State Report: Georgia

Disappointing crop after record year




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THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Rating compares this year's group to what a state typically produces, not to other states
Crosscheckers and scouting directors joked about renting apartments last spring in Georgia. As one crosschecker put it, "You could just get a place in Atlanta and see guy after guy for three or four weeks—high school, college, pitchers, hitters, whatever."

That led to a record year in the state last season, with 12 high school players picked in the first four rounds, including five in the first round. Another first-rounder, righthander Deck McGuire, was selected from Georgia Tech. In all, 21 Georgia products went out in the first 10 rounds, all but two of them signing pro contracts.

That will not be the case in 2011. The Atlanta area especially was particularly barren for this draft, and several sources said no players "inside the Perimeter" (i.e., the city and its closest suburbs, ringed by Interstate 285) would be selected. The best prep talent was in the southern part of the state, though players like outfielder Larry Greene, infielder Tyler Gibson and catcher Jordan Weems will have to overcome playing against weaker high school competition, which made them difficult to evaluate. The state has no prep pitchers who were locks to be drafted in the first 10 rounds, as top prospect Kevin Matthews has a smallish body and a strong college commitment to Virginia.

The state's college clubs had solid talent, with Georgia Tech likely to produce its fourth first-round pick in the last decade in lefthander Jed Bradley. But freshmen made up half of the Yellow Jackets' roster, so the team's impact on the draft would not be as strong as usual. Georgia hovered around .500 all season, and its top talents all had either off years in terms of performance (outfielder Zach Cone, first baseman Chase Davidson) or in showing professional-caliber stuff (righthander Michael Palazzone).

The state's top performer was Georgia Tech righty Mark Pope, who emerged as the Yellow Jackets' Friday starter and ace by going 11-4, 1.74. Scouts cited his lack of swing-and-miss stuff (88 SO in 114 IP) and lack of ceiling, though they expected him to be drafted ahead of some of the higher-ceiling high school prospects.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Jed Bradley, lhp, Georgia Tech (National Rank: 14)
2. Dwight Smith, of, McIntosh HS, Peachtree City (National Rank: 49)
3. Larry Greene, of, Berrien County HS, Nashville (National Rank: 75)
4. Tyler Gibson, of, Stratford Academy, Macon (National Rank: 85)
5. Zach Cone, of, Georgia (National Rank: 86)
6. Kevin Matthews, lhp, Richmond Hill (National Rank: 105)
7. Mark Pope, rhp, Georgia Tech (National Rank: 164)
8. Jordan Weems, c, Columbus (Ga.) HS (National Rank:188)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

9. Matt Skole, 3b, Georgia Tech
10. Michael Palazzone, rhp, Georgia
11. Reggie McClain, rhp, Northview HS, Johns Creek
12. Julius Gaines, ss, Luella HS, Locust Grove
13. Matt Taylor, lhp, Middle Georgia JC
14. Connor Lynch, c, Pope HS, Marietta
15. Jacob Tanis, 3b, Mercer
16. Matt Murray, rhp, Georgia Southern
17. Bryan Blough, rhp, Kennesaw State
18. Jake Burnette, rhp, Buford HS
19. Max Pentecost, c, Winder-Barrow HS, Winder
20. Jacob Esch, rhp/ss, Georgia Tech
21. Brandon Love, lhp, Mercer
22. DeMondre Arnold, rhp, Middle Georgia JC
23. Brandon Liebrandt, lhp, Marist HS, Alpharetta
24. Josh Heddinger, rhp, Buford HS
25. Cole Pitts, rhp, Colquitt County HS, Moultrie
26. Kevin Jacob, rhp, Georgia Tech
27. Travis Morris, rhp, Armstrong Atlantic
28. John Roberts, c, Armstrong Atlantic
29. Demarcus Tidwell, of, Southern Poly State
30. Chase Davidson, of/1b, Georgia
31. Levi Hyams, 2b, Georgia
32. Deion Williams, ss, Redan HS, Stone Mountain
33. Justice French, rhp, Mercer
34. Luke Crumbley, rhp, White County HS, Cleveland
35. Scott Strickland, rhp, Armstrong Atlantic
36. Marc Frazier, rhp, Newnan HS
37. Tyler Palmer, ss, Wayne County HS, Jesup
38. J.T. Odom, rhp, Mercer
39. Chase Griffin, c/of, Lee County HS, Leesburg, Ga.
40. John Taylor, rhp, Franklin County HS, Carnesville
41. John Holland, ss, Northview HS, John's Creek
42. Thomas Campbell, rhp, Columbus State
43. Will Rankin, rhp, Southern Poly State
44. Sam Bragg, rhp/of, Wheeler HS, Marietta, Ga.
45. Heath Holder, of/rhp, Cartersville HS
46. Reed Anthes, c, Lassiter HS, Marietta
47. Andy Moye, rhp, Georgia Southern
48. Nelson Ward, 2b, Lassiter HS, Marietta
49. Brodie Liebrandt, lhp, Columbus State
50. Craig Gullickson, lhp, Georgia
51. Jake Davies, 1b, Georgia Tech
52. Khirus Ware, of, Middle Georgia JC
53. Trent Franzago, rhp, Georgia Southwestern
54. Josh Adams, rhp, Georgia Southern
55. Cecil Tanner, rhp, Georgia

