It's not a surprise that players and agents alike always believe they're making the best decision when they decide to sign a pro contract or return to college.
In many instances, those decisions turn out to be right. In others, the decision turns out to be a disaster that perhaps ruins one's chance of ever making the big leagues, or helping his team win a national title at the College World Series.
Several talented players chose to return to college this fall, but no return was more surprising than Arizona State's Josh Spence.
Spence wasn't a front-line prospect to begin the college season, but gained steam when he was consistent and tallied fabulous numbers. Because of his velocity, many doubted his ability to be drafted in the top-five rounds. But when the MLB draft arrived, the Angels actually took him in third round.
Spence wasn't the only premier player to return to college.
On the other side of the spectrum, Texas A&M pitcher Brooks Raley and Rice pitcher Ryan Berry shocked the college baseball community by choosing to sign.
Raley likely would've been a top three-round round pick as a junior next summer. Berry, even as a senior, also would've been drafted much higher than the ninth round next summer if he had a successful campaign and stayed healthy.
Everyone hopes each player has a successful career no matter the decision they made this summer. But it doesn't keep us from scratching our heads.
Surprised they didn't sign
Arizona State's Josh Spence. After starring at Central Arizona two seasons ago, Spence arrived at Arizona State as a virtual unknown to those following Division I baseball. That didn't last long. The talented left-handed pitcher mystified opposing hitters and almost earned All-American honors with a strong campaign. Spence isn't the hardest thrower in college baseball, but few can equal his overall arsenal. Surprisingly, the Angels drafted Spence in the third round, but he chose to return to ASU for his senior campaign. Spence wasn't expected to return to college, but the Devils will take it.
Kentucky's James Paxton. There's no question Paxton always had the talent to be an excellent pitcher when he stepped on Kentucky's campus. But his stock rose after having an impressive spring and compiling a great strikeout-to-walk ratio. With his stock at a high entering the draft, the Blue Jays chose the left-hander in the supplemental first round. Paxton may put together an even more impressive senior campaign, but there's a very good chance he doesn't get drafted as high next summer. He had the leverage the past two months, but didn't get the deal he was looking for. UK is glad to have Paxton back, but time will tell if it was the best decision.
Louisiana State's Blake Dean. He certainly wasn't the most athletic college player in the draft, but it still surprises me the Twins waited until the 10th round to select Dean. Even with how late he was drafted, it's even more surprising to me that Dean decided to return to college. After a trio of outstanding campaigns for LSU, Dean has little to prove with the program. Perhaps the Twins acknowledged early in the negotiation process they wouldn't be able to offer him a substantial contract. Only Dean really knows that. But either way, it was interesting that Dean decided to return to school. LSU coach Paul Mainieri was thrilled with his decision.
UC Irvine's Danny Bibona. Where he was drafted was a huge surprise. Much like Arizona State's Josh Spence, Bibona won't break too many windows with his fastball. But there's no question he has some of the nation's better off-speed stuff. The Cardinals waited to the 16th round to select Bibona and likely didn't offer him much of a financial contract. But even with that knowledge, it's still surprising to me the talented left-handed pitcher decided to return for his senior campaign. As with many returnees, Bibona has little to prove next spring.
Oklahoma State's Tyler Lyons. Lyons dazzled observers two seasons ago with an excellent sophomore campaign. He put together another good season as a junior, but certainly was better the previous season. Perhaps being a left-hander, Lyons believes he will increase his stock by returning for another season. That may very well be the case. But given the fact the Yankees drafted him in the top ten rounds, it still was surprising that Lyons didn't follow the lead of Andy Oliver and Tyler Blandford and sign a pro contract. Lyons could increase his stock by having an impressive senior campaign. His stock also could dip with an unimpressive final campaign.
Surprised they didn't go back to college
Texas A&M's Brooks Raley. It was a huge surprise when Raley decided to sign with the Cubs. Raley was considered one of the nation's best two-way players, and also had earned many accolades for being an elite pitcher until fatigue hurt him down the stretch. Instead of waiting another year as a draft-eligible sophomore, Raley decided to sign for $750,000. There's no question the talented left-handed pitcher could've been drafted higher and received more money next summer. His signing was unexpected.
Rice's Ryan Berry. As with Raley, it was interesting that Berry decided to sign the dotted line. His ceiling may not be as high as Raley, but Berry was expected to be a top-four round selection before an arm ailment took its toll during the season. Even with the setback, the Orioles drafted Berry in the ninth round and gave him a signing bonus worth $417,600. Had Berry decided to stay another season with the Owls, there's a great chance he could've improved his stock and perhaps signed for more money. Color me a bit surprised Berry decided to sign.
St. Mary's Kyle Jensen. He was one of the hottest players on the West Coast two seasons ago. Jensen even earned All-American honors as a sophomore. But this past season, he took a small step back by tallying a .286 batting average with 15 homers and 40 RBIs. As a result, Jensen only was drafted in the 12th round by the Marlins. Instead of returning to college and perhaps being drafted in the top six or seven rounds as a senior, Jensen made the choice to sign the dotted line. Many were surprised with his decision.
Missouri State's Tim Clubb. After tallying All-American numbers two seasons ago, Clubb was primed to have an even better junior campaign. That didn't happen. He had an earned-run average over five and his draft stock suffered as a result. The Cubs selected Clubb in the 29th round and somehow got the talented right-handed pitcher to sign the dotted line. Clubb wouldn't have magically become an elite pro prospect as a senior next spring, but he could've earned a higher draft round.
UCLA's Gabe Cohen. Here's another talented player that decided to sign the dotted line at the wrong time. Cohen was fabulous as a freshman a few seasons ago, but had unimpressive sophomore and junior campaigns that led to him getting drafted in the 29th round. Cohen may have been desperate to start his pro career, but he turned down an opportunity to have a great senior campaign and improve his draft status. He hit .274 this past season and could've raised some eyebrows by hitting .300 or better next spring. His decision certainly surprised us.