By Dana Heiss Grodin
USA TODAY Sports Weekly
When it comes to recruiting potential college athletes, the popular belief used to be
that if a ballplayer were good enough to play Division I baseball, he'd get discovered
no matter where he played. That was years ago, when most college coaches relied on
recommendations from scouts or high school coaches to identify potential recruits.
Miami discovered left-hander J.D. Cockroft, a California native, at their Christmas baseball
Today, the reality of college baseball recruiting is that it's all about the baseball
Since the Area Code Games showcase launched in California in 1987, the concept of bringing
an area's top prospects together in one location and having them play games for an audience
of college recruiters and professional scouts has transformed the way colleges identify and
track future scholar athletes.
There are plenty of showcases to choose from, starting with the prestigious Area Code
Games, Perfect Game, Team One Showcase and The East Coast Professional Showcase. These
may not be familiar tournaments to the casual fan, but these events are a must-see for
recruiters and pro scouts because of the top talent they draw.
Even regional showcases and local tryouts for national events attract dozens of colleges
looking for talent.
While a showcase can cost a player hundreds of dollars in travel expenses and participation
fees, parents say the cost is nominal compared to the invaluable exposure it generates.
"The kids are seen by so many schools if they are at a showcase," Cal State Fullerton
assistant coach Dave Serrano said. "They'll leave one, then the next week they'll get
calls from 30-40 coaches. His price will go up (for scholarship money) because so many
schools have seen him."
The biggest difference in scouting and recruiting from 10-15 years ago is the exposure
of the players on a national level because of these showcases, said Washington head coach
"There is more competition with schools from all over the country," Knutson said. "It's
harder to turn over a rock and find someone because he might end up at a showcase."
As the showcase industry continues to grow, however, coaches caution players to be selective
when choosing which showcases to attend.
"I think we're asking kids to do too much in regard to showcases," Serrano said. "Too many
of these so-called showcases are becoming just moneymakers for the people putting them on."
Other sources coaches use to find players include summer leagues, scout referrals, campus
baseball camps and even online recruiting services.
Miami assistant coach Gino DiMare travels all summer looking for future Hurricanes but
found his ace, J.D. Cockroft, closer to home one winter.
"We have guys from everywhere that are here," DiMare said. "J.D. Cockroft is from California,
and I didn't know much about him at all until he came to our Christmas camp."
With a team that's 95% Washington state natives, Knutson and his staff prefer recruiting
close to home. Though the Huskies find most of their players through more than 1,000
recommendations and inquiries received each year, his staff will still travel to a major
showcase just to have a presence there if a player from the Northwest is participating.
Another major change for college recruiting over the past decade is that players are
verbally committing to schools earlier than ever. Many incoming seniors will select a
college during the summer before making a single official visit.
Some coaches view players signing early as a positive, because it shortens the amount of
time spent recruiting that player. "Recruiting has changed in the last five years and has
become much more intense and thorough," Notre Dame assistant coach David Grewe said. "I
believe that if our program is going to maintain a top-15 recruiting class year in and
year out, then I need to spend two hours a day on our recruiting efforts."
"If you don't get out there and work, you lose out on getting the top talent for your
program," said Randy Hood, recruiting coordinator for North Carolina-Wilmington. "It is
very seldom you will find kids late in their senior season."
Like Hood and Knutston, University of Minnesota assistant coach Rob Fornasiere heavily
recruits local talent. He said he sometimes finds showcase events to be predictable and
Jewels do exist outside of showcases, Fornasiere said. One such player was C.J. Woodrow,
the Big 10 Pitcher of the Year last season. Woodrow was a walk-on who didn't commit to
the Gophers until a month after graduating from high school. Now he needs only 20 strikeouts
to break a 49-year-old school record.
"The lesson in recruiting," Fornasiere said, "is that you have to turn over a lot of
rocks before you find a pearl, and you never know where that pearl may lie."