Ray Tanner Scores Big On First Day Of Classes

Ray Tanner, the Skipper of the University of South Carolina baseball team, scored big on his first test of the season when players attended classes this morning ...

Ray Tanner has to be happy. He enrolled one of the finest classes in the history of Gamecock baseball this morning, including two highly regarded signees who were thought to be headed to professional baseball.

Justin Smoak, a hard hitting 1st baseman out of the lowcountry, attended his 8:00 am class this morning and is now officially a Gamecock. Smoak was drafted in the 16th round by Oakland.

Fellow lowcountry prospect Reese Havens, a heralded shortstop prospect also attended his 8:00 class. Havens was drafted in the 29th round by the Colorado Rockies.

"They are now officially Gamecocks," said South Carolina Baseball SID Andrew Kitick. "They both were present for their classes this morning at 8:AM."

We imagine Tanner was waiting outside in the hallway, peeking in to make sure they had made it.

Ray brings in 23 new signees on this first day of school. Ten junior college transfers and thirteen freshmen.

For more on these two blue-chip signees (courtesy of Billy Baker of the High School Sports Report:

Smoak, Havens Stick To Their Guns

By Billy Baker Jule 23, 2005

CHARLESTON, S.C—As we learn every year in June, the baseball draft is never just about talent. Teams want to find players who fit their idea of what makes a good baseball player, and players want to find organizations where they can feel comfortable and make steady progress toward the big leagues.

And then there's always money.

The Low Country of South Carolina produced two intriguing prospects this year in shortstop Reese Havens and first baseman Justin Smoak. Intriguing, not only for their dynamic abilities on the diamond and their friendship off it, but also because of their mutual dilemma.

And just as Havens and Smoak share both similarities and sharp contrasts as players and people, so too did their paths through the days leading up to the draft. Their paths from this point are still to be mapped out.

Smoak and Havens have known each other since they were high school freshmen. Their homes are separated by 16 miles, and when they aren't playing they can often be found hanging out at Class A Charleston River Dogs games together. They played alongside each other last summer with the South Carolina Diamond Devils, leading the team to AAU and World Wood Bat Association titles.

They go to different high schools, and both played on teams that won South Carolina state championships as seniors this spring. Smoak led Stratford High in nearby Goose Creek to the Class 3-A crown with a .558-18-49 performance, while Havens batted .530-5-48 as Bishop England High captured the 2-A title. Shortly after the season, they were named state co-players of the year.

There haven't been many days during their high school years that Smoak and Havens haven't hung out together and talked baseball. Both have committed to South Carolina for college, but whether their time together continues for the next three years will be decided this summer.

Both were rated by Baseball America among the Top 100 Prospects in the draft--right next to each other at Nos. 95 and 96, appropriately--but both slipped far past where their talent would dictate in the draft amid questions about their signability.

When both players were drafted, they suddenly had new variables to consider.

Predraft deals are against baseball's rules regarding the draft, but those rules are routinely ignored as teams and agents (euphemistically referred to as advisers to preserve players' NCAA eligibility) discuss the parameters of deals in the days and weeks before the draft.

Smoak's first strong predraft inquiry came through his adviser from Oakland, which was prepared to offer him $950,000 as the 36th overall pick, a supplemental first-rounder the team received for losing free agent Damian Miller. Smoak balked at the amount and slid to the 16th round, where he went to . . . the Athletics, who apparently still have designs on signing him. A's general manager Billy Beane talked with Smoak the day after the draft, and planned to meet with him at a high school all-star game a week later.

Smoak and his family made it clear his attachment to South Carolina--and to a lesser extent, Havens--would not easily be broken.

"I'll sign for one million dollars, and nothing less," Smoak says. "Right now I'm planning to follow my dreams to South Carolina and play for Ray Tanner. Coach Tanner has been in constant touch with me and I've always wanted to play at South Carolina."

Smoak said his conversation with Beane, who faced the same choice between college and signing when the Mets drafted him in the first round in 1980, centered on the value of a college education as well as some baseball talk.

"I was not made an official offer by the A's, but they know what I am asking for and I expect to talk with them in person," Smoak says.

Havens' stance was even firmer, and he fell even further. He says he told his adviser to reject Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein's offer of $1.35 million on the eve of the draft. Boston scouted both Smoak and Havens as heavily as any organization this spring, and according to Havens, Epstein indicated the Red Sox wanted to take Havens with the second of their two first-round picks, 26th overall.

