NCAA Division II baseball has been on the rise thanks in large part to the high quality of coaching it now possesses. In addition to putting up videogame-like numbers, several programs in Division II have become regular stops for professional scouts and, simply put, home to some of the best amateur baseball in the country.
JIM GANTT- CATAWBA
-2012 & 2015 ABCA/Diamond Southeast Region Coach of the Year
-7-time South Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year
-Finished 2015 as the national runner-up, equaling the school record with 47 wins
-Has posted 16 straight 30+ win seasons, including seven 40-win seasons since 2004
-graduated from Catawba 1989
JAYSON KING- FRANKLIN PIERCE
-Career record of 602-282-3 at Franklin Pierce
-Has led the Ravens to three NCAA national semifinals appearances, six NCAA Regional titles and five Northeast-10 Conference championships in past 13 years
-six-time ABCA Regional Coach of the Year & seven-time New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association’s Division II Coach of the Year
-Finished 2015 with a 48-4 record
-1993 graduate of Framingham State
MIKE KINNISON- DELTA STATE
-19 seasons as head coach, career record of 810-258-2 (.757)
-Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee
-2004 ABCA National Coach of the Year (led Delta State to program’s first-ever NCAA Division II national championship)
-Six-time Gulf South Coach of the Year
-1997 Delta State University graduate
MATT MAGERS- MINNESOTA STATE
-2010 American Baseball Coaches Association/Diamond Sports Company NCAA Division II Regional Coach of the Year
-2011 NCBWA Central Region Coach of the Year and NSIC Coach of the Year
-Went 51-12 season in 2012 and placed third in Division II College World Series
-Has guided Mavericks to three NCAA Division II College World Series appearances in past five years
-Minnesota State alum
RYAN SCHMALZ- TREVECCA NAZARENE
-Played for two NAIA World Series teams at Olivet Nazarene University
-Has prior coaching experience at Morehead State and Lincoln Memorial
-Has a record of 113-54 in three seasons as head coach at TNU
-In 2015 TNU finished 20-5 down the stretch and won their third consecutive G-MAC title
JON SHEHAN- MILLERSVILLE
-Three 40-win seasons and four NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight years as head coach
-Two-time ABCA Atlantic Region Coach of the Year & two-time PSAC East Coach of the Year
-Has qualified for NCAA Regional four times in the last five seasons
-His 2015 club set a school record for wins with 45
-2006 graduate of Millersville
Shehan is scheduled to speak at the 2016 ABCA Convention in Nashville
JOE URSO- TAMPA
-664-193-1 career record
-2006, 2007, 2013 and 2015 National Champion
-49 MLB Draft picks since 2006
-set NCAA Division II record for regular season winning percentage in 2014, going 47-2 with a .959 regular season mark
-1992 graduate and former ABCA/Rawlings All-American at Tampa
What is your overall assessment of Division II baseball?
Jim Gantt: I think the quality of D2 baseball is comparable to any level of collegiate baseball. Lack of depth is the biggest difference.
Jayson King: I think the overall quality has improved tremendously over there years. Better coaching at this level and more commitment by schools to win have helped in that aspect. In general the good Division II schools have players and teams that can compete very well with most teams regardless of the level.
Mike Kinnison: The amount of preparation and commitment level of the coaching staffs at the upper levels of Division II is clearly evident. It is an extremely competitive league and the driven coaches have the most successful programs. Also evident is the need for a tremendous work ethic, coachability, and desire for success on the part of the athletes. Most student-athletes understand they are not a finished product and need refinement.
At the upper levels, the quality is outstanding. The athleticism of the position players is very good, pound for pound. The physicality may not always compare to DI but the ability to defend the field and create on the bases stands out. The depth of the pitching staff is the separation point as it is at all levels of baseball. The No. 1 [pitcher] on most staffs could step right in and compete well on most Division I staffs, but the overall depth of arms is the big difference between the divisions.
Matt Magers: D-II baseball offers a great balance for student-athletes academically, athletically, and socially. I believe the elite D-II teams have depth at pitching, as you’re playing up to 6 games a week.
Ryan Schmalz: I have been in Division II baseball for 10 years as an assistant or head coach, and I believe that it is better than it’s ever been. There is a lot of parity and the product on the field has steadily improved. In my opinion, two areas that need to improve are scholarships and the number of teams that make the national tournament. Division II baseball gets nine baseball scholarships, but many schools and conferences have far less than that. Other sports have far more scholarship money per player to provide, so even a small increase would have a huge impact on teams.
Secondly is the expansion of the field of teams for the national tournament. 2016 will be the first year that 56 teams will make regionals (from 48). In my opinion the optimal number is 64 which obviously costs more money, but I believe it would be beneficial for a number of reasons.
Jon Shehan: D2 baseball in the PSAC has great reputation. We have had a representative in the D2 World Series many, many consecutive years. There are teams ranked in the top 10 on an annual basis. I would describe our conference (and scouts would likely say the same thing) as a mid-major D1 caliber of play. Many do not believe me when I make that statement, but the dynamics of the state or Pennsylvania, and the states that surround us without D2 baseball allow us to recruit high caliber baseball players.