SCOUTING REPORTS

Jed Bradley, lhp
Georgia Tech

Bradley was not drafted out of high school in Huntsville, Ala., but has pitched in the Yellow Jackets weekend rotation for the better part of the last three seasons as he has filled out his 6-foot-4 frame, going from 180-190 pounds when he came to school to a sturdy 224. A rotation stalwart his last two seasons, Bradley was at his best last summer, when he ranked as the Cape Cod League's No. 4 prospect while tying for the league lead in strikeouts. While he's not generally thought of as overpowering, Bradley knows how to miss bats. Scouts love his pitcher's frame, and he has a clean, loose arm. Bradley's fastball sits anywhere from 88-94 mph. In better starts, he's at the higher end of that range, touching 95. His low 80s slider gives him a second plus pitch, and his changeup sits around 80 mph with fade. He earns high marks for his confidence and work ethic. Bradley's performance (6-3, 3.71) has slipped as the draft has neared. Scouts have noticed Bradley's stuff has not been as sharp out of the stretch this spring, and his changeup has lacked consistency, but he's still expected to be drafted among the first 15 picks.

Dwight Smith Jr., of
McIntosh HS, Peachtree City

Smith is the son of the big league outfielder of the same name. Junior has tools and a game that resemble his father significantly. His best tool is his bat, as he owns a pure stroke that ranks among the best in the draft class. He features a prominent leg kick at the plate, yet always seems to be on time and gets his bat into the hitting zone for a long time. Smith has a bit less speed than his dad and may wind up a below-average runner when it's all said and done, pushing him from center field to a corner. He has enough arm strength to make right field a possibility, but a move to a corner will put more pressure on his bat. He has solid power and projects to have average raw power. He's committed to Georgia Tech.

Larry Greene, of
Berrien County HS, Nashville

Greene isn't quite one-dimensional, but it's close. He's a physical beast at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, and one evaluator compared his power to that of Russell Branyan, another south Georgia lefthanded hitter. Green was dominating and putting on huge power displays against modest pitching, pushing himself into first-round consideration. However, scouts who saw him last summer recall he struggled mightily with velocity at the East Coast Pro Showcase. Greene is somewhat stiff but is an average runner, which should give him a chance to play left field, but some scouts think he'll wind up as more of a first base/DH type. Greene's value is mostly in his bat and well above-average raw power. He's likely to put on a display in individual workouts for teams prior to the draft.

