This week in Coaches’ Corner we sit down with University of Iowa assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator, Ryan Brownlee. Coach Brownlee is in his ninth season with the Hawkeyes and has established himself as one of the top recruitors in the Midwest. His 2011 recruiting class was ranked #1 in the Big Ten and #4 in the Midwest. Just in the last three years 12 of the players Coach Brownlee has recruited to Iowa have been drafted by MLB teams.
We appreciate Coach Brownlee stopping by for this insightful look into: the college baseball recruiting process, the hardest adjustment for freshman to make at the collegiate level, the best ways to prepare for college baseball, his advice to ballplayers that want to get better, a special message to parents of high school baseball players and more.
Before we start, here is a quote from the interview that should probably make it onto your wall!
“Have your kids do everything in the recruiting process. That’s a huge red flag for a college coach if all the communication is through the parents.” University of Iowa Baseball Recruiting Coordinator Ryan Brownlee
What advice would you give high school players looking to play at Iowa?
Like any college program, we first look at athleticism especially for our position players, but even for our pitchers. We figure we can teach them other aspects. For example, foot speed – there needs to be a baseline level before they get to us. To get to the next level, they should find out what college programs are doing now and start now. That way they can be on the same routine and regimen before they get there. The more college experience you give yourself early on, the better. There’s a place for anyone to play somewhere on the college level. I played at the University of Evansville, but I only looked into D3 schools in high school. I didn’t know how I measured up, and I only started really working at baseball my Senior year. The more players can learn as much as they can about playing in college, the better. Not everything works for everyone, so players shouldn’t feel like they need to do everything. Just try things that work for you.
How can a player get on your recruiting radar?
We see a lot of players here. From Memorial Day to that early signing period, we see maybe 6,000-8,000 players. We do some showcases like Perfect Game because it gives us exposure to national players, especially younger guys that we’ll follow for a few years. It’s harder here in Iowa because their high school season is in the summer. Because of the weather in the Midwest, it gets a little tricky to see everyone.
What’s the best way for a player to reach you?
Email is fine, but phone is tough. Don’t get upset if we don’t contact you back. There are a lot of rules and regulations for who we can call back. There are a lot of recruiting services, but a player is better off with a personal email. If you’re going to attach video, the best and quickest way for us is YouTube. Save the money on the DVDs and videos. Game footage is great, but I only need to see a few swings in the cage. Pitch or hit against a live person, not just in the cage.
When you’re watching players on the field, what are ways they can stand out?
If a guy plays catch with purpose, that stands out, even on the Junior College level. If they’re warming up and playing catch with purpose, he picks up points with me. Bob Smith who coached at Kentucky and VCU said that these players make it easier for coaches. Actually, Bob would start at full scholarship level for players he was recruiting, and as he watched them and noticed things he’d have to instruct, he’d drop their scholarship accordingly! If a player is polished, even during warm ups, that’s one less thing we need to teach. Hustling is also a big one for us. Today, players aren’t playing as hard as they used to. A player who plays with effort and tempo stands out now more than ever.
What is the most difficult adjustment for freshmen players coming into college?
Time-management skills. That first fall semester is difficult – balancing academics and baseball is hard. I remember my first semester… although I balanced everything well, I played terrible baseball that fall. It looked like I forgot to play. Any opportunity to work on time-management will help your baseball. It’ll always be an adjustment, and everyone is scared those first few weeks, even students who aren’t athletes. That’s part of it. You’ll learn how to take care of yourself.
What are some ways for high school players to prepare right before they start college ball?
Don’t stop playing. We see this all the time. Some of our best players were guys we signed on 2 months before we started playing. They came in great shape since they were playing all summer. On the other side, we sign some guys early who end up slacking off all summer. If you’re heading into college baseball, you can’t stop playing. It’ll be a lot harder when you get there to play catch up. Get yourself in the best shape possible, because no matter what, you will not be ready for the tempo of college ball. So don’t make it harder by slacking off before you get there. Your coaches, even though they like you, will be evaluating your performance every day. So put your best foot forward.
What are some of the best ways that underclassmen can get playing time in a talented program like Iowa?
Our program plays a lot of underclassmen. We rarely red shirt players. That’s one thing to look into – is this program going to play underclassmen? I didn’t play any of the first 8 games, but after I worked extremely hard over the winter, I finally got to play. The guys that feel sorry for themselves will never get their butts off the bench – ever. Learn how to act on the bench, even if you’re not playing.
How do you define a winning ballplayer?
A winning ballplayer is a mentality. It goes into how they approach every aspect of their life. It’s not just a winning ballplayer, it’s a winning person. You look at any successful businessman or athlete, they’re committed to what they do. It’s usually not luck. No such thing as overnight success. It’s about living, eating, breathing your dreams. Balance is important, and some time for yourself is important. Reward yourself with breaks here and there. Bill Walton was a track coach at James Madison who said, “There is no such thing as burnout. People’s likes and dislikes change.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give aspiring ballplayers to take their game to the next level?
It’s goes back to working at it. If you want to be good at anything, you must invest the time to do it. Today, everyone wants a quick fix, but especially in baseball, you don’t get instant feedback. You have to trust that the work you’re putting in is going to pay off. You have to enjoy the routines of baseball. Enjoy the extra swings. Make that part fun. It will make your time better. You may be busting it, but it won’t feel like work if you’re enjoying it. Teams that win a lot of games have fun together, too. Winning teams spend a lot of time together, even after practice.
(Coach Brownlee, “Wait, can I give a message to the parents?”)
Have your kids do everything in the recruiting process. That’s a huge red flag for a college coach if all the communication is through the parents. It means either a) the parents have done everything for the kid his whole life and are going to continue trying that in college (will doesn’t work), or b) he is not that passionate about baseball. That’s another way for players to separate themselves out since we get so much from parents. Parents, show your kids the right way, but it’s their path. Let them put the work in, so that when things work out for them, it’ll mean much more to them. Their name is going to be on the college diploma.