Stock Skips His Way To USC

See also: Stock named 2005 Youth Player of the Year

America this month, millions of teenagers were preparing for their
final year of high school, brushing up on their calculus and narrowing
their list of colleges to attend a year from now.

Robert Stock is a year ahead of them.

16-year-old catcher/righthander from Westlake Village, Calif., enrolled
Wednesday at Southern California, opting to skip his senior year at
Agoura High. Instead, Stock attended his first college class–Writing
140–Thursday morning and will be eligible to play baseball for the
Trojans when their season begins January 30 against Cal Poly at Dedeaux

“I have a grasp on it,” Robert Stock said Wednesday
night, “but I’m sure within the next week or so, it’s really going to
hit me that, ‘Wow, I’m in college right now.’

“Missing my
senior year in high school, not getting to take part in all these
activities . . . I will definitely miss not going to the prom with my
girlfriend; I’ve known her since the sixth grade. And I’ll definitely
miss playing baseball with my little brother (Richard). I haven’t
played with him since I was little, and I definitely will miss that.”

who was named Baseball America’s Youth Player of the Year in 2005 as a
15-year-old, met early academic admission requirements based on several
criteria outlined in Rule of the NCAA’s early admission
program. Stock ranked in the top 20 percent of his high school class
and has completed each of his core class requirements, except English.
He also had the required GPA of at least 3.5 in each of his last four
high school semesters. He then had to apply for a waiver from the NCAA
that would grant him eligibility to play baseball at USC, which he
received. His 1410 SAT score helped him overcome the final stumbling
block of getting into Southern California through its Resident Honors
Program, which allows about 30 elite students who have demonstrated
exceptional maturity to enroll in the university a year early.

Stocks were the ones who first broached the possibility of early
enrollment with the USC coaching staff, and they were told the Trojans
had no more scholarship money to give out. But the Stocks decided
getting to school early was important enough that they would pay
Robert’s way his first year.

“If he (went) and played at Agoura
this year, and then gets drafted in his normal class, I think
baseball-wise, three more years would be one too many,” said his father
Gregg Stock. “He’s ready to play Division I baseball this year. Being
at that level for three years (beginning in the fall of 2007) would
hold him back. It’s much more tempting to sign (a professional contract
after being drafted in) June 2007, versus going to college for three
more years.

“The idea is to get our cake and eat it too.”

will be draft-eligible following his junior season at USC in 2009,
whereas had he not signed out of high school in 2007 and waited until
next fall to enroll, he would not be eligible to be drafted again until
2010. This decision negates any leverage he would have in 2007, but
allows him to gain three years of college experience and enter the
draft a year earlier than he would have, had Stock gone the
conventional path. Gregg’s assertion that his son is physically ready
to compete against Pacific-10 Conference competition isn’t debated by
those in the scouting community, although the decision won’t come
without controversy.

“That has some validity,” said a
crosschecker with an National League club in response to Gregg Stock’s
sentiment. “He has played against the best competition and obviously
he’s an advanced player. But obviously when someone makes that kind of
comment, it’s going to make him a target in the college baseball world.
I think he has enough ability that he would be able to back it up.

he has a great year at Agoura and continues to develop as a catcher.
There are clubs out there that might like him a lot and take him in the
first 10 picks. We’re talking anywhere from $2.1 to more than $3
million. I would hate to close that option. That’s a pretty good start
on life. But to each his own. That’s the bottom line. I just hope it
doesn’t open a can of worms for other kids thinking that they can do
this same thing.”

Stock has been the talk of amateur baseball
for more than three years. His fastball was clocked as high as 90 mph
when he was 14, and he has developed a penchant for performing well on
the biggest of stages. He started on the mound for the West in August’s
Aflac All-American game and homered to center field in the seventh
inning. This spring as a junior at Agoura (Calif.) High, Stock came
down with an inflamed rotator cuff in his right shoulder and decided it
was best to concentrate on hitting and catching this summer.

Stock carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the California
Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division I championship
game in May, he’s toed a rubber less than a handful of times. The
scouting consensus suggests his future is behind the plate, and the
Stocks are convinced his best source of instruction is at USC. There
Stock can learn from coach Chad Kreuter, who spent 16 seasons catching
in the major leagues.

“My career goal is not to make money,”
Stock said, “but to play in the major leagues, and going to college
will make those chances higher.”

Kreuter said the Trojans’
primary goal is to get Stock ready to catch in the Pac-10, but Stock
also will factor into USC’s bullpen mix along with junior closer Paul
Koss and incoming freshman Hector Rabago.

“How can you not want
to use that resource? He’s 93-95 off the mound,” Kreuter said. “I know
that one of the starting pitchers at Agoura got hurt last year . . . and he only threw once this summer because his arm was
dead, so we will be careful with his arm. First and foremost for us is
getting him ready behind the plate. I’m confident his bat will be fine,
and we’ll get him work off the mound, but we’ll ease him into that. We
have a situation now where we’ll have three guys who can close games.”

catch and throw skills are unrefined, but his arm strength serves him
well as a catcher. His footwork and exchange can be cleaned up, which
would improve his pop times from home to second. He’s athletic and
agile enough to block balls adequately presently. His instincts, work
ethic and championship-caliber makeup should serve him well as he
continues to develop.

“I think what’s going to happen is he’s
going to catch every day, he’s been a pitcher and this last year, he
has put all of his time in catching, so you have to understand how
little time he’s had back there,” the crosschecker said. “I think he’s
going to hit as much as (former USC All-America and current Mariners
catcher) Jeff Clement with the power that Clement hit with, and be a
better catcher than Clement.”

Stock is instantly the favorite to
win Southern California’s starting catching job, although he will
compete with senior Johnny Bowden and incoming freshman Keith Castillo.
Kreuter said the competition should make all three players better.

new teammates were shocked when he was introduced to them in a team
meeting Wednesday, Kreuter said, but they were also excited. Stock got
a chance to stand up in front of his teammates and introduce himself at
the meeting.

“Usually the first time you get them up (in front
of the team), there’s some growing pains–they’re a little unsure
speaking in front of their peers. I was impressed how he handled
himself,” Kreuter said. “I think that was a great sign that he’s not
going to have a tough time on the field. Physically, he’s good enough.
If he can handle himself in situations like yesterday, he’s going to be
a star on the field.”

Contributing: Aaron Fitt