When Chip Hale was hired to coach his alma mater in July 2021, the recruiting class for his first season had already been signed eight months earlier. And the first one he and his staff would get to put assemble was thrown together at the last minute, the byproduct of college baseball’s recruiting cycle that until recent rule changes saw many prospects commit as high school freshmen and sophomores.
The one signed Wednesday then can be considered Hale’s first true recruiting class in terms of identifying and pursuing talent from the outset.
“From the day we got the job this class has sort of been the one that we pointed to,” Hale said of the 14-member 2024 recruiting class the Wildcats announced.
The UA signed 11 prep players and three from in-state junior colleges. There are seven pitchers, including two left-handed arms and two that also play the field, and seven dedicated position players. Eight are from Arizona, with three more from California as well as one from Illinois and a pair of foreign-born prospects.
“We felt like we did really well in-state, we got guys from across the country and went outside our borders a little bit,” Hale said. “We just recruit the best players, whether they’re position players or pitchers, that we can. There’s a huge quality of pitchers here.”
The highest-rated high school prospects are a pair of Phoenix-area pitchers: lefty Mason Russell and righty Smith Bailey, both top-100 players according to Perfect Game. Russell and twin brother Tyler Russell, an outfielder, are two of three players the UA signed from Casteel High School along with catcher Kade Thompson, while Bailey is a 6-foot-6 power arm whom Perfect Game ranks as the No. 1 right-handed pitcher in Arizona.
The top incoming position player is Tucsonan Gunner Geile, an outfielder who played at Salpointe Catholic until transferring to Florida’s IMG Academy for his senior season. Hale said a big spring from Geile could lift him in the recruiting rankings, but at the same time also raise his pro stock and make him vulnerable to getting drafted high next summer.
Arizona learned all too well what that was like this past July when righty Blake Wolters, who was a relative unknown from Illinois when he committed to the UA, ended up getting picked 44th overall by the Kansas City Royals and signed for $2.8 million.
Wolters’ sister, Ella, is a manager for the baseball team, and Hale said the family is often in Tucson and often will apologize to Hale for Blake not coming to play for the Wildcats.
“I said don’t apologize, that’s part of the deal,” Hale said. “We understand it, we’re happy for these guys.”
Hale said he’ll continue to go after prep and JUCO prospects who are likely to get drafted, knowing it helps with overall recruiting for prospects to see who was interested in playing there.
“If it’s the first-rated guy in the country and you’re able to commit them, it’s a feather in your cap whether he comes here or signs,” he said. “There’s been a number of guys throughout the years who have been UofA signees. Greg Maddux, we had him when I was (playing) here, who ended up going play pro ball.”
The international players Arizona signed are Japanese righty Kansai Sugimoto, who played high school ball in Canada before attending Yavapai College last season, and French middle infielder Mathis Meurant, who was at Cochise College. Hale said Sugimoto, who has only thrown six innings in JUCO ball, could see a huge benefit from new pitching coach Kevin Vance’s analytics-based program, while Meurant has been raved about by all in-state JUCO coaches and could be a candidate to play right away at the UA.
Those who signed Wednesday won’t arrive on campus until next summer, and won’t make their Division I debut until early 2025. By then the Wildcats will have probably added a few more to the class, either JUCO players who stand out this coming spring or those picked up from the NCAA transfer portal.
Speaking of the portal, Hale admitted that Arizona had more failure than success in the portal during the offseason. The Wildcats landed two pitchers and two catchers, both areas of need, but were hoping for a lot more.
“The portal is is proving to be tough, tough sledding, to be frank with you,” Hale said. “We went for a lot of high-level portal players this year and missed out, mainly because of better NIL opportunities they went to other places. We would rather have the core of our class come from the high school ranks, but we’re not foolish enough to think that we can’t get into the portal. We need to get some some high-level guys in the future.”
Arizona baseball 2024 recruiting class
- RHP Ryan Anderson (Shorewood, Ill.)
- RHP Smith Bailey (Peoria, Ariz.)
- IF Jackson Forbes (Peoria)
- OF Gunner Geile (Tucson)
- RHP/1B Nate Gray (Queen Creek, Ariz./Pima CC)
- RHP/SS Vinny Hudson (Hacienda Heights, Calif.)
- 1B Anthony Lira (Citrus Heights, Calif.)
- IF Mathis Meurant (Vaires-sur-Marne, France; Cochise CC)
- IF Nate Novitske (Pleasanton, Calif.)
- LHP Mason Russell (Queen Creek)
- OF Tyler Russell (Queen Creek)
- RHP Kansai Sugimoto (Kyoto, Japan; Yavapai JC)
- C Kade Thompson (Queen Creek)
- LHP Salvador Valenzuela (Nogales, Ariz.)