How do you measure success for an NCAA athletic program? Seems like a question with a simple answer, doesn't it? But as it is with most questions, context plays a crucial role. We will, for purposes of this discussion, ignore the student part of being a student-athlete and restrict ourselves to athletics.
So, let me rephrase the question: With regard to athletics only, how do you measure success for an NCAA athletic program? Even with this restriction, context remains a factor. History is another. Is the answer simply in wins and losses? Championships? Consistency? Players who play professionally? Would your answer differ if the question applied to Maryland women's lacrosse - a program with 12 NCAA Championships as opposed to say, Maryland football which last won a national title in 1953?
I pose these questions because, by most measures, the Maryland Terrapins baseball program is on the cusp of consistent success. Let's take a look at some history for context, shall we?
- Prior to John Szefc's arrival as head coach three years ago, Maryland baseball had won 30 or more games in one season three times and had never won 40 games in a season.
- Since John Szefc's arrival as head coach three years ago, Maryland baseball has won 30 or more games three times and has twice won at least 40 games.
- Prior to John Szefc's arrival, Maryland baseball had a total of three NCAA Tournament appearances - 1965, 1970 and 1971 - never advancing beyond the Regional.
- In John Szefc's three seasons as head coach, Maryland has twice reached the NCAA Tournament (2014 and 2015), both times advancing to the Super Regional - baseball's equivalent of the Sweet Sixteen.
While this list alone indicates some measure of success, the hanging curve of a question is whether this on field performance will be a 1970 and 1971 style blip or whether it has laid the groundwork for consistent success. The example I'm about to cite may be like pouring a bit of salt in an open wound but it is, I think, a valid one.
Before the University of Virginia hired Brian O'Connor as its head coach, the Cavaliers had made three NCAA Tournament appearances coming in 1972, 1985 and 1996. Virginia reached the NCAA Tournament in 2004, O'Connor's first season, and have played in every Tournament since. (It's worth noting that O'Connor and the Cavaliers reached five Regionals before making their first Super Regional in 2009.)
This consistency certainly contributes to defining success and Maryland has taken its first steps to incorporating that element into its program. But it's a question we will need to revisit in four or five or even 10 years.
Slow digging to exhume the lead
Fortunately for me and perhaps less so for my readers, I am a blogger not a journalist and am quite comfortable violating one of journalism's sacred tenets by burying the lead. Because I think context is so important, I have devoted more than 450 words of this story to other aspects of Maryland's achievements with barely a reference to the headline - Maryland's success in the recent Major League Baseball (MLB) draft. And, you will have to absorb yet a bit more context.
First, you must understand that the relationship between MLB and NCAA baseball is different than that of say football and basketball. The NCAA is not the principal minor league for baseball that it is for the other sports I just mentioned.
Few, if any, of the 1,200 plus players drafted over the past three days will make an immediate appearance on a major league roster. In fact, most will toil away in the minor leagues for their entire professional careers. And this will hold true for those who sign contracts directly from high school or from college.
The MLB draft is, by far, the most expansive of any professional sport and players face several decision points. If they choose to attend college rather than signing a contract upon graduating from high school, they consign themselves to a minimum three year eligibility restriction. So, a player drafted out of high school must choose between accepting the salary and any bonus or losing three years of his professional playing career because a player who chooses college cannot be drafted again until the end of his junior season.
However, this includes a possible redshirt season. Thus, although Maryland's highest draft choice in 2015, Brandon Lowe is listed as a sophomore, he didn't play in his freshman year due to injury. With the redshirt year, he has two years of eligibility left at Maryland and is thus classified as a sophomore but he has completed the three year commitment period.
Because a player drafted as a junior has some negotiating power with the team that drafts him, he faces another decision point. He can reject an offer and return to college for his senior year in the hope that he will improve his draft position. One example of this is Maryland's erstwhile center fielder Charlie White.
White was drafted in the 30th round in 2013 after his redshirt sophomore season. He opted to return to Maryland for the 2014 season and improved his position by nine rounds. At that point, he elected not to roll the dice again and accepted the contract offered by the Chicago Cubs.
Opening the box
And now we can add the aspect of developing players who can play professionally and return to the question I posed at the beginning of this story: How do you measure success for an NCAA athletic program?
