The MLB trade deadline is always an exciting time. With every trade, happy fans rejoice and the unhappy vent. The emotions on Twitter are palpable. Maybe your favorite team made a trade that you either really liked or really didn’t. When you were evaluating the trade, it’s likely that you compared each player’s skills, stats, and other information you knew about them and thought about how each player’s skills would play out in their new environment. If you’ve done this before, then you have done exactly what college coaches are trying to do when deciding who to recruit.
College coaches are trying to learn as much as they can about each recruit and predict how a player’s characteristics will influence their performance in the future. Some things about recruits are easier to figure out than others. Because there are so many unknowns, coaches are forced to use their experience with development and current information about players to try to predict what they think potential recruits will be like in the future. You may have heard of the term projection, or the more common forms, projectability and projectable, or similar words like ceiling or upside. These words are used to assign value to a player’s future potential.
At KPB our simple definition of projection is forecasting a player’s future ability and room for growth. Another simple way to think about it is how good coaches think a player will be in the future. Projection usually takes an optimistic view of what a player can become if everything goes well with their development, maturity, and training. Like a weather forecast, projecting a player’s future is not an exact science, but rather an informed guess about a player’s capabilities in the future. A player with lots of projectability is said to have a lot of room for improvement or a high upside or ceiling. A player who is not viewed as projectable is someone who is considered to be closer to their full potential and who has less room for growth and improvement. That doesn’t mean that a player with low projectability is not a good player, it just means that their skills aren’t expected to improve that much. Chris Sale, for example, could be considered less projectable than a prospect in Rookie ball, because he has less room for growth. However, Chris Sale in high school could have been seen as having a lot of projectability due to his raw ability, and having the frame and mentality to make a big jump.
Projecting players can be hit or miss and coaches place different amounts of importance on finding players they consider projectable in recruiting. In our conversations with college coaches, projectability is always on their radar, especially at schools that can’t compete for big time recruits and instead must rely on developing players over time.
The differing levels of importance that college coaches place on finding players who are projectable is another reason why a recruit shouldn’t compare their recruiting process to that of their teammates or peers. Coaches are looking for different things and players are in different stages of their development. Here’s a good example of why the timing of an individual’s recruiting process is so unique to them. Player A and Player B are the same age and on the same team.
Player A is an outfielder with solid fundamentals and is very athletic. Despite working out, he has not yet started to mature and so far has been unable to put on the mass he needs to really do damage at the plate. He’s long and lean with a baby face. He’s got a good arm action and moves well, but the arm strength isn’t there yet. Even when he really gets into the ball at the plate, it’s a double at best. As a result, he bats 7th for his high school team. Player A is not as far along in his development as his teammate, Player B. Player B is also an outfielder and has been tearing the cover off the ball. In a lot of ways, he’s a man among boys. He’s always performed better than Player A because of his strength. He throws a bit better, runs just about as well, and hits the ball harder. Unlike most of his peers, he has a full beard and is stronger than just about everyone. He has a few home runs and leads the conference in doubles. He bats 3rd in the order.
If Coach X really values projectability in recruiting, he is likely to favor Player A because his skill set is solid, and he has a lot of room for growth. He figures that as Player A matures physically, his frame will allow him to add a lot of strength and he can see him being a true 5-tool outfielder if things go right. At the moment, he’s not as good as Player B, but he doesn’t think it will take that long to pass him up once he starts to physically mature. Coach Y on the other hand doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on projectibility. He likes to find guys who are ready and can step in and contribute right away. For him, he wants Player B over Player A any day of the week. Player B has outperformed Player A and right now, he is more likely to step in and be an everyday player for his team. He’ll bank on his skills being good enough and improving enough to stay competitive, despite already being physically mature.
This is a simple scenario, but you can see how projectability helps to explain why recruiting is not as simple as comparing two players side-by-side to see who has the better stats or is performing better at the moment. While some coaches value room for growth, others may just want to see that players have the skills. Regardless of the importance they place on projectability, all college coaches are trying to figure out how good they think a player can be in the future as a part of their program. Now that you know what projectability is and have a better understanding of how it is used in recruiting, you can start to think about the way college coaches may view your future. We’ll help you figure out what you can do to influence your projectability in part 2 of this mini-series, so click here and read it now!