Familiar and inevitable, but “never old-hat.”
That latter qualification distills what Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett sees as the real and mercurial essence of his annual contest with the Major League Draft.
“You always have to deal with it, but it’s never old-hat, because some good surprises come of it and then some that are very discouraging because you put so much time and effort into it,” said Leggett, who last go-round lost seven players to the draft, including ACC Player of the Year Brad Miller.
And just as the draft can plunder a team’s current roster, it can also prevent some higher-profile commitments from ever arriving on campus.
The example most relevant to the Tiger’s 2012 fortunes was the 11th-hour loss of blue-chip prospect Daniel Norris. Rated as the top left-handed high school pitcher in the country, the Johnson City, Tennessee product was so firm in his commitment to Clemson that he was dropped from being an all-but-certain top-15 draft selection to a high-risk second-rounder, and the 74th-pick, overall.
Even so, the Toronto Blue Jays were able to produce the last-minute offer which pried Norris apart from his intention to become a Tiger, and Clemson’s best and seemingly airtight recruiting efforts came to naught.
On balance, though, the process is highly variable, and the pendulum has also swung in Leggett’s favor.
“With last year’s team, we got John Hinson and Jeff Schaus to come back for an extra year, and Chris Epps to come back for his senior year,” said Leggett. “Those were really good things that helped us be successful last year. On this year’s team we have Jason Stolz back as a senior, which is another good thing for us. It’s always good to have some older guys, and he’s ready to show us what he can do at shortstop.
“A couple of years back, Steve Wilkerson was drafted pretty high by the Red Sox, and it was good to see him pass on that to come here. This past year, (freshman pitcher) Daniel Gossett was also drafted by the Red Sox, and he ended up coming to school. Richie Shaffer was drafted out of high school, and we were able to keep him, and he’s become a really good player for us.”
Because Clemson routinely courts top-level talent, the draft dilemma presents itself anew every season. For Leggett and his recruiting staff, it’s a challenge that demands both finesse and agility, and a more long-range grasp of the program’s continuity.
“You get some, and you lose some,” said Leggett. “It’s just a matter of which ones you get, and which ones you lose, and how many. You hope you don’t get hurt so bad that it affects you the year after, or even two or three years down the road. So we try to minimize the damage every year, and educate these kids and get them entrenched to what Clemson’s all about.
“I really like this next class we’ve got coming in. Obviously, I’m not looking past this season, but I like the next group of kids that we’ve got coming in, because that’s how you have to be working recruiting: you’re working a year or two ahead of time.”
Leggett himself is active in the recruiting process in terms of meeting with prospects and their parents, though much of the legwork is delegated to recruiting coordinator Bradley LeCroy and pitching coach Dan Pepicelli.
“We all work recruiting, and Bradley and Pep do the most traveling,” Leggett explained. “They work extremely well together, and they’re a really formidable recruiting team out there. They’re very well-organized and can evaluate talent. Once you evaluate players, and get them interested, you’ve got to find a way to scholarship them, and encourage them to come to Clemson.
“Basically what it is, is you’re sometimes getting them to give up some bigger scholarships at other schools. You’ve got to work extremely hard, and you’ve got to know that pro issue in-and-out, and try to target those kids you think have a legitimate chance to come here.”