Tyler Gibson, of
Stratford Academy, Macon

The son of Mercer head coach Craig Gibson, Tyler has a smooth lefthanded swing with a classic high finish and plus raw power potential. He combines good bat speed, improved strength and good balance with plenty of leverage. Scouts are somewhat split on just how high Gibson's ceiling is and how athletic he is, and some believe all his value will be in his bat. With broad shoulders, he should fill out his 190-pound frame and has added 15 pounds since last summer, when he was sidelined by an automobile accident that kept him off the showcase circuit. He returned in October and hit two home runs at the World Wood Bat event and hasn't looked back. Gibson signed with Georgia Tech, which would play him at short, but pro scouts don't consider him  a fit there, and projecting him at third base can be a challenge if he keeps getting bigger. He runs well enough (6.7-seconds in the 60) to move to an outfield corner and could hit well enough to man either spot. His arm might be better suited to left field, but it won't matter if he hits with plus power.

Zach Cone, of
Georgia

Cone looks like a big leaguer but hasn't played like one this season. After hitting .363 as a sophomore, he was batting .283/.343/.382 as a junior, and scouts were saying more than just the new bats were at play. He appears to lack trust in his hitting ability, swinging early in counts and getting out on his front foot too often. Scouts question his pitch recognition, and he has drawn just 33 walks in three seasons. Cone's other tools range from good to outstanding. He's a plus runner with above-average range in center field. He has understandably played with less abandon after an early-season collision in the outfield that left teammate Jonathan Taylor in the hospital and partially paralyzed with a neck injury. He gets good enough jumps and reads in center field to profile as an above-average defender there. His arm has gone backward, playing fringe-average this spring after it was plus in the fall. Cone has solid raw power and strength, and ranks as one of the college ranks' best athletes, with physical ability comparable to fellow college outfielders such as Mikie Mahtook and George Springer. Even area scouts who see all his flaws expect Cone, who was a third-round pick out of high school in 2008, to improve on that by a round or so in 2011.

Kevin Matthews, lhp
Richmond Hill HS

In a down year for Georgia, high school pitching was particularly weak. Matthews jumped out, and not just because his athleticism allows him to dunk a basketball despite his 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame. He's a slight but quick-armed pitcher whose fastball has touched 94-95 mph, though he's usually in the 87-90 range. He has not shown the ability to sustain above-average velocity with any consistency. His tight curveball gives him a solid-average secondary pitch. He hasn't shown much of a changeup. Matthews' handle on Twitter is "UVAbound11," which gives a hint at the strength his Virginia commitment. While some scouts compare him to such recent draft picks as Kasey Kiker and Robbie Ross (both now in the Rangers system), others liken him more to lefthanded relievers such as Billy Wagner (obviously with less velocity). The consensus is that he's a future reliever due to the effort in his delivery.

Mark Pope, rhp
Georgia Tech

Pope was highly regarded out of high school in Atlanta, leading his Walton High team to a state title as a junior and a runner-up finish as a senior. He was a 17th-round pick of the Braves but went to Georgia Tech, where he was a closer as a freshman and mid-week starter as a sophomore. Few were prepared for Pope to become the Yellow Jackets' Friday starter as a junior, pushing likely first-rounder Jed Bradley to the Saturday spot. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference in wins (11) and innings (105) while ranking third in ERA (1.54) through the end of the regular season, yet he wasn't impressing scouts. While he hit the mid-90s in high school, he now works with an 88-92 mph fastball with average life and command. He has good feel for his slider, either as a strike or a chase pitch, and most scouts grade it as major league average, more notable for its command than its bite. He's more of a groundball pitcher than a strikeout artist, and his changeup gives him a decent third option. Pope doesn't get rattled and pitched with a lot of confidence this season. Some scouts think there's more in his arm if he can pitch off his four-seamer more as a pro. He was rising as the draft approached, though he had to leave his regional start with a back injury, which could make it tough to guess where he gets picked.

Jordan Weems, c
Columbus HS

Weems has taken advantage of his bloodlines, his own improved play, the down year in Georgia and the dearth of catching to jump up draft boards. He helped lead Columbus High to a state championship in 2010, and he helped the team reach the state 3-A semifinals this season. He hopes to become the third member of his family to get drafted, joining father Rick (1980, 15th round, Cardinals) and brother Chase (2007, sixth round, Yankees). Weems is tall and lanky at a listed 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, and lacks present strength. Scouts have to project his hitting ability and power because of his lack of physicality. His arm gets easy above-average grades, and he posts sub-2.0-second pop times. He's a decent receiver now who projects to be average with more strength. Weems is committed to Georgia State.