Joe Urso: “I think D-II baseball is getting a lot better, for many reasons, especially the D-I transfer rule that we’ve all benefited from. I think you’re seeing a lot more parity throughout D-II baseball; the past World Series was a reflection of that, where you saw a lot of new teams making their first trip to Cary [North Carolina]. It’s getting more competitive, for sure.”
How would you recommend high school players prepare for college off the field, specifically as it pertains to strength training?
Jayson King: To me there is nothing wrong with keeping workouts very simple. There have been good players around for a long time and they did not train like we do now. Obviously with all of the great physical and mental training available out there now there are advantages to being on board with the new wave for sure. Access to programs are too out there so an athlete can figure out a plan regardless of limitations they may have while focusing on getting as explosive as possible.
Matt Magers: If a school doesn’t have a workout program I’d first encourage them to participate in multiple sports as it creates better athletes. An effective workout routine should be one that suits your goals (gain weight, increase flexibility, etc.). Typically high school players should workout 3 to 6 times a week, 30 to 75 minutes long, and include both resistance and cardiovascular training. How a person eats is also a consideration in a workout program. If you don’t eat right, you’re not going to be happy with your progress.
Jon Shehan: Players should listen to John Smoltz induction speech. Play other sports! When it comes to strength and conditioning, i would recommend spending less money on travel ball and more money on someone who knows exactly what they are doing in the weight room. The right strength coach can take a player from point A to point B, while the wrong coach or a cookie cutter program can limit a player’s success or even hurt his chances for improvement. Each player has strengths, weaknesses, a different body type, etcetera. Find someone who understands these things, understands the game of baseball bio-mechanically, and can apply this knowledge to building a individual based strength and conditioning program.
What is recruiting like at the D-II level?
Jim Gantt: The school you choose needs to be the right fit academically, athletically, and socially. If we have to talk you in to coming to Catawba, we will have to talk you into staying.
We are in the adult raising business. We want to build the student-athlete from the “inside-out”, using baseball to develop a better person.
You will have two full time jobs here: 1-full time student and 2-full time athlete. We want to treat baseball in college as your professional baseball career. If you work diligently at baseball, stay healthy, and you have the right genetics-you may have a chance to get drafted. If not, you approached it the right way-learning many qualities that will help you be a better husband, father, and employee. What a concept: “go to college to set yourself up for a career in the field of your college degree!”
Jayson King: For us it is usually about winning a Division II National Championship, pro aspirations, team/family approach and achievement in the class room and in the community.
Mike Kinnison: All coaches cover the basic areas necessary in recruiting….facilities, opportunity to contribute, academic fit, financial commitment, etc. We hope we can go deeper and determine what the recruit seeks in the areas of personal growth, relationships, player development, and overall team commitment.
Ryan Schmalz: Every college at every level has obstacles in the recruiting process. Many players have a strong desire to play at the Division I level and scholarship limitations makes recruiting a challenge, but coaches across the country work very hard in the recruiting process, which has made the product as a whole much better.
I believe the number of high-level players that are choosing the Division II route is increasing. Division II allows for more teams that can legitimately compete to play in the World Series, and I think it really helps the recruiting process when a kid knows he has a legitimate chance to play for a national championship.
Jon Shehan: Our goal is to provide recruits with clarity in terms of our purpose as a program, our core values, our process for on field and in-classroom development, where they fit into our program in terms of the depth chart, and what we will keep them accountable for when they become a Marauder. The last part is the toughest part. Lots of players transfer because their coaches fail to communicate what areas in which they hold their players accountable. Clarity in these areas will help players make a decision on whether or not they want to attend; it will also help keep them there when they arrive.
Joe Urso: To stay on top of the D-II world, as competitive as it is, you’re after a lot of the same guys as Division I. D-I coaches do a great job committing high school kids at a young age, which makes life really tough on D-II recruiting. These kids grow up believing D-I is the only so you’re seeing a lot of them commit young. You see a lot of mid-major D-I’s committing kids early, so there’s less ‘falling through the cracks’ for the D-II schools. We’re just doing the best we can to find high school kids, to get to junior college tournaments, and get some D-I kickbacks to build the best product we can.
How do you incorporate walk-on players in your program? What characteristics do quality walk-ons possess?
Jim Gantt: Successful walk-ons are team guys. They have to bring something to the table athletically, possess leadership qualities and a “blue collar” work ethic.
Jon Shehan: We have had two walk-ons make our club in the eight years that I have been the head coach at Millersville. One was an All-American and set our all-time career hits record and the other was fifth in the nation in hitting last year. Both players needed a break to make our team. When they did get that break, they took advantage of it. Neither player is the most talented player on our club, but both had poise, intelligence, a relentless work ethic, and absolutely love when people tell them they cannot do something. They are certainly special.
Jayson King: A successful walk on to me is a successful player. They go hand in hand in our program. If you commit to the program and your teammates 100% and you are willing to compete and develop your skills the sky is the limit.
Matt Magers: [Quality walk-ons possess] a great deal of passion and don’t hesitate to put in the extra work. Ultimately, they’ll have to display an unselfish attitude and be willing to put the best interests of the team in front of their personal interest.
To sum it all up, Delta State’s Mike Kinnison:
“The spirit of college athletics and the student-athlete concept are core values in DII. While some will progress and live the dream of moving on to the professional level, most of our athletes have a primary focus of who they will be 5-10 years after graduation as a husband, father, or businessman.”