Throughout the recruiting process, high school players will need to determine which schools they would like to target. Players successfully finding a college to play at can depend largely on them targeting the right school. There is a fine line between players selling themselves short and focusing on schools that may be out of reach for their talent level.
Players need to have a good amount of self-awareness when entering the recruiting process. Without it, it can result in missed opportunities and a waste of money. For players that are truly serious about playing college baseball, it’s important to leave their egos at the door and set realistic expectations.
When players are in the middle of their high school careers, it can be difficult to gauge their talent level when it comes to their potential to play in college. In this article, we are going to discuss how to begin making these assessments and how to narrow one’s focus during the recruiting process.
Understanding the Different Levels of College Baseball
After deciding that playing college baseball is their goal, players should educate themselves on the different levels of college baseball. Schools that participate in collegiate athletics belong to one of three organizations; the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA. The NCAA and NJCAA both have 3 divisions within the respective organization and the NAIA has one. Most players are familiar with NCAA Division 1 as this is the ultimate goal for many. However, the reality is most high school athletes will not be future NCAA Division 1 athletes, but that does not mean their opportunity to play in college stops there.
Check out our article: The Difference Between D1, D2, & D3 College Baseball
Understanding that there are many options in college baseball can help players determine where they fit in athletically and academically. Players are often quick to pass on any opportunities other than at Division 1 school, which is okay if that is what is most important to a player, but there are very good college baseball programs in all divisions and in each organization. Playing baseball in college can be a humbling experience at any level, so players should not quickly write off a school based strictly on which division they compete at. We encourage players to explore all of the options and then begin to narrow down their search.
How to Compare Yourself to Other Players
Factors such as high school size, location, and age can make it difficult for players to develop a good understanding of how their talent level compares to other players seeking to play at the college level. The more exposed players can get to other players outside of their high school or summer team can help this a lot.
Showcases & Prospect Camps
Everyone attending a showcase or prospect camp is serious about playing college baseball. They are focused on the process and take active steps to find a school to play at. While talent level at showcases and prospect camps can certainly vary, it is a great starting point for players to see how they stack up against other players with similar goals.
Summer Ball Teams
Summer travel teams are a great way for players to compete against players from different high school divisions and even different regions of the country. Depending on the size and location of a player’s high school, the level of competition may be tough to use to compare against all high schoolers. Summer travel teams give players that go to small high schools an especially great opportunity to compete against talented players.
Just like showcases, training facilities usually attract the best and most dedicated players who are taking their careers seriously. Training facilities also attract a lot of current college players who may be home for a holiday break or the summer. Being around other hard-working and talented players will not only help players understand how they compare, but they are also putting themselves in an environment to challenge themselves and get better.
Watching College Games
It may sound obvious, but simply watching college games can give players a much better idea of the talent it takes to play at various levels. Most players watch Division 1 games on TV but have never seen a Division 3 or NAIA game. Taking the time to go watch a game at one of these schools is probably one of the best ways to see firsthand the talent level and what it takes to play there.
Narrowing the Search Based on Talent
We would never want to discourage a player from dreaming big. Every player should have high standards for themselves and have big goals. However, when it comes to finding a college baseball program, having unrealistic goals might turn into missed opportunities and players might find themselves without any school to play at. For example, if a Division 3 type player is focusing all of their efforts on top-tier Division 1 schools, they will likely never find an opportunity with a Division 1 school, and missed their chance to go play at a Division 3 school because they choose not to consider it.
Casting a wide net at the beginning of the recruiting process is certainly okay, but as players begin to have a better understanding of their talent level and where they potentially fit in, it’s important to narrow down some options. We would recommend that players still pursue schools they are interested in even if they aren’t perfectly aligned with what they think their talent level is, but focus more heavily on the ones that do align. For example, let’s say a player wants to narrow a list down to 10 schools to focus on and they are Division 2 type of talent. They could focus on 2 Division 1 schools, 6 Division 2 schools, and 2 Division 3 schools. There aren’t any distinct lines in talent level across divisions, so players shouldn’t necessarily limit themselves to a particular one, but it is still good to narrow the overall search to make the most out of the recruiting process.
Shifting Focus Throughout the Process
Another factor players should take into consideration is where they are in their high school career, and understanding the possible options. Early in high school, the possibilities are wide open. Most college coaches begin to seriously look at high school players during their sophomore and junior years, and aim to sign high schoolers during their junior year. This means that by the time a player is a senior, they need to be aware that many colleges may be close to done recruiting for their class. That’s not to say a school won’t sign a senior, it definitely happens, but the numbers aren’t in a player’s favor.
At this point, playing college baseball is certainly still on the table, but it is going to be important that a player considers all of their options. Division 3 and NJCAA schools are far more likely to still be looking for good high school players into their senior year. If a player was focused on Division 1 school only and does not seem to be receiving any attention into their senior year, it’s probably time to consider other schools that would be a good fit.