Prep Baseball Report

Digging In: Recent Commitments Show That Young Pups Don't Need To Be In A Rush

By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

Last week senior RHP Landon Leach (Pickering HS, ON), who’s No. 21 in the recently updated 2017 overall rankings, committed to the University of Texas. The athletically built 6-foot-4, 205-pounder isn’t a late-bloomer, either. I’ve seen three outings of his in less than a year, and each time he’s been 90-plus with, it seems, more in the tank.

As a junior, Leach was a long, athletic and loose 89-90 at the Ontario ProCase in front of 30-plus major-league scouts. Last June, Leach worked his fastball 90-93 with a much-improved low-80s slider at the Under Armour Classic for the Toronto Mets. Less than a month ago, in Jupiter, he pitched at 92-93, and showed more polish in his delivery.

To be sure, Leach wasn’t some buried treasure hiding out in the catacombs of Canada.

Around the same time, left-handed hitting senior SS Dondrae Bremner (Bill Crothers Secondary, ON) committed to Cincinnati. Ranked No. 94 overall and No. 3 in Ontario, Bremner is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound athlete with fluid actions. He’s a 6.7 runner, 86 across the infield, has a flat, balanced left-handed swing with easy bat speed and considerable upside. My guess is he will be a high-round draft out of Cincinnati.

Two weeks ago, senior OF Conner Uselton (Southmoore HS, OK) committed to Oklahoma State. Uselton has long established himself as one of the premier draft prospects in the 2017 class. Ranked No. 8 in the PBR overall 2017 list, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Uselton competed in the Under Armour All-America Game and USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars, to name a few, last summer. With his size, frame, athleticism and power potential, he could be the next Jayson Werth, sans the beard.

I don’t know the specifics of any of the above scholarship packages, but with all three of their profiles, I can guarantee they weren’t offered a bag of Doritos and a wink to commit to their respective school. My guess is there was a substantial scholarship offer extended. Granted, some, or all three, may not make it to campus, for one reason or another. Still, last I checked, fully funded Division 1 programs are working with 11.7 scholarships, however creative one gets with the finances.

Right around the same time as the three “late” 2017 commitments, I received an email from a PBR Midwest Scouting Director about an eighth-grader who apparently was ready to get the college process over. He had taken some unofficial visits, talked it over with his parents, and he was ready.

There’s no denying this player is advanced for his age, well beyond the level of most eighth-graders. But he’s in eighth grade. I have no research data behind this statistic, but I’d say 99.999 percent of every eighth grader in the country, athlete or non-athlete, can’t even completely wrap their minds around going to high school the following year, much less going to college in five years.

Yet, if you scroll through The Buzz every Friday, which recaps the week’s commitments across all states, you will see more and more 2021s (that’s eighth grade) and 2020s pledging their allegiances to major universities.

It’s insane.

Neither the offering party nor the receiving party of this non-binding verbal exchange can look each other in the eye and possibly begin to guess what they will look like, or where they will be, in four or five years.

There’s no point to committing that young. There’s no benefit to the player. He has no more, or no less, security prior to his verbal commitment. Security comes when he signs his national letter of intent his senior year.

Here’s the thing about security, or, in the baseball world, about earning a scholarship. It comes down to ability, and the right athletic and academic fit. Period. It’s impossible to know that as an eighth-grader or freshman.

Because the bottom line is, no matter how late it is, if a player is good, competitive programs will always find scholarship money, as was the case in Leach, Bremner and Uselton recently. Even late in the spring season, big programs are still shopping for senior prospects, for one reason or another. It happens every year.

It was only four years ago that the recruiting frenzy happened the summer heading into a player’s senior year. That’s when all the attention was turned to the next recruiting class. Before that, I remember in 2006, the Illinois Player of the Year, Connor Powers, didn’t commit until midway through his senior season. Powers went on to Mississippi State, led the SEC in home runs for a season, and was a two-time draft pick.

Look, I completely understand why the process has accelerated. It makes sense to recruit juniors, possibly pluck some of the high-end sophomores late in the year. But I don’t see the competitive advantage, from either the player’s or coach’s perspectives, to recruiting, offering, and ultimately a player accepting a scholarship offer when he’s in, or recently graduated from, junior high.  

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