It's no secret that one of the reasons Arizona has a new head baseball coach in 2016 is the ever-changing world of college baseball and softball recruiting. UCLA's John Savage redefined how the system works, and now coaches are forced to go younger and younger.
As it stands right now, Arizona has a commitment for the 2019 baseball class, and possibly the 2020 class as well. That's two kids that have yet to play a game at the high school level that have already decided where they will play college ball. Softball is also working in the same age bracket.
This forces these young kids to play more games, possibly causing physical damage to themselves, especially in the sports of softball and baseball, where you're doing a lot of unnatural body motions to play the game.
"Kids today are playing a lot of games," legendary Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea said. "So they have a lot of wear and tear on them, and so we have to be smart at our approach to this game with our training."
"It's certainly an issue," new Arizona head baseball coach Jay Johnson added. "I like for guys to play, that's the only way you get better. I do think with young, developing bodies and doing something physically, there's a component to that you have to pay attention to. And I think the young players have to be really smart about who they invest their time with and how they invest it. The balance between training and competing, particularly on the pitching side of it. I do believe when you're talking about pitchers specifically, some injuries are going to happen, but the more we can educate them, as we certainly do, to try and put them in a position where they're healthy and can advance their careers. But it's certainly an issue."
The amount of games played is an issue in both sports, but moreso in softball due to the fact that they pitch underhanded. But it's still a trend that has presented several issues in the college game.
"They're playing 160 games easily a year," Candrea continued. "I'd rather see practices than games. There's a couple things we're seeing at the younger level. One of them is kids are playing a lot of games, but they're less competitive because they're not playing a lot of games that count. Everything is revolved around exposure, getting a scholarship, and it's working for them because we're recruiting kids right now that are in 8th grade. So who's the dummy? They're getting what they want, but it's changed the complexion of how kids are being prepared for our game."
"I've felt that you should probably practice about five times for every one game that you play, and that's what college does. We practice a lot more than we play, and they do the opposite. They practice once for every five games that they play."
"I think people are starting to look at that. You're going to start seeing more tournaments that end up with a winner, so that kids understand that there's a winner every tournament. And softball was not meant to have a clock, but a lot of the games they play in the summer are time limits; an hour and fifteen (minutes). So that's the challenge that you have with the kids getting here: Alright, the hour and fifteen's over, but you still got three more innings."
Candrea attributes the phenomena of more injuries and needing more depth to the one sport specialization that happens at a younger age now than it ever has before.
"Our athletes are bigger, stronger and quicker, but are they as durable? I don't know that. I know we used to play a lot of different sports, and different sports prepare you differently."
"And so we're getting kids here that sometimes are a little banged up. I remember one year we won it with 12 players, and I can't ever see that happening. Even when you have 18 you feel like you don't have enough, and I never thought I would say that, because I was always that 14 or 15-type roster. But now you probably need 18 to 20 to get through it."
Softball has changed in a lot of ways in recent years, but this is probably something that's gone overlooked by most people. That's a more than 50% increase in the number of players Candrea is looking to have on his team. That's crazy.
Last year, the baseball team had four players recovering from Tommy John Surgery at the same time, including two of the five pitchers used in the 2012 postseason run in Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe.
As youth sports continue to go the way of travel teams and one-sport specialization, the college ranks are held prisoner by these new ways of thinking. But maybe, hopefully, parents and coaches will realize that they may be doing more harm than good when looking at the big picture.
That's doubtful, but with someone that has the track record that Mike Candrea has coming out with such strong opinions on this, maybe that will get in their heads. Maybe.