The SEC has played a big role in making college baseball a major sport by pouring money into facilities and paying top dollar for strong coaches.
The league’s commitment to the game is translating to more talent coming to college and putting professional baseball on hold, according to South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner.
In the past 10 years, 33 SEC players have been selected in the first round of the MLB draft. In the prior 10 years, only 20 SEC players were selected.
“The commitment that has been made by athletic directors is paying tremendous dividends,” Tanner told The State. “Young men are making a choice that I can play professional baseball but I can go to college first and enjoy the collegiate experience while pursuing my degree and still get an opportunity to play in the big leagues at a later time.”
USC’s former baseball coach added that early on in his coaching career, it might have benefited players to turn pro straight out of high school, but he doesn’t feel that way anymore.
“It hasn’t always been the case that college baseball might be the best path to get you to the big leagues, but I think now it’s starting to prove that it can be part of your plan. That you can play baseball at a high level as we do in the SEC and a couple of other conferences, and it’s part of your progression to play in the big leagues. That wasn’t always the case, but it certainly is now.”
Tanner believes when you draft a player who has already competed against tough college competition for two to three years you get a better idea of what kind of prospect you are getting rather than drafting a player who is 17 or 18 and coming straight out of high school.
“When you look at the draft and the numbers in Major League Baseball it’s recognizable that professional teams, general managers, scouts are looking at these colleges and the risks are not as great as going with a very young player,” he said. “You can calculate the success a little bit better when you’re dealing with a 21-year-old.”
College parks that rival some of the best in the minors, improved treatment for college athletes and the opportunity to begin working on a college degree are leading to top prospects asking for more money to sign professional contracts, often more than organizations are willing to pay.
South Carolina has benefited recently with Wil Crowe requesting a hefty price tag out of high school and again this past season as a redshirt sophomore.
This summer the Gamecocks added Carlos Cortes to the program, the No. 27 ranked player in the country by Perfect Game, after teams were not willing to match his asking price.
In total USC lost only one player to the draft off this year’s signing class.
“They put a price tag up there that was going to take a whole heck of a lot for them to not come to South Carolina,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “The draft has been relatively kind to us this year.”
While Carolina kept its recruiting class mostly intact, the Gamecocks did lose underclassmen Braden Webb, Dom Thompson-Williams, Gene Cone, Taylor Widener and Matt Vogel to the pros.
All Gamecocks drafted other than Crowe, who was coming off an injury, signed pro contracts.
“It was nice to see our draft eligible players have an opportunity to start their careers. We try like crazy to put them in a position to where they can enjoy professional success,” Holbrook said.
Cortes is a recruit who has a chance to come in and immediately earn a spot in the lineup, replacing one of the underclassmen outfielders who left early. He could also get a look at second base.
“Carlos is one of the more gifted hitters in the country at the high school level,” Holbrook said. “We recruited him to be a middle of the lineup hitter for us and he certainly has the talent and ability to do that. We worked awfully hard to recruit him.”