National Signing Week: Talented Prep Class Signs On The Dotted Line

As the NCAA early signing period wound down, it was clear that many of the nation’s most powerful college baseball programs took advantage of their clout.

Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, Clemson, Georgia Tech and UCLA, as well as last year’s College World Series finalists, North Carolina and Oregon State, were among the schools that secured commitments from multiple high-profile prospects from the deep and talented high school Class of 2007.

Whether or not the best of those players ever see campus is an obvious caveat when it comes to analyzing recruiting classes at this early stage in the process. Often, most of the nation’s best high school players sign with the professional team that drafts them, but some do wind up at college, and it’s too early to know which players will fall into which category.

If everyone came to school, though, Arizona State would be in business. The Sun Devils’ class is loaded with several of the top pro prospects in the prep Class of 2007. Signees such as outfielder Michael Burgess (Hillsborough High, Tampa) and infielders Josh Vitters (Cypree, Calif., High) and Justin Jackson (Roberson High, Asheville, N.C.) all rank in the most recent top 10 of Baseball America’s Prospects Plus top 300 national rankings.

Burgess has outstanding power from the left side of the plate, Vitters is an advanced hitter coming off an outstanding summer, and Jackson is a smooth-fielding shortstop who played for USA Baseball’s junior national team, and was a high school teammate of Tigers prospect Cameron Maybin. All three could be drafted in the first round in June, provided they remain healthy between now and then.

Catcher Danny Rams (Gulliver Prep, Miami), first baseman Andrew Lambo (Newbury Park, Calif., High) and righthander Seth Blair (Rock Falls, Ill., High) also signed letters of intent with Arizona State, which has a new recruiting coordinator in former Miami and Louisiana State assistant Turtle Thomas. All three are similarly considered potential high-round draft picks out of high school. Outfielder Matt Newman (Brophy Prep, Phoenix) and righthander Kyle Brule (Marcos De Niza High, Chandler, Ariz.) are less likely to be enticed with six-figure signing bonuses and could be the meat of Arizona State’s class when fall practice begins in 2007.

The Tar Heels have locked up commitments from a bevy of the class’ top pitchers, including the top two overall prospects–righthanders Matt Harvey (Fitch High, Groton, Conn.) and Rick Porcello (Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, N.J.). Lefty Madison Bumgarner (South Caldwell High, Hudson, N.C.) was ranked No. 20 in the nation and could join Harvey and Porcello in the first two rounds of the draft. Righthanders Patrick Johnson (Saint Stephens HS, Conover, N.C.) and Greg Holt (West Forsyth HS, Clemmons, N.C.) don’t presently offer the professional upside of that trio and are more likely to find their way to Chapel Hill, where they could serve impact roles for UNC, Holt as a potential two-way standout.

North Carolina recruiting coordinator Chad Holbrook said the Tar Heels were able to take an aggressive approach after landing a deep and talented freshman class in 2006.

“Obviously we had some momentum from Omaha, and the way (2006 UNC pitchers) Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard and Robert Woodard have developed and grown and gotten better here was obviously intriguing to those young pitchers,” Holbrook said. “We were very aggressive, because they have expressed a desire to attend college. Even though they have that first-round potential, they do have that chance of coming to college, or we wouldn’t have signed them.

“Some years we would not have recruited all of those guys because of the draft, but they were committed to being part of our program and wanting to go to college. We wanted to seize the momentum from Omaha, and I think we did.”

UCLA coach John Savage has generated plenty of momentum at UCLA as well, and has put together the Bruins’ third consecutive strong recruiting class. Outfielders Jason Heyward (McDonough High, Henry County, Ga.) and Brett Krill (Aliso Niguel High, Aliso Viejo, Calif.), middle infielder Ryan Dent (Wilson High, Los Angeles) and righthander Erik Goeddel(Bellarmine Prep, San Jose) are all top-40 prospects. Bruins recruiting coordinator Brian Green secured their commitments, but Savage knows the trick is getting them to school.

“You’ve got to do your homework, got to have a little bit of a crystal ball, have a little luck,” Savage said. “You win some, you lose some, just want to make sure you’re in that 90 percent range, keeping nine out of 10 guys, or eight out of 10 at the worst. You don’™t want half the class to disappear in June.”

One advantage schools will have next year is the comfort of knowing which players are going to come to school and which are going to pursue their pro careers by Aug. 15. Major League Baseball’s recent Collective Bargaining Agreement included Aug. 15 as a uniform signing date for all drafted players.

Until then, schools like Arizona State and North Carolina are cautiously optimistic.

The signing period, which began Nov. 8, ends Nov. 15.