Reclassing is most often used as a way to hold athletes back a year in school so that the have time to develop size and strength relative to their peers. Reclassing happens before high school starts in order avoid issues with the four year graduation time limit the NCAA requires for qualification to play college sports.
A less frequent situation is to reclassify a student up a year for them to graduate a year early. This decision is generally made during a sophomore year to allow time to complete high school requirements. Bryce Harper was the most noteworthy athlete to make this change to his school timeline. Harper completed a GED after his sophomore year to graduate two years early, then attended community college for a year to play baseball at a little higher level before entering the draft and being selected as the overall number one pick in 2010. In the just over a decade since Harper, baseball has seen a few other players graduate early:
- 2016 saw Nonie Williams accelerate his home school graduation timing and was taken by the Angels in the third round
- In 2017 Tristan Casas reclassed and was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2018 draft
- While not technically a reclass, Jared Kelenic graduated a semester early to prepare for the 2018 draft. He also skipped playing high school baseball completely
- Blaze Jordan did the same thing in 2019 and was also selected by the Red Sox in the third round of 2020
- On the college front, Christian Little finished high school early to pitch for Vanderbilt
- Last year, pitcher Walter Ford accelerated his graduation from 2023 to 2022 to qualify for this year’s draft as did infielder Cam Collier
- George Wolcow announced he just jumped up from 2024 to 2023. Brady Neal made the decision to accelerate graduation into 2023 as well. In May, Konnor Griffin moved up to the 2024 class
Baseball isn’t alone in having players accelerate their timeline to exit high school. Marvin Bagley and Charles Bassey pushed up their path to college basketball a few years ago and Jalen Duran did the same last year. Football has had various iterations as explained by this ESPN article about Bagley and Bassey. In football, Lebbeus Overton is skipping his senior year to head to college year.
In 2011, Rany Jazayerli did an extensive study about MLB draft age and player value over their careers and explained why so many teams missed on Mike Trout because he was young relative to others in the draft. One of his key findings was, “Young high school hitters are simply much more likely to develop into stars, particularly players who weren’t elite picks.” Many scouts are deceived by the relative age effect where older players outperform younger ones due to additional months of growth, which is why parents reclass players to graduate a year later. Beyond the differences in ages for players in the draft, Jazayerli concludes that players drafted out of college produce far more value than those drafted out of high school (with the exception of #1 picks), which doesn’t seem to be a surprise given that they’ve been tested against better quality competition.
Where does that leave us with reclassing? As with most decisions, it comes down to the individual. Overall, younger players risk getting underrated relative to peers in their same class due to less maturation, but if you have an outstanding athlete, they have the opportunity to be challenged and develop against better competition. The players above who reclassed earlier are exceptional for their age and proved that they can outperform others years older than them. They also need to be mature and prepared mentally to handle social, fan, media and coach pressure at a young age. This isn’t unusual since other sports like tennis, gymnastics and swimming have very young athletes competing at the highest levels of their sport. By reclassing earlier, they enter the MLB draft faster or can exit college at a younger age giving them more time to progress in the minor leagues and possibly become a free agent earlier when they have an opportunity for an extra year of larger contract. The future is always cloudy, so consider your youth athlete carefully before changing their graduation year.