the top two classes earlier this fall, and both programs did well again in the early signing period. The Gators and Cardinal each signed four members of the Top 100. Florida went heavy on pitching, signing four highly rated arms, while Stanford secured commitments from three hitters and a pitcher. In case you're wondering, Florida inked eight Top 100 prospects last fall and landed four of them, while Stanford signed three and landed all three.