BA intern Brian Chmielewski was in Dallas, Ga., Tuesday for Zach Wheeler’s latest start, and we got more confirmation that we were a bit light when we ranked Wheeler No. 32 in our Top 50 draft prospects update. Giants general manager Brian Sabean was on hand; the Giants pick sixth, so Wheeler is clearly in the mix for teams in the first 10 selections.
If Wheeler goes in the first round as now seems likely, he’d give Georgia back-to-back years with a prep first-round pitcher. He’d join Ethan Martin, the No. 15 overall pick a year ago.
However, before Martin—who only emerged as a pitcher last spring after being known primarily as a third baseman previously—the state of Georgia had not produced a prep righthander taken in the first round since Adam Wainwright in 2000.
Some scouts and college coaches have their theories. One is that the well-regarded East Cobb program, which has helped harness Atlanta’s talent and produce scads of big leaguers from Matt Capps to Dexter Fowler to Nick Markakis to Brian McCann, does more for hitters than for pitchers. The reasoning is that all the games and organization helps give hitters plenty of reps but might lead to some burnout for young pitchers.
"It’s not that they don’t have pitchers come out of the program, because they do," one college recruiter said. "But to get a power arm, you usually wind up in South Georgia, which is like another state. Or you go to a small town, like where Martin came from (Toccoa, on the South Carolina border)."
Wheeler would be an exception. Martin isn’t listed on East Cobb’s alumni page, though; neither are South Georgia products Wainwright or his 2000 draft rival, supplemental first-rounder Dustin McGowan, nor is another big power arm to come out of Georgia this decade, Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton.
One thing Wheeler has in common with some of those guys is he’s not committed to the state’s dominant college programs, Georgia and Georgia Tech. He’s committed to Kennesaw State, which should produce two top-50 picks this spring in Kyle Heckathorn and Chad Jenkins.
Georgia Tech has a power-armed rotation, but none of the starters is an East Cobb product. Ace Deck McGuire, a probable first-rounder next year, is a Virginia product; junior righty Zach Von Tersch is from Iowa and is a single-digit pick this season, while sophomores Brandon Cumpton and Ken Jacob—who has hit 97 mph with his heater and has a physical 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame—are from Evans, Ga., outside of Augusta, and Maryland, respectively.
Georgia’s starters aren’t East Cobb products either, with Justin Grimm hailing from Virginia and Trevor Holder coming from Birmingham, Ala.
So Wheeler going high in the draft might be another watershed moment for East Cobb as well.