Every high school baseball player has the dream of playing Division 1 college baseball, or at the very least, the dream of playing at a 4-year university. Those players that go directly to a 4-year university out of high school usually have an amazing college baseball experience. However, for many younger players, that 4-year dream may not be a realistic option upon graduating from high school for a number of reasons. Such reasons could include not getting enough recruiting attention from college coaches in high school, the need to physically develop or improve on baseball skills, financial restrictions, or even the inability to get accepted into a university for academics. For all of these reasons, there is one VERY good option that will always be available: junior college.
Within the high school baseball world, there is a common misconception that going on to play baseball at a junior college is ”settling" for what’s available. Younger players tend to think that if they decide to go to junior college, they will be playing an inferior level of competition and that they are now further away from their dream of playing at a 4-year university. When in fact, this could not be further from the truth. Some of the top JUCO's could EASILY beat half of the D1 teams in the country. Every year, thousands of JUCO players get recruited to play at 4-year schools and dozens of JUCO players are taken in the MLB Draft. In 2018, 12 of the 14 three-hole hitters in the SEC were former JUCO players. So we can promise you, there is absolutely no shortage of talent at the JUCO level and many could hold their ground against D1, D2, D3, and NAIA competition.
Additionally, JUCO players can be significantly more valuable to 4-year college coaches. Think about it from their perspective, would you want an 18 year old freshman that has never played a 9-inning game and may be overwhelmed by the pace of college baseball, or a 20 year old "veteran" with proven experience against college level arms or bats? Just to be clear, we are in no way diminishing the value of college freshmen at 4-year universities, but it is no secret that college coaches want developed players that will help them win NOW. So it is much easier to get recruited when you have JUCO experience on your playing resume.
For those that still think that junior college doesn't produce legitimate talent, here are some MLB stars that played at the JUCO level: Bryce Harper, Jackie Robinson, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, Patrick Corbin, Andy Pettitte, Russell Martin, Roy Oswalt, Charlie Blackmon, Curt Schilling, Kirby Puckett, Eric Thames, Tim Anderson, Mike Clevinger, Jorge Posada, Dee Gordon, Andrelton Simmons, among many others...Pretty talented group right?
One more point: since JUCO's are 2-year universities, they only have freshmen and sophomores on their roster. Meaning your chance of getting playing time is significantly higher than if you were at a 4-year university, where you also have to compete with juniors and seniors. Our point is at no point should you ever consider attending junior college a failure or “settling”, because there is a strong chance that you will get more out of going to JUCO than potentially sitting the bench for your first two years at a 4-year university.
In order to give you a better understanding of what JUCO baseball is really like, we conducted a survey to help you understand the JUCO level directly from those that have played it. Lets get into the details!
Understand The Data
This survey consists of 350+ current and former JUCO baseball players spread across 40 different states as well as Canada. Below is a map breakdown of where these players attended junior college.
74.3% of those that answered our survey have played junior college baseball within the past 5 years, with 89.4% having played since 2010. 30.6% are still playing at the JUCO level.
Where did these players go on to compete after junior college? 33.1% went on to play D1, 15.2% went on to play D2, 3.0% went on to play D3, 8.1% went on to play NAIA, 1.1% went on to play another form of competitive baseball, 4.6% had to hang up the cleats for personal reasons, 1.6% had to hang up the cleats because of an injury, 2.7% had to hang up the cleats because they weren't recruited by a 4-year, and 30.6% are still playing at the JUCO level.
This is a pretty even balance between those that had a successful JUCO experience, those that may have struggled, and those that are still playing JUCO.
Distance From Hometown
Something we were very interested in learning was how far these players were willing to travel to play at a junior college. Did they go to the one that was conveniently located near their hometown? Did they travel out of state? Did they travel farther to attend one that was more competitive? We found that 14.6% went to a junior college within 10 miles of their hometown, 11.9% were within 10-25 miles, 9.8% were within 25-50 miles, 25.7% were over 50 miles, and 37.9% went to a junior college out of state. This information could be slightly skewed by student-athletes on the east coast where the state borders are physically located closer together, but its worth noting that 37.9% traveled out of state to attend junior college while only 36.3% attended a junior college within 50 miles of their hometown.
