Tuesday, August 21, 2007

UNC picks up elite '09 Catcher

Coach Mike Fox of North Carolina picked up one of the fastest rising stars on the High School circuit when Nashville Catcher/Pitcher Jacob Stallings verbally committed to the Tarheel baseball program. Stallings is an athletic, if lanky 6'4" bodied Junior who Perfect Game gave a 9.5 ranking. Mike Rapp of first reported the news in the premium content War Room, quickly followed by Mo Patton of the Tennessean.

Stallings is the son of Vanderbilt Basketball Coach Kevin Stallings and former basketball teammate of former UNC standout Brandan Wright, a lottery pick this past year in the NBA draft. The younger Stallings has been a fixture at Vanderbilt baseball games, while the senior Stallings is a sometimes-color commentator for Commodores baseball broadcasts and is a close friend of Coach Tim Corbin. This led many to believe Jacob Stallings would don the Black and Gold on West End. Furthermore, as the son of an employee, Stallings would have been entitled to free tuition at Vanderbilt. So why is Stallings headed to UNC? The College Baseball Blog has this insight and opinion as to the surprise commitment:

1) Money doesn't always talk. Kevin Stallings is one of the highest paid coaches in the SEC, so scholarship funds likely aren't particularly important.
2) In addition to the Brandan Wright connection, UNC's Roy Williams is among Kevin Stallings' closest friends in the coaching fraternity, establishing solid ties to UNC.
3) The catching and pitching competition at Vanderbilt will be tight for the next three years. At Catcher, Vanderbilt will feature two established players in ('08-'09 year) Sophomore Curt Casali (rated the #60 prospect for the '07 class and rated 10 by Perfect Game) and Red Shirt Sophomore Andrew Giobbi (rated 10 by Perfect Game in '05). Casali is expected to win the starting job behind the plate by '08-09, if not by supplanting incumbent starter Shea Robin this year. Giobbi has seen action at Catcher, Firstbase and DH for the Dores and figures to continue to do so for the next two years. In addition, Jesse Johnson of reports that Corbin has a pair of solid Catcher walk-ons. Stallings could have faced stiff competition as a pitcher, with Corbin and recruiting coordinator Erik Bakich having assembled a star studded pitching class for '08-09 featuring AFLAC All American Sonny Gray (PG rating 10), Will Clinard (PG 10), Grayson Garvin (PG 10), Corey Williams (PG 9.5), Ryan Westmoreland (PG 9) and Navery Moore, who was not given a number rating by PG despite being listed as the 18th best prospect in the '08 class in November 2006. Also returning in '08-09 will be standout pitchers including Mikie Minor, Drew Hayes, Chase Reid, Mark Lamm, Richie Goodenow and Caleb Cotham. Stallings had been recruited to Vanderbilt and UNC as a Catcher and by Auburn as a pitcher. The CBB believes, without any real basis, that playing time figured into the equation.
4) UNC has somehow managed to become one of the uber elite baseball programs in the country while flying a bit under the radar. They have appeared in the last two CWS finals and have always been a solid program, despite not getting some of the same athletic-academic regard that Stanford, Rice, Tulane and Vandy have received in conversations about "signability". The "somehow" is not a reflection of UNC not having earned elite status or been excellent on the field, just that, for some reason, their recruiting, on the field and academic excellence don't get seem to get enough praise in the media.
5) Finally, it provides Stallings the opportunity to have a college experience away from home. A factor for many students.

This writer thinks a combination of 3 and 4 led to the commitment, and that Mike Fox is getting one of the finest players in the nation. Stallings has starred in the Nashville area and on former Commodore Hunter Bledsoe's Brentwood A's summer team. He throws in the low 90s off the hill and has impressive defensive skills despite his lanky nature. It's a pretty safe bet that Fox will get Stallings to campus and, as he grows into his body, Jacob could develop into one of the finest Catchers in the NCAA. Congratulations to Jacob, Coach Stallings and the family.

With one of his perceived top catching targets now in the Tarheel fold, attention will likely look to fellow Nashville Catcher Casey Dykes. Like Stallings, the Franklin based Dykes was rated 9.5 by Perfect Game. Unlike Stallings, Dykes' secondary position is 3B, a need area for the 'Dores. Vanderbilt will likely lose Rivals All-Americans Pedro Alvarez (3B) and Ryan Flaherty (SS) to the next MLB draft. Dykes could compete for playing time at third, though '07 signee Gabe Ortiz is expected to step into one of those slots, and though Chris Lee of Vandysports has confirmed the commitment of another '08 elite prospect on the left side of the infield. The information is still not public on the new commitment, so I cannot comment further on the identity of the player pursuant to the College Baseball Blog's policy on Use and Attribution.

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