NCAA Wood Bat Switch: How It Would Change, Help Prospect Development
When Bryce Harper dropped out of high school and got his GED after his sophomore year, many people called him crazy. Why would the youngster skip two of what many call "the best years of your life" to be draft-eligible a year early, especially when he was a practical lock as the first pick no matter when he was first eligible.
Looking back at it—while I don't agree with the choice—it was good decision for his future. Harper played for the College of Southern Nevada, a team in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
Everything seems simple enough, right? What many didn't seem to realize while they were bashing his decision was that the SWAC uses wood bats during their conference games, giving Harper a jump that he didn't need over every other prospect.
Harper shattered every record that the school has, hitting .443/.526/.987 with 31 homers and 98 RBI. Not exactly struggling for the Conference Player of the Year.
All it did was prove that Harper was an elite prospect that wasn't made better than we thought because he was using an aluminum bat.
It also raises this thought for major league scouts: Would it be easier to scout college players if they used wood bats?
Here are some reasons why it would be.
Allows More Growth and Development for Pitchers
While Matt Purke (pictured to the left) throws in the upper-90s, most college pitchers do not. For those guys that throw high-80s-to-low-90s, pitching at the college level can be a pretty tough ordeal.
The aluminum bats give the batters a distinct advantage over the pitchers because of the larger soft spot.
If you throw 92, you can jam a major league hitter if set up properly and cause weak contact with a weak bat. At the college level, throwing inside even if you set the batter up can end with more solid contact, highly increasing the chances of a hit.
The smaller soft spot given by a wood bat would allow pitchers to work on pitching inside, something that not many of them do now. You'd be surprised how many college pitchers don't throw a cutter, simply because using it can put you at a disadvantage.
The cutter is a pitch that Mariano Rivera has made a career off of, and it is rarely used at the college level—something isn't right with that picture.
Allows Scouts To See What Type of Hitter They Are Really Getting
Many college draftees see their careers derailed because they are forced to move away from aluminum bats to the less forgiving wood bats.
Plenty of players that end up making it big at the professional level have had struggles when making the switch from aluminum to wood. While he was not a college draftee, Chipper Jones struggled by hitting just .229 in his first 44 professional games. He's not alone in this.
Great players are going to make it through the difference no matter what; it is the good college players that can fall behind because of the switch.
If they had to use the wood bats at the college level, it would give the players time to adjust before having any pressures put on them by an organization while giving scouts a more realistic look at the high school guy who was known for his power but all of a sudden loses his pop when you put the wood bat in his hands.
Would Make High School Players Go to College at a Higher Rate
While the player pictured left (Tim Beckham) wouldn't have given up the first overall pick money for college, I think that most players picked out of the first few rounds would be more likely.
Yes, this means that they would be leaving money on the table, but wouldn't they perhaps be looking at a significant upgrade if they were able to raise their stock by showing they can still rake with wood bats?
This doesn't always work out, like in the case of University of Georgia outfielder Zach Cone. He was a fifth round selection coming out of high school, went to Georgia and has seen his stock basically stay the same. Nobody doubts his tools, but most are scared off by his lack of consistent production even with the aluminum bats.
I would also think that many didn't think that Harper's stock could get any higher at the age of 16. But by proving that hitting with wood bats was not going to slow him down, I think he solidified himself more than any other 17-year-old could have done at the high school level.
It also would go without saying that they would be getting an education, which is usually forgotten despite the fact that so many players never make it to the big leagues.
College Baseball Would Become Another Minor League Class
As if they needed another class, right?
Much like the Football Bowl Division in a developmental league for the NFL, NCAA baseball would serve as a class under rookie ball, giving all the teams a closer and more realistic look at players before they have to ever give them a dollar.
When you add pitchers looking to go inside more and hitters getting more comfortable with wooden bats, you get what essentially will become another minor league system, though one with a bit more publicity than others.
This wouldn't take anything away from the college game that many schools do love (though not to the same extent of football or basketball); in fact, it could make it more popular.
When many college players get drafted, they start off anywhere from Rookie to High-A ball. If colleges used wooden bats, it may allow some of these college players to possibly start off in AA, or would increase their chances to start off in High-A at any case.
I don't see a negative effect of the switch from a scout's standpoint or a prospect's standpoint. The only knock I could see against the switch would be the cost for bats for the colleges.
Aluminum bats are hard to break or bend without doing it intentionally, but wood bats are fairly easy to break when players get jammed or hit one of the end of a bat. Having to pay to make sure you have enough bats will definitely be a problem for some of the smaller colleges.
Other than that though, everything points to it being a positive.
It may not happen anytime soon, but there have been talks about switching it up and making all schools use wood bats for added safety among other things. It will likely happen at some point though and will work out better for everybody involved.