Why Collegiate Success May Not Immediately Translate

Overall, over the past few weeks, we have been playing better baseball; and, as we near the end of this home stand, we are finally reaping the fruits of our labor with several victories these past few nights.  Although we are out of contention for securing a playoff berth in the first-half, it is important for us to keep playing well so that we can build momentum and carry it into the second-half.  The beauty of the minor league baseball schedule and playoff system is that teams can get off to a rough start and still have the opportunity to win a championship.  My teammates who played in Orem last year know this very well as we earned one of the wild card spots at the end of the second-half last season.  We then went on to win the Pioneer League Championship even though we were about a .500 team.

A few weeks ago, I received two emails of similar nature regarding the differences between professional and college baseball and that many people figure that success collegiately will translate into success professionally.  In lieu of the recent draft, I feel this is a good time to address these questions.  Before I delve into this, I just want to point out that these are my opinions and that scouts, coaches, and other individuals throughout professional and collegiate baseball may have varying views. 

I feel that the differences between professional and collegiate baseball are the primary reasons that success for a collegiate player does not always translate into immediate professional success.  These are several of the key differences:

Wood bats: When a player comes to professional baseball, this is, many times, the first time a player is using a wood bat on a regular basis for the entire year.  Wood bats have a much smaller sweet spot and are lighter than the metal bats used in college.  While many players have used wood bats in summer collegiate leagues and off seasons, using a wood bat daily for twelve months will take its toll on you.  Furthermore, the room for error with a wood bat is so minute that proper mechanics are needed to be successful regularly, whereas a metal bat can yield desired results even with flawed mechanics.

Schedule and travel: Playing 140 games in 152 days will wear down even the best athletes.  The travelling, living out of suitcases and hotels, not being able to put the best meals together and eating at odd hours, and day games after night games are all part of the grind of a professional season. Furthermore, when you take into account that in addition to the games, it is required that we put in numerous hours of practice working on hitting and fielding mechanics, as well as strength and conditioning.

Even though my college team played in at least 60 games both of my years at the University of Tampa, these were usually only being played three or four times a week.  This allowed for plenty of recovery time.  In addition, any travel we did was only one night at a time and almost every trip was completed in less than four hours.

Professional baseball requires players to become time and energy management experts, so that they can accomplish all of the work they need to on a daily basis, while not expending any useless energy on tasks.  The season is too long for a player to be taking too many swings or defensive drills and wearing himself out.  Sometimes, the best thing a player can do is walk away when he is comfortable with how things have been going in his hitting or defensive session instead of continuing to work and actually get out of these good habits through exhaustion.

Depth: the best way I can describe this is by having someone picture a pyramid, and then horizontally splitting it into sections.  The upper most level is the smallest and encompasses the professional players, with the levels under that being college, high school, and youth players.  While a player moves up this pyramid, the number of players around him decreases, but the individual talent level increases.  While the top collegiate players may be putting up impressive statistics, one must keep in mind that these players are not playing the top competition on a nightly basis.  Weak non-conference opponents and pitching staffs with limited depth can be enough to inflate a player’s statistics.

In professional baseball, you are competing against the top baseball players the thirty major league organizations can find in the world.  The number four and five starters in a professional rotation were number one or two starters in a collegiate rotation somewhere.  The bench players on a professional roster were starters in college.  The top talent is playing on a nightly basis and forces players to be at their highest level of competition every time they take the field. 

These three differences are major factors contributing to the length of a player’s learning curve when making the transition from collegiate to professional baseball.  The length of this learning curve is dependent on a player’s work ethic, ability to adapt to the new lifestyle, and willingness to buy into an organization’s philosophy.

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4 Responses to “Why Collegiate Success May Not Immediately Translate”

  1. Nicole LeBlanc Says:

    Chris:

    Thanks so much for your blog. My husband and I are big baseball fans who go to a lot of Kernels games each season. My husband actually makes road trips to see some games in Clinton, Quad Cities and Burlington as well, even when the Kernels aren’t playing there.

    Your posts are very insightful and we appreciate your hard work on them. Good luck the rest of the season. We’re definitely rooting for you.

    Nicole LeBlanc
    Cedar Rapids

  2. hawkfan Says:

    I agree with Nicole. I became a season ticket holder last year and love a nice day/night at the ballpark. Keep up the good work!

  3. Mom Ridley Says:

    well written as usual Christopher. Keep up the good work. You just continue to improve both on and off the field. Miss you. LL Brenda

  4. Minor Leaguer Muses on Player Wages | Says:

    […] got some other good posts on the site — one where he talks about the auxiliary staff (athletic trainers etc.) of teams and a treatise called Why Collegiate Success May Not Immediately […]

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