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.
Today, the reality of college baseball recruiting is that it's all about the baseball showcase.
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 Ken Knutston.
"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 artificial.
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."