The ones who came before Dylan Collins told the Lovejoy senior to be patient. With his swing, and an arm that made him marketable as a third baseman and relief pitcher, all Collins had to do was put that ability on display and college offers would come, they told him.
“It was kind of a trust-the-process idea,” Collins said. “Just go step-by-step, and eventually the dominos will knock down to where you want them to be.”
Over a month into his senior season, Collins still hasn’t found a college baseball home. That’s because the process he hoped to trust has been altered in ways he couldn’t have predicted.
The high school baseball recruiting scene has always been an example of organized chaos. College interest is based on what a roster is expected to look like, and scholarships — an allotted 11.7 full scholarships per Division I roster — are divided to varying degrees. In addition, top high school players are often drafted by Major League Baseball and never show up to the school with which they signed, making college rosters — even under normal circumstances — a bit of a mystery.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. High school and college baseball seasons were canceled, and the NCAA offered an extra year of eligibility at the college level to spring-sport athletes.
The pandemic, plus subsequent rule changes to combat it, had an immediate effect on high school baseball recruiting. A year later, that continues.
“I think every facet of the recruiting world has been affected by it,” said Phil Haig, the Texas scouting director for Prep Baseball Report and a former college baseball player and coach.
Cole Hill learned that immediately. The former Richardson Berkner outfielder was described by his high school coach, J.P. Tovar, as a five-tool prospect. In November 2019, Hill signed to play baseball at New Mexico.
Last May, two months after the NCAA granted extra eligibility and other roster changes, Hill was told there wouldn’t be enough money left over for his scholarship. He instead grabbed a spot at Cisco Junior College.
“I had a plan, and I knew what I was going to do,” Hill said, “and when that changed, it kind of threw me off-guard. I didn’t really have a backup plan.”
After that, he decided to make multiple backup plans.
Plan No. 1: Go to Cisco, put up huge numbers and maybe get drafted after one year.
Plan No. 2: The same as the first, but instead of going professional, maybe end up at a Division I college after one year — just like he planned in high school.
Plan No. 3: Come back to Cisco for another year and develop as a baseball player, “if the first two plans didn’t go as I wanted to,” Hill said.
Hill realized the first two plans would be hard to accomplish when he arrived at Cisco. Because of eligibility rules, there were not only more returning players than expected, but also Division I transfers and freshmen who signed with Division I schools only to end up at the junior college level instead, just like he did.
“There’s a ton of talent,” Hill said. “Especially this year.”
And possibly for the years to come. Coaches and scouts in the baseball community have seen a trickle-down effect from the NCAA’s rulings on eligibility and roster sizes — mandates that are expected to run through 2022. The MLB draft was also shortened last year from 40 rounds to five, meaning hundreds of players who could’ve potentially started their professional careers instead ended up on college rosters for this year.
In the 2020 class, 30 players in the Dallas area signed early with junior colleges. In 2021, there were nearly 50.
“Your Division 1 guys, five years ago, are now going Division II, Division III, and junior college,” Plano John Paul II coach Kyle Hay said. “And if you are a junior college [type talent], you’re having a hard time finding a place to go to school.”
It could be that way for a while, Haig believes, especially with a potential NCAA ruling allowing one-time transfers – another new factor for baseball recruiting – looms.
“It’s been different and difficult, but ultimately it’ll be fine,” Haig said. “And people will be where they need to be in terms of their baseball lives when the sun comes up.”
Before the pandemic ended last season, Lovejoy’s Collins was making a case to be recruited. He had 10 hits in 27 at-bats (.370 batting average) and had 6 RBIs. He had seven strikeouts in five innings pitched, allowing no runs with a fastball that was touching 90 mph and sitting in the high 80s, head coach Jason Wilson said.
“I really thought he was going to have a chance to lock something down by the summer,” Wilson said.
Instead, Collins entered his senior season without any college baseball offers.
There are multiple reasons. From a baseball recruiting sense, Collins is a late-blooming prospect. Most big-time recruits get offers during their freshman and sophomore year. Collins’ junior season looked like it was going to be a breakout one before the pandemic cut it short.
Also because of the pandemic, in-person recruiting has either been limited or nonexistent. College coaches like to see players before they offer them scholarships, but this year a lot of recruiting has happened digitally. It can be hard for players to convince coaches who are already juggling the mystery of future roster sizes and scholarship money that they should make a scholarship offer over Zoom.
“If you’re giving a kid a scholarship, you want to make sure you know and you’ve got a chance to see them,” Wilson said. “So it was all understandable why everything was delayed.”
In the fall, Collins said he had to be honest with himself about where his baseball future stood. Under normal circumstances, that was a time period where late-blooming recruits would garner college interest. Instead, Collins has had to generate a lot of his own college interest.
Collins said either one of both of his parents has attended every one of his games this season. He’s tasked each of them with taking video of him on defense, at the plate, and on the mound. He’s hitting .300 again and has two saves and 10 strikeouts in eight innings pitched, so his parents have already captured plenty of highlights.
After each game, Collins said he’ll have his parents AirDrop the files to him. He’ll go on iMovie and edit video highlights. He’ll then email them to college coaches and hope it piques their interest.
“If you sent a lot of emails out, it’s almost as if you get lucky if coaches checked their email or not,” Collins said. “If they check their email that day, something that small can have a huge impact.”
So far, Collins has gotten interest from a few Division II schools, but it’s not the recruiting experience he originally expected before the pandemic. It’s affected every facet of recruiting, especially his, but for now he’s going to keep playing and hope for the best. He’s going to trust a process that looks completely different than it was for those before him.
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