Re-Ranking The Top 25 College Recruiting Classes In 2014
In September, we unveiled our annual recruiting class rankings for the players that arrived on campus this fall. Those players will be college baseball’s stars over the next few seasons and will form the foundation for future championship programs.
Now, however, we take one last opportunity to reflect on the 2014 recruiting class. Many coaches say they need to wait to see how their recruits perform in college baseball to properly evaluate the class. Baseball America will always rank recruiting classes when they get to school in an attempt to predict which schools have the brightest futures, but it is also fun to see how these promising groups of newcomers actually performed on the field, where the results count the most.
Here, we rerank the 2014 recruiting classes now that they have largely finished their college careers. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the exercise remains difficult. How much of the success of these classes over the last four years is a reflection of good evaluations during recruiting and how much is a result of development by both the player and coaching staff? And how much of recruiting is identifying which players will be able to make developmental leaps during college?
Those are largely unanswerable questions, but we press on anyway.
Every class that ranked in the top 10 in 2014 made our revised list. The highest ranked 2014 class not to make the revised rankings is No. 11 Texas, which never reached its lofty ceiling. It did provide two solid pieces of the Longhorns’ 2018 College World Series team, but its most high-profile members scuffled in Austin. For the most part, however, the highly ranked 2014 recruiting classes produced strong on-field results over the last four years. Together, the Top 25 2014 recruiting classes combined to produce 20 of the 32 Omaha teams over the last four years.
While those classes largely lived up to the hype, no one outplayed its expectations as much as Louisville. The Cardinals’ class was unranked in 2014 but turned out to be a banner group that produced five All-American selections and featured Brendan McKay, perhaps the best college baseball player ever. McKay was a known (if underrated) quantity coming out of the Pennsylvania high school ranks and ranked No. 166 on the BA 500 that spring. But his future teammates Drew Ellis, Devin Hairston and Lincoln Henzman flew under the radar before their star turns at Louisville.
In these rankings, on-field success weighs heavily, but the role the players played in that success is also considered. Classes that produced stars and major building blocks are looked upon more favorably than those filled mostly with role players. Draft results help inform the rankings because elite prospects tend to perform well in college, but they are not paramount. The best classes, of course, combine a lot of wins with a lot of professional prospects. But evaluating classes that were heavy in only one area is the most challenging part of the exercise. Ultimately, classes that produce pro prospects, but not wins, lose out in these rankings.
2014 rank: NR.
Recruiting coordinator: Chris Lemonis.
BA All-Americans: 3B Drew Ellis (2017 second team), RHP Lincoln Henzman (2017 second team), LHP/1B Brendan McKay (2015, 2016, 2017 first team).
Other key players: C Colby Fitch, SS Devin Hairston, RHP Kade McClure, 2B Blake Tiberi.
The bottom line: McKay alone would have made this a standout class. He was named 2017 Player of the Year, 2015 Freshman of the Year and became the third player in the 38-year history of Baseball America to earn first-team All-America honors for three straight seasons. But, of course, the class went far beyond one of the best players in college baseball history. With the exception of Hairston (a three-year starter at shortstop) and McKay, much of the rest of the class had to wait for their opportunity and then made the most of it. With them peaking as juniors, the class led the Cardinals to the 2017 CWS and their second Atlantic Coast Conference title in three years.
2014 rank: 3.
Recruiting coordinator: Craig Bell.
BA All-Americans: RHP Alex Faedo (2017 second team), C/1B J.J. Schwarz (2015 third team).
Other key players: SS Dalton Guthrie, OF/LHP Nick Horvath, RHP Taylor Lewis, C Mike Rivera.
The bottom line: The second of Florida’s six straight (and counting) top-five classes provided the core of its 2017 national championship team. Faedo was named CWS Most Outstanding Player and was a stalwart in the rotation. Guthrie, Rivera and Schwarz were all regulars throughout their careers, and Schwarz played and started in more games than any other player in program history.
2014 rank: 2.
Recruiting coordinator: Kevin McMullan.
BA All-Americans: OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017 first team, 2016 third team).
Other key players: RHP Derek Casey, SS/2B Ernie Clement, RHP Tommy Doyle, 1B/OF Pavin Smith.
The bottom line: The class provided instant impact, helping Virginia win the 2015 national championship, the first in program history. Clement, Haseley and Smith were all everyday players on that team, and Haseley and Smith wound up going out as top-10 draft picks. Casey and Doyle didn’t have as big roles as freshmen, but eventually became integral pieces on the Cavaliers’ staff.
4. North Carolina
2014 rank: 6.
Recruiting coordinator: Scott Jackson.
BA All-Americans: RHP J.B. Bukauskas (2017 first team), SS Logan Warmoth (2017 first team).
Other key players: RHP Brett Daniels, 2B Zack Gahagan, OF Brian Miller.
The bottom line: Much was made at the time of Bukauskas’ decision to enter college a year early, and he lived up to the hype, becoming the Tar Heels’ ace. But coming out of high school Miller and Warmoth both flew under the radar—Miller was almost off the radar and nearly went to UNC Asheville before UNC came in late—but went on to become key players for the Tar Heels and were drafted in the top 40 picks. Bukauskas, Miller and Warmoth were gone by the time UNC returned to Omaha in 2018, but Daniels and Gahagan played key roles to help the Tar Heels back to the CWS.
