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The Stony Brook College Baseball Mystery

Monday, 11 Jun 2012 | 3:45 PM ET
Stony Brook University
Source: Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University

Sure, George Mason has made it to the Final Four and Butler has played in the men’s college basketball championship game, but none of those achievements quite match the Cinderella story that the Stony Brook baseball team has become.

After all, the Patriots and the Bulldogs didn’t have to beat one of the sport’s best in a two out of three series in its home ballpark, as the Seawolves did to make it to the College World Series.

What makes the Stony Brook story so remarkable is how good so many of its players are and how all the big programs and the scouts missed them.

Stony Brook centerfielder Travis Jankowski, who was just drafted 44th overall by the San Diego Padres, counted the school as his only baseball scholarship offer coming out of high school in Pennsylvania. Perfect Game, which scouts thousands of baseball players a year, deemed only one of the seven Stony Brook players drafted in this year’s draft as a Division I caliber player when they were evaluated in high school. The team’s third baseman William Carmona had a national ranking of 1,209 out of roughly 1,500 players.

Greg Sabers, National Scouting Director for Perfect Game, which also puts on scouting camps nationwide, says that what they do is not a perfect science.

“It’s definitely harder to evaluate high school prospects in the Northeast,” Sabers said. “The kids in Florida, Texas and California play so much baseball all the time, because of the weather, that they are further along in their development than the kids in the Northeast.” Twenty three of 28 players on the Stony Brook roster are from New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or Canada.

Schools from the warmer states also get those players to play college baseball. In 2009, Baseball America said that the University of Florida had the best recruiting class and not one team in the top 25 came from the Northeast. In fact, the last Northeast school to play in the College World Series was Maine in 1986.

Stony Brook also didn’t crack the top of Baseball America’s regional high school recruiting rankings in 2009. The best talent went to Kent State and St. John’s, with players that did actually pan out, but certainly not as well as Stony Brook’s players did.

What makes college baseball different from college basketball, which arguably has had the most parity among the major college sports, is in the number of players it takes to get to the top of the sport. Two players who slipped through the cracks could get you far in the NCAA Tournament. That’s not really the case in college baseball.

“In order to get to the College World Series, you need to be strong up the middle, you have to have three really good position players and three very good pitchers,” said John Manuel, Baseball America’s editor-in-chief, who has followed Stony Brook all season long.

Unlike an NCAA Tournament game or two, luck can’t win out. Stony Brook is one of the final 8 teams into the College World Series, thanks to winning 6 of its last 7 games in the regional and super regional.

Sabers said that athletes who play many sports in high school are harder to evaluate, because they are playing other sports and are not seen as much on the recruiting circuit. Jankowski, for example, had more Division I college football offers.

There is one major change in the sport that could account for the fact that so many of Stony Brook’s players were missed. These players were scouted and committed to their schools before aluminum bats were so-called “deadened” in January 2011, due to the new BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) standards. The new rules made bat manufacturers ensure that the reaction of the ball off the aluminum bat acted closer to that of a wooden model. Manuel says that since the change, offense in college baseball has been cut by about 50 percent.

Said Manuel: “Home runs are down so much that players like Jankowski, who were recruited for their athleticism and speed, now come at a premium.”

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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