If freshmen have already decided to pursue the opportunity to play college baseball, their main focus should be building a solid athletic and academic foundation. Doing so will prevent you from limiting your options down the road.
Freshman year is a big adjustment and a jump in competition for many athletes. While it is important to prepare for the recruiting process as early as possible, college baseball will just be a pipe dream without the necessary grades and on-the-field abilities. A strong work ethic and training regimen should be the priority for freshmen looking to have a successful high school career that can turn into opportunities to play in college.
With a heavy emphasis on continued academic and athletic growth, these are the steps high school freshmen should take to prepare themselves for the college baseball recruiting process. The steps are broken out into three categories; academics, athletics, and research:
1. Take the Right Classes
Students should communicate with their guidance counselors about their desire to play college baseball. Guidance counselors will be the best source of direction and will know the most up-to-date requirements of the NCAA Eligibility Center.
The NCAA Eligibility Center sets standards for high school academic performance required to play NCAA athletics. There are “core classes” that every student must complete while meeting a certain GPA requirement in these classes in order to be eligible.
Before signing up for classes, students should check with their guidance counselor to make sure they are taking the correct classes and staying on track to meet the requirements. Understanding the requirements early and setting up a plan can help prevent the need to play catch-up later in a student’s high school career.
2. Maintain the Highest GPA Possible
Setting the foundation for a solid GPA starts with the very first set of classes for freshmen. If students slack off in the classroom, it can make it difficult to make up for this later on and potentially limit their chances to play college baseball.
It is likely that student will be taking harder classes towards the end of high school, so going into those classes with a strong GPA can provide a lot of cushion and keep the recruiting process relatively stress free on the academic side of things.
3. Learn to Balance School and Sports
Freshman year is often the first real test when it comes to balancing academics and sports. It may take some trial and error, but students need to actively work to find solutions to maximize their dedication in the classroom as well as continuing their athletic development.
College baseball is extremely difficult to balance with school, and learning these skills early on will certainly pay off for students in the future. If students are passionate and dedicated to playing college baseball this may mean sacrificing other aspects of their life such as social events.
1. Play Fall Ball & Find a Summer Team
As mentioned earlier, along with academics, improving on the field is one of the most important priorities of freshman year. Finding a competitive fall ball team to play on can help prepare players for the high school season. It will help them get used to using a -3 bat, and playing against good competition can help identify weaknesses that need to be focused on during the offseason.
Summer ball tryouts are usually held during the previous fall season. Players that are serious about playing college baseball should aim to play in a reputable summer ball program that is playing in highly competitive tournaments. Rec ball or non-competitive summer ball teams are perfectly fine to play on up until this point, but it is important to be playing against good competition and on a larger scale during high school.
A good summer ball program will often have an off-season training facility available to players and other resources that can help in the college recruiting process. It is not absolutely necessary to play on a competitive summer ball, but it is highly recommended.
2. Find a Good Off-Season Training Program
Off-season training programs are often available through summer ball or high school programs. In the case that there is not, it is recommended that players work with a trusted coach to identify a training program specific to their strengths and weakness that will help them develop as a player.
The off-season is the time to make big mechanical adjustments, build off strengths, and develop as an overall athlete. Players don’t need top-notch facilities to make this happen. A basement, garage, or local field will suffice. The offseason is when players can really separate themselves from the competition and players should take every opportunity possible to continue improving their skills year-round.
3. Join a Strength & Conditioning Program
The off-season is not just a time to improve baseball-specific skills but is also a time to hit the weight room hard. Strength and speed are two qualities every college scout likes to see, and starting early in high school can help build the necessary foundation to become a head-turning athlete.
Freshmen are at all different stages of physical maturation, so some may not see the improvements that more physically advanced athletes do, but learning proper lifting form, recovery, and mobility can help players maximize their training in later years.
4. Perform Well in the High School Season
The number one rule when it comes to recruiting is “you never know who is watching.” Most of the time, college scouts are not looking too closely at freshmen, and are more focused on their upcoming recruiting classes for the next year or two. However, it is never too early to catch the eye of a scout. At every level and age, players should practice playing the game hard on every single pitch and carrying themselves in a professional manner.
We wrote an article titled College Scouts Don’t Care About High School Stats, which highlights why success and ability shouldn’t be measured solely on high school statistics. Players should take a holistic approach to measure the success of their season and shouldn’t be too fixated on stats.
5. Self-Evaluation and Summer Ball
After the high school season, it is a good time to take a step back and perform a self-evaluation. A common theme in the articles we write is preaching that players need to develop a sense of self-awareness and become students of their own game. Ultimately players that are self-sufficient and able to coach themselves are going to have the best chance at long-term success.
A self-evaluation can consist of identifying strengths and weaknesses and also taking note of how players compare to their competition. This can be a good starting point for developing an off-season plan, and also to begin the process of identifying the schools and levels in college baseball they would like to pursue.
Research & Recruiting
1. Learn About the Levels of College Baseball
Many high school freshmen aren’t aware of all the different levels and divisions of college baseball. By understanding the difference between Division 1, 2, and 3, as well as knowing the options and opportunities in JUCO baseball, players can better identify which types of school they want to focus on in the future.
It is also encouraged that players go to some local college baseball games at all of the different levels. This is the best way to see firsthand the abilities necessary to play college baseball. It also gives players a look into the different levels in terms of school size and facilities.
2. Create a Prospect Video
Players will likely have multiple iterations of their prospect video throughout their high school career. As their strength and speed increase, mechanics improve, and overall size and athleticism mature, they will want to regularly update their prospect video.
Prospect videos can be DIY or showcases will often put together a video as part of the event. What is equally as important as a prospect video, is knowing the metrics college coaches look at first. Measurements like throwing velocity, exit velocity, and 60-yard dash times are the most common things college coaches evaluate first, and something they will want to see in a prospect video.
By creating a prospect video, or at least testing these skills, players can begin to see how they stack up compared to the numbers college coaches look for. This can identify weaknesses that players should focus on improving.
3. Have a General Understanding of the Recruiting Process and Timeline
There are many rules and regulations when it comes to college recruiting, such as when coaches can contact players, when visits can occur, and when offers can be made. It is important to be aware of these rules and understand that college coaches will be following them.
For the most up-to-date rules and regulations, be sure to follow official press releases and reputable sources. The NSCA keeps a regularly updated summary of the rules that apply to the baseball recruiting process.
These rules will come more into play in the next three years of high school, so they don’t need to be the focus for a freshman. As mentioned many times earlier, the majority of time and effort should be spent on prioritizing good grades and improving as a baseball player.
4. Begin Researching Schools That Might Be of Interest
As a freshman in high school, it can seem early to be already thinking about which college to attend. However, if a player has already determined they want to play baseball in college, it doesn’t hurt to begin developing a list of schools that might be of interest.
Learning about specific schools in different divisions can further help players understand all of the possibilities out there for college baseball.
This list will likely change drastically over a player’s high school career but is a good starting point, especially leading in to their sophomore year. During a player’s sophomore year, we recommended starting their targeted outreach to schools, identifying prospect camps and showcases to attend, and beginning to narrow the focus of their list.
>> Next: Steps to Take Sophomore Year