There is a reason Baseball America waits until players show up on campus to rank recruiting classes. During the Nov. 13-20 early signing period, it is impossible to predict which marquee recruits will head to college, and which will sign professional contracts next summer.
Under baseball's old Collective Bargaining Agreement, landing a Top 100 recruit was about a 50/50 proposition for colleges. From 2005 through 2008, an average of 50.25 players who graced our high school Top 100 list in November wound up arriving on college campuses the following fall. In the final two years of the old CBA, teams started pursuing elite high school talent more aggressively, as just 40 members of the 2009 early Top 100 went to school, and just 43 of the 2010 Top 100 did so.
In the first two years of the new system, which ties a bonus pool amount to each pick, even fewer Top 100 players are going to school. Just 34 members of the November 2011 Top 100 went to college, and just 36 members of last year's list went to school (not counting Joey Martarano, who honored his football scholarship at Boise State, which has no baseball program).
Of the 36 players who did go to school, some of them saw their draft stock drop in the spring due to injury or underperformance (eight of the 36 wound up ranking outside the predraft BA 500 in May). Fifteen players who ranked inside the top 50 last November wound up going to school, and most of them rate as blue-chip recruits (eight landed in our top 100 heading into the draft, and 13 of the 15 ranked in the top 200). It is a little easier to land a recruit who ranks in the 51-100 range on this list, as 21 of those players on last year's list went to school—but just one of those 21 ranked as a top 100 prospect heading into the draft, while just six of the 21 ranked inside the top 200. So, naturally, the top half of the list offers more upside but more risk.
Of course, marquee prospects can emerge in the spring. Thirteen members of our predraft top 100 chose college over pro ball, and four of them were unranked in our early high school Top 100 the previous November: Phil Bickford (20), Kyle Serrano (35), Matt Krook (42) and Garrett Hampson (84).
It's hard to tell which schools will wind up being recruiting winners based on early commitments. Last year, Southern California and San Diego led all schools by signing five Top 100 recruits apiece in November. But the Trojans landed just one of their five (No. 31 Jeremy Martinez, whose stock dropped in the spring), while the Toreros went 0-for-5. Meanwhile, Florida went 3-for-3, and two of the players it reeled in were high-risk targets, ranking No. 18 (A.J. Puk) and No. 21 (Brett Morales) last November. The Gators topped our recruiting class rankings this fall, and Miami (which went 3-for-4 on its Top 100 signees) ranked No. 6.
Florida and Miami are also well represented on this year's early Top 100, with four UF signees and two Miami recruits making the list. But another Sunshine State power has a chance to headline next fall's recruiting class rankings, depending on how the draft shakes out.
Florida State has been an elite program on the national level for decades, but the Seminoles are rarely prominent players in the recruiting class rankings. Incredibly, since Baseball America's recruiting rankings began in 2000, FSU has cracked the list just three times, coming in at No. 4 in 2002, No. 24 in 2008 and No. 18 in 2013. Rather than chase marquee high school talent, the Seminoles have typically built their roster around intelligent, scrappy, winning players with modest raw tools who fit well into FSU's system. Coach Mike Martin and his staff have a history of putting players in position to succeed and getting the most out of them, and numerous unheralded FSU recruits have turned into stars and prospects in Tallahassee.
In the last six early signing periods, Florida State has signed a grand total of 12 Top 100 players, getting just two of them to campus, both football players—Kyle Long in 2008 (now in the NFL) and two-sport star Jameis Winston in 2012. So it is a striking change in recruiting philosophy that Florida State's early signing class this fall features five Top 100 signees, and a sixth (righthander Andrew Karp) who just missed the list.
Martin said the Seminoles have become more aggressive on the recruiting trail since the summer of 2011, when assistant Mike Martin Jr. became recruiting coordinator and pitching coach Mike Bell joined the staff and began helping with recruiting. Martin acknowledged that rival Florida's success at getting big-name prospects to campus under Kevin O'Sullivan helped spark FSU's philosophical shift.
"We're not going to sit by anymore on our hands and say, 'This guy's gonna sign. This guy's gonna sign. We're not going to go after him.' No, we're through with that," Martin said. "We're going to go after the best players we possibly can. If they make the decision to sign, then we've got to get somebody else to fill that spot. It puts a lot of so-called pressure on you as a coach, when you get to the end—like we did three years ago, and we lost four lefthanded pitchers. That's just something that you come to expect. But the days of us sitting by and not showing strong interest in outstanding athletes are over."
Florida State has plenty to offer blue-chip recruits, from its tradition to its unique ballpark atmosphere to its developmental track record. Buster Posey was a shortstop/righthanded pitcher before Martin Jr. had the idea to put him behind the plate, where his career took off. James Ramsey arrived at Florida State as a rather unheralded infielder and left as a first-round pick as a center fielder. Luke Weaver had opportunities to sign out of high school, when he was drafted in the 19th round. But he went to Florida State, got stronger, and has a legitimate chance to be a first-round pick next June.
Three of FSU's signees head into 2014 as strong candidates to be drafted in the first two rounds. Righthander Sean Reid-Foley (No. 11 on the Top 100) pitches at 92-94 and touches 96 with a lively fastball, and he flashes a plus slider. Righty Cobi Johnson (8) has big league bloodlines (his father Dane pitched in the majors and now works as Toronto's minor league pitching coordinator), serious movement on a fastball that reaches 92, the makings of a plus breaking ball and a projectable, athletic frame. Speaking of bloodlines, Nick Gordon (9) is the son of former major leaguer Tom Gordon and the half-brother of Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon. Nick has a plus or better arm, plus straight-line speed and power potential, making him a third potential first-rounder.
Outfielder Matthew Railey (42), a 5-foot-11 outfielder from Tallahassee with easy lefthanded power and good speed, seems like a better bet to honor his commitment to the hometown Seminoles, for whom he'd be a perfect fit. Railey's high school teammate, lefthander Carson Sands (76), has run his fastball up to 92 and shown feel for a promising changeup in the past, but his delivery and stuff went backwards a bit this summer, which could help the Seminoles get him to campus as well. Karp has arm strength, with a fastball that reaches 92-93 and feel for a breaking ball, but his delivery has some effort and his frame lacks huge projection, making him a good target for the Seminoles. Righty Drew Carlton and Chipola (Fla.) JC lefthander Michael Mader give this class two more arms who could be difference-makers.
"You know it starts on the hill—you've got to get the horses on the hill," Martin Jr. said. "That's where we're dumping our money is on the hill. We've got to have these guys coming in. We're going to lose some of them, but I still feel good about the other ones. I'd like to get a little bit more than half of them. And I've got a chance to look like a complete fool in June. But I think this is what we've got to do to roll the dice and get some guys in here based on a lot of different things, signability and how much they take pride in their schooling and enjoy being around Florida State."
The elder Martin said he is excited and cautiously optimistic about his class. Recent experience reminded him that taking a chance on high-draft-risk prospects can pay off in a big way. The crown jewel of FSU's current freshman class, Ben DeLuzio, was a third-round pick by the Marlins in June.
"Ben DeLuzio turned down three-quarters of a million dollars to come to Florida State," Martin said. "This guy is really good. We knew it was going to be tough, but all of a sudden July gets here, and Meat (Martin Jr.) calls me and says, 'I think we've got a chance to keep DeLuzio.' Being the pessimist I am, I said, 'Yeah, sure, and Buster's going to come back too.' Then all of a sudden, here comes DeLuzio. And what a good player he is going to be—and he is going to be the leader of this ballclub one day.
"So it's been quite a change in what's shown up here."