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My sophomore year of college, I was fourth on the depth chart at the University of Oregon, and I knew I couldn’t stay there.
I knew I had more in the tank, that I was capable of being the starting catcher for a Division I program. I was nervous about making the change, but I was willing to bet on myself for the chance at finding a school where I could thrive.
In the winter of 2014, I left Oregon and enrolled myself at Orange Coast College, a junior college in southern California.
I had no idea what this meant. I didn’t know the risks, I didn’t know the implications … heck, I didn’t even know our school’s mascot.
All I knew was that I wanted to get back to the Division I level.
I understood that it was going to be difficult, and I knew I had to be smart about how I went about the recruiting process, but I was confident we could find a strategy that would work.
And we did.
If you're in the recruiting process (or about to be) and you like my tweets, then you'll love my emails.— Jack Kruger (@jack_kruger_) March 10, 2020
Email allows me to go in depth when talking about...
- Emailing coaches
- Sending video
- Attending showcases
- Tips & Tricks
And so much more. https://t.co/LQcmcmnIlG
We developed a calculated system that had my phone ringing off the hook. I couldn’t believe the interest I was getting. Didn’t these schools know that I hit .208 my freshman year at Oregon and that I was No. 4 on the depth chart going into my sophomore season?
It didn’t matter. Good coaches know that it only takes the right program and the right coaching to mold a player into a middle of the order guy.
I sifted through the offers, getting real about what I wanted out of my college experience and what kind of program I wanted to play for.
Eventually, I took visits to 3 schools:
- The University of Connecticut — a strong academic school with a coach whom I trusted.
- Indiana University — A good blend of baseball and academics (with a coach whom I really liked).
- Mississippi State University — A baseball powerhouse with an unmatched tradition (and another fantastic coach) .
In the summer of 2015, I made my decision: I accepted a scholarship offer to Mississippi State.
With the NCAA’s decision to give all players a year of eligibility back due to the cancelling of the 2020 season, more players than ever are going to end up transferring.
As a player who transferred, I think it’s my duty to inform you all of the path you are considering.
There are two possible routes you may take.
The first depends on the NCAA’s decision to approve a penalty-free transfer rule that would allow players to transfer from one D1 school to another without having to sit out a year. A vote for this rule is expected sometime this summer.
The second route is that you choose to enroll in a junior college before jumping to another D1 school.
I’ll address each of these.
High school guys...this probably isn’t going to impact you too much.— Jack Kruger (@jack_kruger_) March 30, 2020
But, we’re going to see a lot more transfers in the next couple years. https://t.co/xC6UhFiDWs
For the first route, there isn’t a whole lot to say. If the decision gets approved and players can transfer without penalty, you won’t have to go the junior college route.
But, you’ll still be in a recruiting process. You’ll have to get in contact with prospective schools and prove that you can be valuable to them. You’ll need to market yourself effectively.
Now, let’s talk about the second route.
For those who are thinking of enrolling in a junior college, there’s a lot to know.
Here are four things I wish I had known before I made this decision:
1) Junior college is better than the reputation it has.
I remember thinking that going to junior college was a downgrade, that I wasn’t meant to go to a junior college. My elitist attitude almost kept me from one of my favorite seasons I’ve ever played.
I met kids who had a chip on their shoulder. I met guys who were serious about playing Division I baseball, and put the time and effort in to accomplish their goals. I met grinders, guys who didn’t care about the free stuff…guys who just wanted to ball out.
I remember going to LA Fitness with two of my close friends at 11pm because we were hungry to get better and we wanted to get back to D1 baseball so badly. These are the types of guys you find at junior colleges.
I had a blast playing for some of my favorite coaches of all time. I learned a lot, and I grew to be a better player.
The talent level is pretty good, depending on where you play. OCC was a consistent title contender. We played in a strong conference full of Division 1 bounce backs. To give you some idea, I would say that the first 5 guys in our lineup were D1 guys, and the top four pitchers on our team were D1 guys. Obviously, these numbers vary based on the team…some have more, some have less.
And I must say that junior college reignited my career. My time at OCC led me to MSU, which led me to professional baseball. I owe much of my success in recent years to my junior college decision.
2) Going the junior college route is a big risk/reward decision.
I don’t want to downplay this…deciding to attend a JC with the hopes of getting a chance to play at another divsion one school is a huge risk.
If you don’t play well in a short period of time, your options will vanish. If you get hurt, your options will vanish. Your career can end much sooner than you anticipated. I don’t mean to scare you, but I do want to make sure you know the implications of the decision you are making.
On the flip side, the rewards can be extravagant. I went from being 4th on the depth chart at a Pac-12 school to being the starting catcher on an SEC championship team, all in a matter of a year and a half.
If you are dissatisfied with your current situation, then junior college may be the right move for you. But acknowledge the possible consequences of your decision…they can be very serious.
3) Junior college is a grind.
There’s not a lot of money in the junior college baseball world. You’re not going to be taking nice buses, and you’re not going to be getting a bunch of gear. You may not even have a locker room…OCC didn’t. We changed in the dugouts or in our cars.
You’re not going to be playing in front of a ton of people, and the fields aren’t going to be that nice. Just accept it…juco is a grind.
Oh, by the way…
I loved it. I loved the grind. I loved the mentality. I loved the lack of entitlement. I loved everything about it. You just need to know that’s what you’re walking into.
4) Teams need junior college bounce backs (players who transfer from a D1 to a JC).
Division I programs use junior college players as “quick fixes.” When a team needs a role filled right away, and doesn’t want to wait for an incoming freshman to develop and assume the role, they recruit a junior college player to come in and dominate the role for a year or two.
This was my role at Mississippi State. They had a talented freshman catcher, but he wasn’t ready to be the everyday starter. They recruited me to fill the spot until he was ready.
Teams are looking for junior college players all the time … so, yes, there’s a market for them.
Having said all of this, it really does depend on the player. Junior college is a great decision for some, and a terrible decision for others.
In the end, your ability to find your way to another Division I school is based on two things: development and marketing.
You have to be good enough to provide value to DI schools, and you have to know how to help Division I schools find your value.
Jack Kruger is a catcher in the Los Angeles Angels' system. He hit .344 with eight home runs and 40 RBI during his final collegiate season at Mississippi State in 2016. Kruger is the owner and operator of Baller Builder, a free website that offers up helpful pointers to high school and college athletes relative to the recruiting process, transferring and more. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.