In addition, 23.8% said they attended the junior college that was located closest to their hometown while 76.2% said they did not.
We presented these current and former student-athletes with 8 statements about their JUCO baseball experience, and asked them to respond on a scale from strongly disagree (0) to strongly agree (10). A score of 6 to 10 counts as an "Agree", 0 to 4 counts as a "Disagree", and a 5 represents a neutral or indifferent opinion.
Statement #1: JUCO helped me develop as a baseball player.
Statement #2: I received more playing time as a freshman at a JUCO than if I had gone to a 4-year.
Statement #3: My JUCO baseball coaches had a positive influence on my baseball career.
Statement #4: JUCO created baseball opportunities I didn't have out of high school.
Statement #5: I would recommend JUCO to a high school baseball player.
Statement #6: JUCO helped me develop as a student.
Statement #7: JUCO helped me save money.
Statement #8: In hindsight, I'm satisfied that I chose JUCO over a 4-year out of high school.
Quotes From The Players
"Going to a JC helped me unlock baseball skills and a level of confidence that I never knew I had. I had 0 offers out of high school to any 4 years and before my sophomore going to a JC I had 27 D1 offers and draft interest. Without JUCO, I would not be playing today."
- D1 Player from CA
"Junior college is what every high school kid should consider if they will not start at a D1 or get a lot of playing time their freshman year. JUCO opened up opportunities that I never would have had if I had chose to go and get stuck at a four year out of high school."
- D1 Player from WA
"At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue playing baseball if I had to attend a JUCO. In hindsight, it’s the best decision I made. I developed as a player physically and mentally. Now, opportunities that I didn’t have out of HS are presented. Coaches are amazing and more hands-on with players. Some of the best guys you’ll ever play with!"
- D1 Player from CA
"The college level in athletics and academics is all about fit. What has everything you want? That goes for any level. Find a school you like, think you can take the next steps, and checks off all the boxes you had coming out of high school."
- Current JUCO Player in MI
"Best decision I ever made. No scholarships out of high school. Ended up on 95% scholarship at a D2."
- D2 Player from MD
"Don’t make a D1 school your overall goal. Prioritize playing time over the school. You’ll regret going to a big school and not playing, but you won’t regret going to a small school and playing every game."
- D1 Player from TX
"I am a high school baseball coach and recommend JUCO to all of my players who hope to play college baseball."
- Former D2 Player from TX
"I have spent almost 40 years of my life at the JUCO level as a player or coach. Best decision of my life and to this day, I thank God every day for putting it in my life path. As a player I formed who I am in the crucible of fire that is JUCO and as a Coach I have watched it happen over and over again. I love it as a life-changing agent."
- Former D1 Player from TX
"JUCO baseball was one of the greatest, most positively influential, and important decisions of my life. I learned so much not only about the game but about myself in this time. I’ll always be in debt to SBCC. Go Vaqueros!"
- D2 Player from CA
"I chose to go D1 out of high school and I transferred after my first year to JUCO. I haven’t regretted a thing, I’ve made 10x as many strides at JUCO than I ever would have at the D1 I chose out of high school."
- Current JUCO Player in IA
"As far as JUCO goes, it is a grind and not everyone is equipped for the adversity you face. If you're serious about your baseball dreams AND education, I highly recommend JUCO. It breeds tough baseball players and puts more experience under your belt than the majority of juniors at the 4-year level when you transfer. #JUCOBANDITS"
- Former JUCO Player from MD
After analyzing our survey and reading quotes from current and former JUCO players, we hope that you are now more comfortable with what junior college baseball has to offer. It is an extremely cost effective route to develop as a player while also making progress toward earning your degree. The most notable downside to JUCO is that you will miss out on the "4-year college experience", which is a legitimate deterrent for a lot of players. But if you're willing to set aside the dream of going off to a university for 4 years, it may allow your dreams on the diamond to flourish.