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December 1, 2011

Holbrook likes CBA's effect

After two straight national championships and what one publication labeled the country's No. 1 recruiting class for the 2012 season, some have looked at South Carolina, shaken their head and commented, "The rich get richer."

The Gamecocks, along with every other college baseball program in the country, each received another bonus last week. The new Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement, which has restrictions that are benefiting the amateur level, stands to improve the sport over the next few years.

"I don't think there's any doubt that it's going to benefit college baseball from across the board," USC associate head coach Chad Holbrook said on Wednesday. "You'll see a lot more kids in the middle rounds that are drafted, with high signability, I think you'll see those kids coming to school more often than you've seen in the past."

Holbrook, named Baseball America's Assistant Coach of the Year, handles the Gamecocks' recruiting and is in charge of keeping in touch with his signees, since many are usually drafted and have a decision to make before coming to school. He figures that the new rules and restrictions will make his job easier, and harder.

Harder because he'll have to really watch how quickly the projected roster fills up in future seasons, since there may be many more high-school stars that do come to college instead of going pro, or players that stay for four years once they get in. Easier because it may be more clear to project what a player will do due to the new restrictions, and a much earlier signing deadline that eliminates an entire month of keeping track of pro teams talking to signees.

The new rules that affect the game, in a nutshell:

* The draft is now 40 rounds, not 50. The Gamecocks had six players or recruits drafted between rounds 40-50 last year, one a senior with no remaining eligibility (Adrian Morales), two recruits who played football (Shon Carson and Ahmad Christian) and only one underclassmen who accepted the position (Steven Neff, 41st round). Tyler Webb returned to school as did signee Joey Pankake.

* If a major-league team fails to sign any of its draft picks in the first 10 rounds, its draft cap (approximately $185 million for an entire draft class for each team) is reduced by the assigned value of that pick.

* Any player selected in the draft's first 10 rounds will be assigned a value, and the values will be totaled and placed in an aggregate signing-bonus pool. Clubs do not have to stick to the exact number of the assigned value, but will be expected to come in under the total assigned value for the first 10 rounds. A team that exceeds the signing total by up to 5 percent will pay 75 percent tax; a team that exceeds by 5-10 percent pays 75 percent tax and forfeits a first-round draft pick the next year; a team that exceeds by 10-15 percent will pay 100 percent tax and forfeit a first- and a second-round pick the next year; and a team that exceeds by more than 15 percent will pay 100 percent tax and lose its first-round draft picks in each of the next two years.

* The signing deadline, which used to be midnight on Aug. 15, has now been moved over a month ahead. The 2012 deadline is at 5 p.m. on July 13.

What it means for college players is twofold. One, there may be a higher number of players who turn down their draft selections after their junior years to come back for a senior year, since there will be a restriction on the signing bonus they can receive. Two, more high-school players are likely to come to college instead of signing with a school, then taking the money near Aug. 15 and leaving the school holding the bag. But with a new month to account for, at least this year coaches will have a bit of time to go find another player if they need it, instead of having to do it right before school begins.

Holbrook, who along with everyone else had to wait with his list of drafted players on Aug. 15, wondering who he would have to cross off, likes the deal. He likens it to the NFL draft committee - most of the first- or second-round draft selections will probably get a good bonus and should go pro. But unlike past years, where a sixth- or seventh- or 14th-round selection might get a bonus befitting a first- or second-rounder, teams won't be able to get all of their selections in under the draft cap, meaning more of the middle-round guys should come to school.

"It not only looks like it will help us with our recruits, but our juniors or draft-eligible guys as well," Holbrook said. "We can recruit good solid players, and not waste time recruiting first-rounders. We'll certainly go after a middle-round draft pick. We've got a lot of those guys on the team. First- or second-round draft picks will certainly affect the middle-round guys."

USC's draft class went almost as predicted last season. The Gamecocks lost their first-rounder (signee Taylor Guerrieri) and two supplemental first-rounders (signee Brian Goodwin and junior center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.) but turned out very well with their others. Sixth-round selection Matt Price came back to school, as did 23rd-round selection Adam Matthews and 31st-round selection Michael Roth.

Outside of the two first-rounders, only one of Holbrook's recruits signed. Andrew Faulkner accepted his 14th-round selection but eight-rounder Evan Beal, 13th-rounder Tanner English, 20th-rounder Joel Seddon and 22nd-rounder TJ Costen each came to school.

With that haul in place and the new rules setting up for next year, Holbrook said that he would have to be a little more cautious when planning on the roster for 2013 and 2014. He also said that he could perhaps count on more of his recruits automatically coming to school, instead of playing the waiting game.

"One of our signees for next year, Corey Seager, could be a first-rounder," Holbrook said. "Is that a guarantee? No, because he always had a strong interest in coming to school. Does it guarantee we get a (2012 signees) Curt Britt or a Jamie Callahan? No, it doesn't guarantee it, but it may increase our chances."

The new agreement means that all college teams could look more or less the same from year to year, instead of the one-and-done matriculation that sometimes plagues the sport. Looking ahead to the end of the 2012 season, USC has a crop of draft-eligible players who could be chosen, but even if they are, they may not be the locks to go pro that they may once have been.

Price has another year of eligibility after 2012 if he chooses to use it. Christian Walker, Nolan Belcher, Dante Rosenberg, Adam Westmoreland, Spencer Jordan, Evan Marzilli, Webb, Patrick Sullivan, Ethan Carter and Colby Holmes could all hear their names called, along with first-year transfers Chase Vergason, LB Dantzler, Tanner Lovick and Hunter Privette.

What's good is that whatever happens, Holbrook can pretty much know who's likely to go and who's likely to stay, and have his team in place by mid-July. And if there is a surprise - i.e., a player who leaves despite a low selection - he can handle it.

"It does eliminate some stressful moments," Holbrook said. "It could affect the way you put together your roster a month later, from a non-scholarship angle (USC ended fall camp with 46 players, 11 over the limit). I don't think you're going to replace a guy that's going to be an All-SEC guy, that's too late. But it does give you a little bit of time and increases the depth."

The agreement is very beneficial for the game and Holbrook, along with the nation's other coaches, is waiting to see who finds a loophole and is the first to challenge it. But mostly, he feels that the new deal will help himself and the Gamecocks as they prepare to stay among the nation's elite.

"You never know on paper. It looks good," Holbrook said. "Then all of a sudden, the Scott Borases of the world, the really high-powered agents, find loopholes. So we're cautiously optimistic.

"But with some kids in the past, they might have had first- or second-round talent, but they wanted to go to school. A club would draft them eighth or 10th or 12th and give first-round money to a 10th-round draft pick. That won't happen much anymore, if at all."

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