5. Louisiana State
2014 rank: 1.
Recruiting coordinator: Javi Sanchez.
BA All-Americans: 1B/OF Greg Deichmann (2017 first team), RHP Alex Lange (2015 first team, 2017 second team).
Other key players: 1B/OF Beau Jordan, 1B/OF Bryce Jordan, C Mike Papierski.
The bottom line: LSU landed a loaded class, though it suffered from several high-profile transfers, starting almost immediately (pitchers Jake Godfrey, Jake Latz and Mac Marshall and infielder Grayson Bird all eventually transferred). Still, those who stayed were highly impactful and helped lead LSU to a runner-up finish at the 2017 College World Series and an SEC Tournament title. Lange wound up being one of the best pitchers in program history, while Deichmann and Papierski developed into middle-of-the-order threats.
2014 rank: 18.
Recruiting coordinator: Travis Jewett.
BA All-Americans: OF Jeren Kendall (2017 third team), RHP Kyle Wright (2017 second team).
Other key players: RHP Matt Ruppenthal, 3B Will Toffey.
The bottom line: Vanderbilt has landed a record five top-ranked recruiting classes, and while this group didn’t arrive in Nashville with that kind of fanfare, the duo of Kendall and Wright gives it plenty of star power. Both provided instant impact on the 2015 national runner-up Commodores and went on to become first-round picks. Toffey also was a three-year starter and Ruppenthal developed into a key reliever.
7. Long Beach State
2014 rank: NR.
Recruiting coordinator: Jesse Zepeda.
BA All-Americans: C David Banuelos (2017 first team).
Other key players: OF Brock Lundquist, RHP Chris Mathewson, RHP Darren McCaughan.
The bottom line: Long Beach made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2016-17 and in 2017 won the Big West Conference title for the first time since 2008 with this class leading the way. Banuelos provided strong defense and leadership behind the plate, and Lundquist was a solid bat in the lineup. Mathewson and McCaughan gave the class a pair of strong starters.
2014 rank: NR.
Recruiting coordinator: Brad Bohannon.
BA All-Americans: 2B Riley Mahan (2017 third team), 1B Evan White (2017 second team).
Other key players: RHP Justin Lewis, LHP Zach Logue, RHP Zach Pop.
The bottom line: As juniors in 2017, this class helped Kentucky win its first regional in program history. White was a first-round pick in 2017 after leading Kentucky in hitting, while Mahan provided another big bat in the Wildcats’ powerful offense. Lewis and Logue were solid members of Kentucky’s rotation, while Pop gave the class another top-10 round pick.
The bottom line: The biggest stars during the Beavers’ incredible 56-6 season in 2017 and national championship run in 2018 were from the following class, but this group shouldn’t be overshadowed. Heimlich led the rotation for two years, Rasmussen battled injuries but was electric when healthy and as a freshman threw the first perfect game in program history. Harrison was a consistent middle-of-the-order threat and Gretler was a regular in both ’17 and ’18.
The bottom line: Florida State in 2017 returned to Omaha for the first time in five years with this class forming the team’s core. Busby and Walls gave the Seminoles a strong combination on the left side of the infield, and Carlton was the team’s top starting pitcher. Biegalski had just one season at FSU as a junior college transfer, but he made it count and emerged as a reliable starter.
The bottom line: This class came to Fort Worth on the heels of TCU’s return to the CWS, its first appearance in four years. They helped the Horned Frogs to three more consecutive Omaha trips, reaching the bracket final each time. Skoug was named co-Big 12 Conference player of the year in 2017, while Brown and Wade were regulars in the outfield. Janczak has been TCU’s most reliable starter after redshirting as a freshman and is back this year for his senior season.
2014 rank: NR.
Recruiting coordinator: Rob Fornasiere.
BA All-Americans: None.
Other key players: OF Alex Boxwell, 3B Micah Coffey, 1B Toby Hanson, RHP Reggie Meyer, INF Luke Pettersen.
The bottom line: The Golden Gophers have won two of the last three Big Ten Conference titles and this class has played a big part in that success. A large group of seniors helped fuel Minnesota’s impressive 2018 season that saw them host a regional for the first time since 2000 and reach their first super regional in program history. Boxwell, Coffey, Hanson and Pettersen have all been lineup regulars over the last few years, while Meyer this spring stepped up as Minnesota’s Friday starter.
The bottom line: This class helped Texas A&M to three straight super regional appearances to start their college careers, a run which was capped in 2017 with a return to Omaha. They also won the 2016 SEC Tournament, their first title since joining the conference in 2013. Hill emerged as a Friday starter, eventually forming a formidable one-two punch with Martin. Simonds, a junior college transfer, in 2016 threw the first no-hitter in SEC play in 22 years. Bedford was a two-year starter behind the plate for the Aggies.
