Go to the camps and set foot on the campuses of the colleges or universities that you’re interested in. Meet the coaching staff, spend some time with them; it’s the first time in your life that you’ll get the opportunity to choose who you’re going to play for.
Another one is technology. Unlike 15 years ago, you have e-mail, texts, applications on the cell phone or iPad, YouTube and video. You have instant access to grab a coach’s attention at any university in the United States. Persistence is probably the biggest key there. We get to see so many players in showcases and traveling around all year, but there’s a lot of players that we need to be refreshed or reminded on.
Know the list of schools you’re interested in. Make sure you have the talent and the academics to play at that institution.
I’m looking for a guy that plays catch as soon as the ball comes out of his hand. Just warming up, as soon as the ball comes out of his hand pure and you can just tell that the guy’s going to be able to throw well and have location and whatnot. You kind of ‘notice’ those players before you know you notice them. You walk into a park and they’re wearing their uniform correctly, they’re stretching, they’re on time, they’re playing catch properly, they’re wearing their hat properly- you notice those guys right from the beginning. Then they get on the field and they play and they perform and there it is; there’s a recruited player that instantly starts to get involved and starts to go through the process.
Dave Esquer, Cal
I think the standards still remain; we still collect letters and e-mails for that pertinent information, but you're looking for some reputable baseball people that can speak on their behalf. Recruiting services obviously are going to speak highly of every player, but if there's one or two reputable baseball people- a high school coach, a scout in the area, someone who's seen him- then it's up for us to do our homework and find out if the guy is a good player or a good player, because there's a difference.
You've got to be able to have some touch and feel for the people you respect, just to find out that information. If a coach is going to say 'this is the best shortstop I've had in my 25 years of coaching,' a lot of other coaches are going to listen! That just doesn't translate as well on paper.
We're gotten away from utilizing high school coaches as much as we used to, and I think that's a big mistake. We go straight to that travel ball, showcase, BP and ground balls, which can eliminate that coach telling us things like 'this guy is a gamer' or 'this guy's one of the best players I've coached.'
Mitch Gaspard, Alabama
For one, you have to identify what you’re looking for. Whether that’s baseball, academically, or socially, what’s important to you? From there, you have to identify the programs that best fit what you’re looking for. Then you have to make yourself available to those programs, whether it’s doing the camps, reaching out to those schools, etc.
There are so many showcases and so many summer opportunities, it’s just mind-boggling. We’re trying to figure out all of those things daily, and I can’t even answer it anymore, there’s so many. But I think really it comes down to what you’re looking for, what best fits your personality and your needs for development throughout your four years.
After that, you’ve got to be aggressive to find the right fit for yourself. We tell every recruit that comes through here that whether it’s the University of Alabama, or a mid-major, or a small school: it’s the people that you surround yourself with that are going to make the difference for your growth. To me that’s the most important thing, the people you’re around. It’s not how big the stadium is, how many fans show up at the games, but it’s the people around you every day, because that’s what’s going to mold and create you into the man that you’re going to become.
Brian Green, New Mexico State
I think video is everything. As much information that’s sent our way all the time, emails, letters, etc.- we want to see video. My recommendation is to get video, to have it handy in terms of a side view, a front view, for hitters and pitchers. Having video readily available is going to get the coach to pick up the phone or come watch you play.
George Horton, Oregon
The first thing you look at is ability, and then you look for intangibles like competitiveness and hustle. The things that make a good team great are players that can interact with their coaching staff and their teammates. Taking that a step further, how they conduct themselves when they fail is important. Everyone can be a good guy when they're winning and it's going well, but the true measure of a man's character is how you behave when you get knocked on your rear end.
Rich Hill, San Diego
YouTube is a great avenue. The more video – QUALITY video – that we can get on guys, the better. If I get a call, a text, a personal e-mail from a coach or scout that I know that can really break down the young man's ability and character, that's the best way. Like anything else, if you’ve got a sponsor you can trust, that's still the best way with coaches.
Like everyone, we get bombarded with e-mails. I can't tell you how many hundreds of e-mails I get a year that say "Dear Coach, I want to play at your school." You dismiss those immediately. The other ones that you get from a personal connection, a personal relationship? You really dive into those.
Stephen Kirkpatrick, Christian Brothers University
Figure out what level you want to play on; D1, D2, etc. Then speak to coaches or current players at that level to figure out what skills are required. If you have those skills, then go and showcase them. If not, do everything you can to develop those skills. All the showcases and select teams will not do you any good if you do not have the right level of ability.
Kyle Peterson, ESPN analyst
The best thing anyone ever said to me during the recruiting process was when Dean Stotz told me, “Go to the place you want to be if baseball doesn’t work out.” I think too often, the only thing that kids look at is baseball. I don’t care how good of a player you are in high school; you have no idea what’s going to happen in college- from an ability standpoint, from an injury standpoint and any of the other unknowns.
I think one of the things that gets overlooked the most is everything aside from baseball. If you can separate baseball out of the equation as one of the pros or cons, if you can say ‘this is a place where I want to go even if baseball doesn’t work out,’ then I think it makes the decision a lot easier.
Dave Serrano, Tennessee
What a lot of people don't understand in the recruiting process are the needs of our program. If we don't need a second basemen, he could be the best player at that position, but we don't have a need for it. A lot of times people get offended that we don't think they're good enough, but that's not the case. It's like going to a store- if I don't need shirts and I'm only buying pants, it doesn't mean I didn't like any of the shirts, I just don't need them at this time, I don't have money for shirts right now.
We look for hustle. How passionate they are. How they deal with failure. I tell kids all the time that it's not about going 4-for-4 or throwing 90, it's about skill level. I trust our system and our coaching ability, so it isn't about results; if I recruited guys that went 4-for-4 every time I saw them, I wouldn't have a team. It's about how they take at-bats, how they're running 90 feet down the line, how they go back to the dugout and get with their teammates when they fail, how they compete on the mound when they're pitching.
It's important to talk to high school coaches and guys that are around [our recruits] every day, to see how they are in the classroom, on the field, how they are as a teammate, as a person. Another thing that's vital is that when kids sit in the office and I'm talking to them about our program, if a kid's not looking me in the eyes, I have a tough time recruiting him. If he's having a hard time looking me in the eye when I'm giving him information he should be drooling over, how is he going to respond when we're out on the field doing tough things?
I want kids that are passionate to come play for this university and this coaching staff, more than the kid that's passionate about how big his scholarship is and how many chances they're going to get to play here; those don't work out as much as the kids that don't care how much you're giving him, they just want to go out and show you that he's worthy of being a part of your program.
Rob Smith, Ohio
You really have to find guys that believe in what you’re trying to do when you’re building a program. When we’re trying to recruit, we put a premium on the kids that will show some investment in us: they’re willing to make that unofficial visit, come to a camp, come watch you play. I think that says a lot if a kid and his family are willing to invest their time, gas money, maybe the hotel room and food cost, to come invest in you and look at your program. Especially when you’re trying to figure out how and where you’re going to spend the recruiting dollars to go out and see a kid play, I think it is good to know that [the player] has also invested time and/or money into the process of learning about your program. It certainly is a very important aspect of how we’re recruiting kids.