Here is the list of Maryland players drafted in 2013:
Jimmy Reed, Senior - 185th pick (Round 6)
Jake Stinnett, Junior - 869th pick (Round 29)
Charlie White, R-Sophomore - 884th pick (Round 29)
John Cleary, Senior - 1172nd pick (Round 40)
And the same list for 2014:
Jake Stinnett, Senior - 45th pick (Round 2)
Ben Brewster, Senior - 438th pick (Round 15)
Charlie White, R-Junior - 619th pick (Round 21)
Blake Schmit, Senior - 770th pick (Round 26)
Now here's the list for 2015:
Brandon Lowe, R-Sophomore - 85th pick (Round 3) Tampa Bay
Andrew Robinson, Junior - 140th pick (Round 5) Minnesota
LaMonte Wade, Jr. , Junior - 260th pick (Round 9) Minnesota
Jake Drossner, Junior - 301st pick (Round 10) Milwaukee
Jose Cuas, Junior - 331st pick (Round 11) Milwaukee
Kevin Mooney, Junior - 464th pick (Round 15) Washington
Kevin Martir, Junior - 529th pick (Round 18) Houston
Zack Morris, Junior - 714th pick (Round 24) Philadelphia
Before we speculate regarding the players on the last list who might choose to return, just take a moment to compare the 2015 list to that of the preceding two years. In 2013 and 2014 combined, MLB used eight draft slots to select six Terrapins. They chose only two players and used three of those slots for non-seniors. The lowest draft choice in 2015 was drafted in a higher round than all but one of the players drafted in 2013.
Not only is the 2015 list comprised of more than twice as many players as the two previous years combined but every Terp chosen has at least one year of eligibility remaining. For some perspective, UCLA had eight players drafted, last year's champion Vanderbilt nine and Virginia who eliminated Maryland in the Super Regional, seven. Of course, the Cavaliers also had 11 players drafted last year.
For the Terrapins, combine the wins, the NCAA Tournament appearances and this exponential leap in players drafted, and Maryland becomes a much more appealing place for college prospects. If Maryland can consistently produce 7-10 draft picks, the 2015 draft looks like a double that gets off the warning track and over the fence making the draft more of a programmatic home run and making the probability of sustained success now far greater.
Who's gone and who might return
A number of factors will be a part of a player's decision whether to return or not. The offers teams make will be, in part, dependent on the number of players drafted at a prospect's position. For example, if eight third basemen were drafted ahead of Jose Cuas, Milwaukee is likely to offer him a smaller signing bonus than if he was the fourth third baseman drafted. This, might combine with the crop of rising junior third basemen whose presence could depress Cuas' 2016 draft position to influence his decision.
Also, as noted above, once a player has used all of his college eligibility, he has effectively removed one bargaining tool he has as a junior. This fact alone might also serve to drop him in the draft. Of course, he could offset that by greatly improving his on field production.
Of all the players on the list, expect those picked in the first 10 rounds to sign professional contracts. Cuas and Mooney are also likely to opt to leave school. Pitching, of course, is at a premium and Maryland can point to Jake Stinnett as a player who returned for his senior year and jumped 27 rounds. Could this be a factor for Drossner or Mooney?
My guess is (along with my spirit guide the Magic 8 Ball) "Very doubtful." As a junior, Stinnett, who came to Maryland as a third baseman, moved from the bullpen to become Maryland's Saturday starter by the end of the season. In his senior year, he secured the Friday night starting slot meaning he always faced the opponent's best starter (in the ACC) He finished 8-6 with a 2.67 earned run average which was more than enough to impress major league scouts.
This is unlikely for either Drossner or Mooney. Next season, Maryland should return All-American Mike Shawaryn to the top spot in the rotation. Tayler Stiles, Taylor Bloom, Ryan Selmer and Brian Shaffer will all compete for spots in the starting rotation. I don't think either Drossner or Mooney can do much to significantly improve their draft position.
That leaves us with Cuas, Martir and Morris. As an 11th round draft pick, Cuas Will Likely join the top five. Martir and Morris are a tad more questionable but I think more likely than not to also opt to start their professional careers.
In Martir's case, while he showed some weakness particularly in the mechanics of throwing runners out, it is probably an area he can improve through coaching and strength training. After batting .342 with seven home runs and 45 runs batted in, it's unlikely for him to expect a marked improvement in his offensive production.
The situation for Morris is more similar to that of Mooney's. He pitched well in 2015 appearing in 22 games finishing 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA. As competitive as the Terps' pitching staff appears to be next season, it's unlikely that Morris will see enough of a jump in his numbers to justify returning for his senior year.