The bottom line: Washington’s next two recruiting classes came to Montlake with more fanfare, but this class was impressive in its own right. It in 2016 helped the Huskies to a runner-up finish in the Pac-12 Conference and in 2018 helped reach the CWS. Morgan emerged as one of the top catchers in the 2017 draft class, and Bremer led the Huskies’ pitching staff throughout his career. Jordan was a regular in the lineup and saved his best season for last, as he helped the Huskies to their first CWS appearance.
The bottom line: This class in 2016 helped the Demon Deacons end their NCAA Tournament drought and the next season reach super regionals for the first time since 1999. Fairchild and Sheets put together outstanding junior seasons and were both drafted in the second round. Sellers was a key arm on the pitching staff throughout his career, pitching out of both the rotation and bullpen.
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The bottom line: This class was a part of two trips to Omaha, one as freshmen in 2015 and one in 2017 as juniors. Gavin and Seabold played important roles on both teams, ranking second and third in innings pitched in 2015 and first and second in 2017. Hurst battled injuries early in his career but led the 2017 team in nearly every offensive category and was drafted in the third round.
17. Coastal Carolina
2014 rank: NR.
Recruiting coordinator: Joe Hastings.
BA All-Americans: None.
Other key players: C Matt Beaird, OF Billy Cooke, RHP Bobby Holmes, RHP Zack Hopeck, SS Seth Lancaster, 1B Kevin Woodall.
The bottom line: This class played a big role in Coastal’s 2016 national championship and again in 2018, when the Chanticleers hosted a regional for the first time in eight years. Beaird and Lancaster were everyday players on both teams (though Lancaster missed the CWS due to injury). Holmes was the setup man in 2016 and this year returns for his redshirt senior season after missing last year due to injury.
18. Missouri State
2014 rank: NR.
Recruiting coordinator: Brent Thomas.
BA All-Americans: 3B Jake Burger (2017 first team, 2016 third team).
Other key players: 2B Justin Paulsen.
The bottom line: Missouri State brought in a small but impactful class in 2014. The group helped the Bears twice reach super regionals and included Burger, who became one of the best players in program history. He was a two-time All-American and was named 2017 Missouri Valley Conference player of the year. Paulsen, a junior college transfer, was a three-year starter for the Bears.
The bottom line: UCLA has had more impactful classes than this one, but it still is a solid group. Canning quickly established himself in the rotation and finished his career with the sixth most strikeouts in program history. Bird and Bouchard were consistent contributors who ended their careers on high notes.
The bottom line: As juniors, this class helped Southern Miss to its best season since reaching the CWS in 2009. Braley that spring emerged as a two-way threat, crushing 17 home runs and taking on a spot in the rotation. McCarty went 22-4, 3.50 over three seasons, and Slater has been a lineup regular and is a career .300 hitter going into his redshirt senior season.
The bottom line: Tennessee Tech’s incredible run over the last two years was fueled in large part by this class, as the Golden Eagles won back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference titles and in 2018 advanced to super regionals. Chambers, Junior and Putzig were regulars on those teams, while Moths was the team’s relief ace for three years before moving to the rotation as a senior.
The bottom line: As juniors in 2017, this class led Nebraska to its first conference championship since joining the Big Ten in 2012. Meyers was a standout two-way player for that team, playing center field and serving as its Sunday starter. Schreiber was a force in the heart of the Huskers’ lineup, and Alvarado found success both on the mound and at the plate.
The bottom line: After missing the NCAA Tournament the first two years this class was on campus, Stanford started rolling again in 2017, hosting back-to-back regionals and in 2018 claiming its first Pac-12 Conference title in 14 years. While most of the class had moved on to pro ball before their senior year, Branton this spring was the Cardinal’s leading hitter. Hock was a regular at the back of the bullpen throughout his career and was featured (along with Tristan Beck) on the cover of BA’s 2017 College Preview Issue. Brodey broke out that spring and led the team in hitting.
2014 rank: 4.
Recruiting coordinator: Tony Vitello.
BA All-Americans: None.
Other key players: OF Luke Bonfield, 1B Jared Gates, RHP Keaton McKinney, 1B Chad Spanberger.
The bottom line: CWS appearances bookended the last four years for Arkansas, including 2018’s runner-up finish in Omaha. Bonfield, Gates and McKinney this spring were the only members of the class still on the roster, but Bonfield and Gates were regulars in the lineup. McKinney has been limited by injuries since his spectacular freshman season, but that year he played a key role in helping the Razorbacks to Omaha. Spanberger in 2017 exploded for 20 home runs, helping lead Arkansas to host a regional for the first time since 2010.
The bottom line: This class came to South Carolina with lofty expectations, but it was a mixed bag for them in Columbia. There were some real highs—they helped South Carolina to super regionals in 2016 and 2018, Johnson pitched for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and Schmidt was drafted in the first round. But there were also some big lows—the Gamecocks missed the NCAA Tournament entirely in 2015 and 2017, and Schmidt missed part of his junior season due to Tommy John surgery. Their legacy is difficult to evaluate, but their talent is undeniable.
Honorable mention: Houston, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Arizona.