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MCGILL: As World Series Shows, College Baseball Is Way To Go

Oct. 31, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The information was not a curveball to Marshall baseball coach Jeff Waggoner.

When the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers began, 33 former college players were on those two active rosters, and another six former college players would have been if they had not been injured.

That statistic gives Waggoner a little more punch on the recruiting trail. He isn’t simply trying to out-recruit other college baseball programs, but he wants big league aspirants to understand that the best path to the majors is development in the collegiate ranks.

“You’re going to have first round picks like Carlos Correa who are freaks out of high school,” Waggoner said, “but it’s so hard to go out of high school and think you’re going to make it.”

On Major League Baseball’s Opening Day of this season, players from four-year colleges made up 43.8 percent of the rosters. International players were represented the next highest with 26.5 percent of roster spots. High school draft picks comprised of 23.9 percent of rosters, and 5.8 percent came from two-year colleges.

It did not surprise Waggoner that the final two teams standing have lineups, rotations and bullpens full of former college players. There are exceptions, of course, like former No. 1 overall pick Correa or the once-overlooked Jose Altuve, but the list is long otherwise.

Game 1 starter Dallas Keuchel, breakout star George Springer, Game 5 hero Alex Bregman and veteran starter Justin Verlander are among 17 former college players on the Astros.

Third baseman Justin Turner, pitcher Alex Wood, pitcher Rich Hill and emerging star Chris Taylor are among 16 former players on the Dodgers’ roster.

“The importance of development goes in so many different ways,” Waggoner said. “It’s your academics, it’s mental, it’s social life. It’s every aspect of life. All of those things help mold you into a big league player. It’s about being successful in professional baseball, not just being talented.”

Marshall has a proven track record of developing talent for the majors, including when high school draft picks turn down that opportunity and head to Huntington. One example, Aaron Blair, was a 21st-round draft pick out of Las Vegas’ Spring Valley High School in 2010, and turned into a first round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks after a brilliant collegiate career at Marshall.

There are examples of players competing in this World Series who were drafted out of high school, chose to attend college and used that experience as a springboard to a higher draft pick. Springer was chosen in Round 48 out of high school, but elevated himself to a first round. Bregman went in the 29th round in 2012, but went in the first round (second overall) after college. Rookie Derek Fisher was a sixth round pick out of high school, but turned down the opportunity because he thought the college route would better prepare him for professional baseball.

“I felt like I wasn’t really ready for it as a person,” Fisher told in August. “I was 17, and I wouldn’t have gotten here without going to college.”

Waggoner has recruited and developed 34 players who have been drafted or signed to play professional baseball. He knows college is the best path for the majority of high school-aged players with big league ambitions, and the numbers back him up.

“There are a lot of guys drafted every year who are talented, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make the big leagues,” Waggoner said. “What separates them? They are better prepared by going to college, and we have proven here that can we develop players and prepare them for that journey.”