College Pod: Signing Day Edition
As the signing period opened Wednesday for college baseball, Alabama coach Brad Bohannon, Auburn coach Butch Thompson and Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson joined the Baseball America college podcast to talk about their 2019 recruiting classes.
Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma all signed recruiting classes that ranked among the top 12 in the country in Baseball America’s 2019 recruiting class rankings. Auburn led the group at No. 9 with Alabama and Oklahoma immediately following.
Bohannon (who joins the show at 2:30) said after going through his first season with the Crimson Tide, he and assistant coaches Jason Jackson and Jerry Zulli were better positioned to put together a balanced recruiting class that addresses the team’s needs. The class is headlined by Georgia prep shortstop C.J. Abrams, the No. 2 ranked high school player in the country.
"I’m really fired up this group,” Bohannon said. "When we all got hired last summer, the analogy I kept using was we were drinking out of a fire hydrant. For our first group, the 2018 group, really we were just trying to go out and get who we thought were legit SEC players. You really couldn’t worry about balance or anything like that. With the accelerated recruiting calendar these days, the summer going into the senior year, there just aren’t a bunch of high-level, impact SEC players who haven’t picked a school so we were just trying to gobble up the best players that we could find.
"Now, with this second group that was put together we were able to work on balance. That’s why we tried to get some more kids that were athletic and versatile and really focus on lefthanded pitching. I’m really, really excited about this group.”
Auburn, Alabama’s archrival, also brought in a highly ranked class, headlined by Tennessee prep lefthander Hayden Mullins and Alabama prep shortstop Gunnar Henderson. Coach Butch Thompson (who joins the show at 15:00) explains how the Tigers have found their groove on the recruiting trail, especially with premium pitchers, as their last four classes have included Casey Mize, Davis Daniel, Tanner Burns and Garrett Wade, all highly regarded pitchers. Mullins could be the next in that line.
"Casey was here when I arrived on campus but I think Casey’s development really helped us,” Thompson said. "The last two Gatorade Players of the Year in the state of Alabama have been Tanner Burns, and we know he commanded seven figures, and Garrett Wade’s was last year’s and we know he could have achieved that seven-figure status. For those guys to come to school and think Auburn needs to be part of their journey and delay gratification before entering professional baseball is powerful to us. It’s one thing to get to sign their National Letter of Intent on signing day, it’s another thing to really acquire those guys and get them on campus for three years. That’s powerful.
"All these guys want to play professional baseball. You know that, I know that. I’m so thankful that they have enough trust in our program that coming through Auburn and playing in the Southeastern Conference and developing with us is helping them achieve that ultimate goal that they all have. Hayden Mullins fits that script of trying to get that top recruit to see that playing in the SEC will only help him attain his dreams down the road.”
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The show’s final guest was Johnson (who joins at 30:15), who had plenty of reason to celebrate Wednesday as the Sooners signed Texas prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the top-ranked player in the high school class and one of the two leading candidates (along with Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman) to be the No. 1 overall pick in June.
Witt has true five-tool potential, but Johnson said he’s most excited about the way Witt plays the game.
"I think his passion, how hard he plays, how the game is easy for him,” Johnson said. "I think those things are what’s really fun to watch with him. The tools are there. A lot of the time as scouts and coaches we get all the tools right. It’s the intangibles, what he does with two strikes at the plate, how he comes and gets the ball on an infield that’s not a good infield or how he is always in the right place playing away from the ball. I think those things are things that excite you as a guy that has watched baseball. He plays it with so much passion that guys drive hours to watch him play because he is so good at it.
"You watch (Witt) and how he goes about the game. There’s a professional approach, how he pays attention to where the guy hit the ball the at bat before or how he’s not going to get out the same way twice. You see those things you don’t normally see in a player.”