Making a college commitment for high school baseball players can be stressful and dictate their future in the game of baseball. There are several routes that a player can take, including; NCAA (DI, DII, DIII), NAIA, and the NJCAA. I will be the first to tell you that I am a firm believer in junior college baseball being a way to develop baseball players physically, mentally, and socially.
Reason 1: Playing Time and Development
Junior college rosters are full of 18 to 20 year olds, and a player may get twice as many at bats or innings versus choosing a D-I school. This gives the player an opportunity to develop by playing the game more frequently. Consider a player that is physically not as developed as those around him, yet he is still a great athlete and player. Going to a junior college allows for the player to develop physically through training and maturational processes. Being a late bloomer is not always a downfall.
Reason 2: Ease of Recruiting
The number of rules and regulations for junior college recruiting is far less than that of a NCAA school. Coaches of junior colleges can contact players more frequently, building relationships early in the recruiting process. The rules allow for players to openly workout with junior college teams. In my experiences, I had the opportunity to take batting practice and play intersquad games with several junior colleges. You don’t have to rely on showcases to be seen!
Reason 3: Caliber of Competition
Although there aren’t as many bells and whistles that come with playing at a junior college, the competition is high enough to prepare players to advance to the next level (4-year or even draft). In fact, an average of 25% of players drafted every year come from junior colleges. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing junior college competition is not up to par.
Reason 4: Cheap Tuition
In Missouri, tuition can be as little as $75 a credit hour. Getting rewarded with a scholarship is nice, but it should not always be the driving factor in choosing a program.
Reason 5: Academics
I’m probably not the first to make this statement, but you won’t find many junior college academics that will rival Harvard or Yale. For some athletes, this is a positive and it allows them to adapt to college academics a little easier. Some athletes prioritize education as number one, so junior college may not be an option. Some players’ high school grades are not up to par for NCAA schools and may be seen as an academic liability. Junior college allows players to establish a solid academic transcript to put them in a position to transfer to a four-year school.
Reason 6: Fewer Distractions
Junior colleges are not always placed in cities and areas that would be considered a desirable location to live. I played at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri. Hillsboro is a town of 2,000 people, in the middle of nowhere. The distractions were lessened and I was able to focus on baseball. Furthermore, consider the population of students. Most students commute to junior colleges, making campus life less distracting. Imagine the difficulties of an 18 year old attending a huge university in the SEC. I’d be willing to bet that there would be a few distractions for that player.
Reason 7: Availability of Junior Colleges
In Missouri and Kansas alone, there are dozens of junior colleges with baseball programs. Players have the option to stay local, which could contribute to their comfort level and adjusting to the college climate.
Reason 8: Life After Junior College
Players have several options after junior college. Maybe the draft and NCAA Division I schools were not an option out of high school, but in a two year span that player may be able to reach his goal. Recall Bryce Harper, who graduated high school early to enter a junior college in order to be draft eligible at age 17. If you hit 500 foot homeruns as a teenager, this may be an option. Otherwise, enjoy high school.
Having played at Jefferson College and experienced the junior college scene, I may be a little biased in being a proponent this route. However, I can say that the two-year span was the best two years of my life, and I had the opportunity to play with and against several professional players and All-Americans. If you’re a high school player, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call a junior college coach. I’d be willing to bet they would not turn down a prospective player from working out with the team and visiting the campus.