Havens said his price tag is $1.75 million, so the Red Sox passed on him. Word apparently got around, and Havens fell all the way to the 28th round, where the Rockies took a flier. Havens said he doesn't even plan to negotiate with the Rockies.

"I have always dreamed of playing for South Carolina, and we had decided that the only way I wouldn't was if I got life-changing money and I felt like $1.75 million was that figure," Havens says. "It was fun going to tryout camps and being scouted, but I went with my gut in turning down the offer from Boston."

Havens was so sure his name would not be called on the first day of the draft--if at all--after he turned down the Red Sox offer that he and his family headed to Louisiana for a fishing trip and did not follow the draft live.

Havens was satisfied with his decision, yet he wanted to end his negotiations with the Red Sox amicably. So from a dark dirt road in Venice, La., he and Epstein talked for about 15 minutes by cell phone the night before the draft.

"There we were in the middle of nowhere on some back dirt road, and my son was talking to the general manager of the Red Sox as if they were long-lost friends," Haven's father Brent says. "Reese told him that he understood from his adviser the dollar figure they were willing to offer and that they wanted to draft him with the 26th pick of the first round. Mr. Epstein acknowledged this to be true and the two talked for about 15 minutes.

"I was real proud of the composure of my son in talking to Mr. Epstein, who said he understood how my son felt about playing at South Carolina. He wished Reese well."

Gamecocks fans could have the state's top two prospects on campus together by the end of the summer, but Smoak's father Keith said his son's decision won't be as cut and dried as was Havens'.

"I suspect we will be going back and forth with the A's all summer," Keith Smoak says. "It might not be over until Justin walks into his first class at South Carolina in August. If the A's want to meet him at the door to the classroom with a million-dollar check, then they will sign him. As far as things look right now, he'll be in a Gamecock baseball uniform this fall."

Because Justin was more considering the possibility of signing out of high school more seriously, his senior season was more emotional than his friend's, and draft day was much more stressful.

"It has been a really weird experience with the draft," he says. "Most of the season I was scouted a lot by the Red Sox, Marlins and Rockies. I had waited a long time for draft day, and when it came I ended up getting drafted by a team that I had only spoke to one time during the season. I hardly know them and they hardly know me."

As players discover every year, the draft is always full of surprises.

"The experience of draft day was quite stressful," Smoak says. "After I had turned down the sandwich pick through my adviser, the Phillies called in the third round and offered me $350,000 and then the Devil Rays called a few minutes later and asked me if I would take slot money as their third-round pick. I just have to value what it would take to get me away from the college game, and a million dollars is my figure."

And while money is always the most obvious sticking point when these decisions are made, Brent Havens said the two friends have to consider much more than that.

"I have always stressed upon Reese that what he was weighing here was sort of like apples and oranges," Brent says. "The opportunity to be the drafted in the first round, and the opportunity to make a good signing bonus, versus the intangibles of going to school and playing college baseball for a top-notch program. This could also include the possibility of going to Omaha, or playing in the Cape Cod League. It is really two different things, and I think it was a challenge just to quantify all the college stuff because it is not money. Figuring out how to weigh these things against each other is quite difficult."

Jim Toman, South Carolina's associate head coach and recruiting coordinator, agrees and says players and their families have to weigh all the factors that go into the decision--not just the money.

"We certainly want both of them at South Carolina but it's a family decision," Toman says. "If money is the only driving force in someone's decision to turn pro, they are doing it for the wrong reasons. How many 18-year-olds are ready for the world of work all of a sudden, instead of being in college where they can be working toward a college education?

"As soon as you sign a pro contract, you are a professional player and there are not too many 18-year-olds who are ready to do that. In college you grow emotionally and physically, and I think it is a much better maturation process. To get thrown into professional baseball when you are 18, it's a lot more difficult to handle then most people realize."

While it appears Havens' future is secure with the Gamecocks, Smoak's summer figures to be filled with phone calls and negotiations. Whether he ends up with the Athletics' Rookie-level Arizona League club or on the South Carolina campus could come down to a last-minute decision.

Time will tell. It always does.

Billy Baker is a freelance writer and publisher of the The High School Sports Report, a newsletter covering South Carolina prep athletics.

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