Now that another draft is history, one key question must be asked yet again: Is it better for a player to sign out of high school or to go to college?
As someone who teaches at the graduate school level, far be it for me to cast aspersions on higher education. College can be a life-altering experience, as well as a passport into new realms, new languages, even new ways of thinking.
But for ballplayers, it can be both positive and negative.
For some it’s a chance to experience play at a higher level without the do or die of pro ball. Further, it’s a way to make a break from home cooking, both literally and figuratively, without being out on one’s own.
Yet it can also be a way to defer or destroy a dream.
Why? Despite the lip-service given to amateur athletics being a higher pursuit, the fact is that college coaches at virtually every school are judged first and foremost by one thing: their won-loss records.
With that in mind, what priority is the development of student-athletes? Even more troubling, what priority is their well-being?
Is it worth over-pitching a player — prospect or not — to win a game, or maybe even a conference race? Is it worth having a collegian play hurt?
The plain hard fact is that while for some the college experience is a chance to grow as both a player and a person, for others is an opportunity to be misused, underused, overused, or just plain abused.
For many years now, I’ve been watching players where I live in Southern California. Some of the ones who benefited most from college are those who had no choice. By that I mean that guys like Dave Roberts, Kevin Millar, Eric Byrnes, Randy Flores, and Morgan Ensberg were not considered particularly desirable coming out of high school, which made their collegiate experience crucial.
Then there are others who were high picks coming out of high school, and even higher picks after their junior year in college — guys like Mark Prior, Troy Glaus, and Chase Utley.
And there are those like Horacio Ramirez who were hardly pursued by universities.
But what’s undeniable is that there are some for whom college, at least in so far as baseball goes, was a false turn. Consider, for instance, Alberto Concepcion, who was a 2nd round pick out of El Segundo High due to what seemed like spectacular power. Though it’s true that he got to be a better “catch & throw” guy during his college career… and even became the Pac 10 Player of the Year… his one great tool –power — was eroded thanks to college tutelage.
Or consider Chad Cislak, a pitcher whose velocity are confidence were taken away from him.
Or Nelson Caraballo, a four-year Area Code guy whose pre-draft demands coming out of high school were such that he was pretty much forced to go to college, where he finished his career as a bench warmer.
Then there are guys like Jason Saenz, who had an electic arm, and Rick Currier, who had a big league fastball until he was forced to pitch college style, i.e. “backwards.
Or Josh Karp, who wound up a 1st Round pick despite the fact that he never fulfilled the promise he showed at Area Code.
The truth is that there is no answer. But what’s clear is that what’s become the conventional wisdom — that it’s better to go to college than to sign right out of high school — is far from the certainty it not too long ago seemed to be.