Think back to 2012. Three years removed from an NCAA Tournament appearance, Boston College's baseball program slipped back to a 22-win season. They struggled to win on the road consistently, going 10-23 in games played away from Shea Field. Able to tread water enough to win 20-plus games, the bottom fell out the next year, with BC going 12-40.
At the time, people wondered if BC would ever be a consistent baseball program. It seemed like the good will of the '09 NCAA Tournament program was gone, the stadium on which that team was recruited hadn't come, and the promise of bringing this program to the next level had disappeared.
Behind the scenes, Boston College was recruiting its heart out. Remember that baseball recruiting takes place on a much different cycle than the other sports. Because it is a spring sport, recruits often commit before their senior season. That means baseball coaches need to be able to recruit players during their junior year, often times getting them to commit during the summer and fall before their final high school seasons. They then play out their senior year decided on where they're going to go, a decidedly-riskier venture than other sports because a full season can be more uncertain than projecting success, and success takes longer to feel than it does in other sports.
Baseball recruiting also revolves around different scholarship levels. Even though a roster can hold up to 35 players, coaches only have the monetary equivalent of 11.7 scholarships, meaning players can choose to go to a school for a chance to compete without the option of an expenses-covered education. The result is more talented players all going to the same school, with more recruits than slots open at places like Vanderbilt or Florida State.
Across the diamond this past weekend was a Virginia team less than a year removed from winning the national championship. The 2012 recruiting class for the Cavaliers, which would've been recruited during 2011, featued four players currently signed to pro contracts, including three outstanding starting pitchers. Two of those starting pitchers - Nathan Kirby and Josh Sborz - were considered two of the top 150 recruits in the nation, and both went in the first round of the MLB Entry Draft. Two more guys from inside the Top 200 went to Virginia, and they're not even there anymore (George Ragsdale and Scott Williams), having transferred out of Charlottesville.
Consider that opposite the Boston College recruiting list from the same year. During that year, BC recruited Chris Shaw, the only player considered in the Top 150 of that year. Stephen Sauter and Luke Fernandes were part of that class, as were Jesse Adams, John Nicklas, Logan Hoggarth, Joe Cronin, and Gabe Hernandez.
The Boston College 2013 recruiting class, which was brought in during the nadir point of the program with that 12 win season, included both Mike King and Justin Dunn, but they weren't considered part of the Top 200. They've come into BC and developed into great arms, but there's no question that the baseball factories still get their pick of the best players in high school ball.
The recruiting and development process is different at Boston College than it is at other schools. Other schools are able to amass talent, then let the best players play. Before the season, the example I used was Vanderbilt, a program that consistently ranks among the top five recruiting classes in the nation. Between 2015-2017, Vanderbilt will bring in 45 players, not including all of the players on the roster. That means at least 10 recruited players have to be trimmed, and that's if there's nobody left in the program, which we know won't be true. It also means kids are committing to play for a top program because scholarships aren't a factor.
Boston College is different. Guys who are recruited are brought in and developed, leading BC into the situation of building the grounds today. But when you think about this weekend, the Eagles outdueled a team that consistently recruits more athletes of better caliber and natural ability.
This season, the Eagles are fourth in the ACC in pitching with a team ERA of 3.10. They're the only ACC team without 100 runs allowed, and they lead the league in walks allowed (97, one of two teams under 100), and homers allowed (eight, one of two teams under 10). They're holding opponents to a .212 batting average, which is second in the league and one of three teams under .220. They're doing this with a bunch of guys who were brought in and developed into high-echelon talent, not recruited on natural ability with a bunch of other guys recruited on natural ability.
Jacob Stevens leads the ACC with a 0.45 ERA, the only starter under 1.00, and is second in the league with 23 hits allowed. Jesse Adams, a guy who was just taken out of the starting rotation, is 10th in the league in opposing batting average at .219. Mike King is among the league leaders in innings per game. And Justin Dunn is the X factor, a guy who can hit 98 on a radar gun and is fast rising up MLB Draft boards for June.
This doesn't take into account relievers like Bobby Skogsbergh, Dan Metzdorf, Brian Rapp, or John Nicklas. Eight players have ERAs under 4.00. Thomas Lane, a freshman, has bounced between midweek starts and long relief appearances, and only one true bad outing (against Butler during the Snowbird Classic) pushed his ERA over 5.00.
There are holes in the Eagles game, namely on the offensive side where BC still ranks 13th in hitting at .259. And despite the performances, pitchers still have to avoid serving up that one bad pitch that a guy like Seth Beer or Pavin Smith can cream over the wall. It's hard to say BC is anywhere near where they should be. There's a belief they should be better and should have won at least a couple of games that went against them, but that's baseball.
But they have a foundation built during those dark days of the early 2010s, players who have come to BC and developed into draft-ready arms. Should the weather holds up, they're going to continue to improve. Midweek games should help get the juices going, as long as they're not rained out. And if one thing is for sure, the last month and a half of the season has the potential to become incredibly interesting.