See Also: Top 25 College Recruiting Rankings ($)
See Also: 2015 Recruiting Rankings: West Region
The draft was kind to Louisiana State. It was cruel to North Carolina and Florida State. Yet when the dust settled, all three programs wound up with top-10 recruiting classes.
LSU was flying high when the signing deadline passed in July and all but one of LSU's drafted recruits chose college over pro ball. Landing lefthander Mac Marshall (the No. 57 prospect in the BA 500) was a coup for LSU, headlining a class that featured an unprecedented eight BA 500 prospects.
So when Marshall had a change of heart in late September and withdrew from school to transfer to Chipola (Fla.) JC, the Tigers took it in stride. Not many recruiting classes could withstand a blow like that, but LSU's incredibly deep class—which we spotlighted in detail after the signing deadline—still ranks as college baseball's best.
|TOP 25 RECRUITING CLASSES
|19.||San Diego State|
“We're moving forward with the pitchers who are here," Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said when the school announced Marshall's departure. “Alex Lange, Jake Latz, Jake Godfrey, Doug Norman, Collin Strall and Austin Bain have all looked outstanding in individual workouts. This development in no way diminishes our enthusiasm for this recruiting class."
Heading into last spring, North Carolina and Florida State looked like two of the favorites to challenge LSU for the nation's best recruiting class, as all three schools were loaded with marquee signees. Five Florida State recruits ranked among our high school Top 100 prospects last November, but four of them—Nick Gordon, Sean Reid-Foley, Matthew Railey and Carson Sands—were drafted in the first four rounds and signed pro contracts. But the top-ranked FSU signee a year ago, No. 8 Cobi Johnson, missed time with elbow inflammation in the spring and saw his stock drop. He wound up arriving at Florida State this fall, and the Seminoles filled in gaps around him with junior-college transfers and other impact high school talents to form the program's first top-10 class since 2002.
Johnson and Andrew Karp give Florida State two premium arms to anchor a class that is also highlighted by athletic infielders like Dylan Busby and Taylor Walls. The arms are the key, though.
“Johnson has a big arm; that's a heck of an arm to get to college," a rival recruiting coordinator said. “They got hit pretty good in the draft, they lost some big-name guys. That's kind of part of it when you go after those type of guys—you can lose them. But to get two arms like Johnson and Karp, that's a good class."
Historic Losses Notwithstanding
UNC, meanwhile, signed five recruits who ranked in the top half of the high school Top 100 last November—and all of them signed. In fact, six North Carolina commits were drafted in the top 64 picks in June, making the first night of the draft an unprecedented nightmare for the Tar Heels. As far as our research can determine, no other school this century has had so many signees drafted in the top two rounds. All six of them went on to sign pro contracts.
“It was a low point for me, in the fact that the time that you've invested in recruiting the kids, going out and seeing them again in the spring—you get that relationship with these kids and their families, you get so excited because you get to coach good kids," UNC recruiting coordinator Scott Jackson said. “Then all of a sudden, in the span of three of four hours, however long that (draft) show is, you see it getting ripped away from you. You've just got to get up off the mat, focus on the kids you're going to get, see if you can add a guy here or there.
“It was frustration and disappointment more than anything. You don't ever think you're going to lose six guys. Three of them, we really thought they were going to sign. I wanted to be very optimistic about (Forrest) Wall and (Jack) Flaherty, because you knew they were asking for $2 million, you didn't know if anybody would end up giving it to them. Mitch Keller was just a huge surprise; did not see that coming. When we committed him, he was 86-88."
Flaherty and Wall, the 34th and 35th overall picks, each received those $2 million bonuses, while Iowa product Keller signed for $1 million as the 64th pick.
“I'll never forget losing Sean Coyle; it was like I lost my best friend," Jackson said. “I was pouting. When we thought Coyle and Narron had a chance to sign, we decided to offer Colin Moran, because we needed another infielder on the left side. Who would have ever thought? There very well may be another Colin Moran in this class."
Moran was an afterthought in a UNC class that ranked No. 13 that fall, headlined by lefthander Kent Emanuel. Both went on to become cornerstone stars that helped UNC make two trips to Omaha in the next three years.
Likewise, UNC's 2014 class has the look of a watershed group, even after losing all those blue-chippers. For one thing, the Tar Heels landed the top incoming prospect in college baseball in J.B. Bukauskas (No. 33 on the BA 500), who showed electrifying stuff in the spring before coming down with some arm discomfort late in the season. (UNC is taking it slow with him this fall.)
As exciting as Bukauskas is, he might not be the biggest contributor as a freshman. Two-way talent Hunter Williams has been a revelation this fall, running his fastball up to 94 from the left side and showing a feel for three quality secondary pitches while also showing intriguing power potential at the plate. Ryder Ryan is another two-way player with huge raw tools who figures to make a major impact right away, as does athletic, powerful infielder Zack Gahagan. Those four looks like stars in the making, and the supporting cast is strong.
“Honestly, I knew we had great kids, and you trust what you saw in the recruiting process," Jackson said. “But you never truly know until you get them on campus. We lost six, and the guys that are here, that made it—dadgum, I wouldn't trade them for anything. Every year is a surprise, whether it's good or bad. Rarely do you get what you thought you were getting. But holy cow, these guys can play for us this year. It makes it easier to forget (what we lost), that's for sure."
LSU and Florida State can say the same thing.