Prep Ranks Dim In 2011

Scouts wanted to like high school players in Georgia, helping push players such as Greene and Gibson up boards. Some scouts, however, said those players wouldn't have gotten long looks in last year's crowded prep ranks.

The search for talent led many scouts to track down high school catchers such as Weems, Winder's Max Pentecost and Marietta's Connor Lynch. Pentecost got plenty of early exposure with his solid athleticism and intriguing bat. An elbow injury in April turned out to require Tommy John surgery, but a similar injury didn't keep fellow Georgia prep catcher Luke Bailey from getting picked two years ago. Pentecost doesn't have Bailey's track record, though. He's committed to Kennesaw State. Lynch has plus arm strength but a slow transfer thanks to sloppy footwork; some scouts like his bat better. He has athleticism and bat speed, but signability could be an issue. He's a Georgia Tech signee.

Florida International was hoping to get a top Georgia recruit in infielder Julius Gaines, who battled a shoulder injury all year that made him tough to evaluate. Gaines hurt his shoulder pitching but is a hitter all the way, with a chance to play shortstop with a solid-average arm and good infield actions. He's an average runner out of the box and above-average under way, and scouts have to do some projecting on his bat. For some, he lacks a plus tool. His injury may make him a summer follow, especially for a team with extra picks.

The state's top middle-infield challenger to Gaines was athletic Deion Williams, who plays at Redan High, the same school that produced recent big league infielders Brandon Phillips and Chris Nelson. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, he's tall and lean with an excellent frame that should fill out well. He has bloodlines as the grandson of former big league slugger George Scott. His defense is his best attribute now, as he has arm strength and quick feet. He doesn't have great actions, and while his swing has some looseness, he doesn't drive the ball consistently. He's signed to Georgia State.

The state's high school pitching was down, with a few projectable arms. Georgia recruit Reggie McClain provides a lean, athletic body and fringe-average fastball that touches 91-92 mph on occasion. He throws his slider with depth and power, but doesn't have great size and was hard to see thanks to an early spring injury. McClain has upside with a loose arm and projection at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds.

Georgia Tech's recruiting class has plenty of projectable arms, starting with righthander Jake Burnette, whose older brother Chase played outfield for the Yellow Jackets. He is a lean 6-foot-4, 185-pounder who was a fine high school basketball player, helping Buford reach the state 2-A title game. His frame, long arms and big hands portend his stuff will get a grade better in the future. He has a clean delivery that produces 86-88 mph fastballs and soft curveballs presently. He could take off once he gives up basketball.

Prep teammate Josh Heddinger is similarly tall and at least 40 pounds heavier than Burnette, but he wears his 220-230 pounds well. They led Buford High to a state 2-A title, and Heddinger helped as much at the plate as on the mound, playing third base and hitting for power. He's a better prospect on the mound, as he gets good depth on his curveball and has a fringe-average fastball to go with a changeup and slider. Heddinger could be attractive to pro teams that saw him throw harder than the 88 mph he typically registered this spring.

Fellow Tech recruit Cole Pitts also is a projectable signee. At 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, he has upper-80s velocity and has touched 91-92 mph, and he throws strikes with his fastball and decent changeup. Unlike Heddinger, he lacks a feel for spinning the ball. His control could make him the most likely of the trio to contribute for Georgia Tech in 2012 if they make it to campus.

Colleges Deeper Than High Schools

Georgia used a strong finish to the season to made it back to NCAA regional play after an up-and-down regular season. One key for the Bulldogs' improvement over a 16-win season last year was its starting pitching, keyed by righthander Michael Palazzone. He was an unsigned 18th-round pick in 2008 by the Braves—one round after Tech ace Mark Pope—but headed to school. He was a draft-eligible sophomore last year but lasted until the 32nd round thanks to a straight, low-90s fastball that got pounded to the tune of 4-6, 8.66. He was a rock in 2011, though, going 10-5, 3.14 after a loss in regional play. He pitched somewhat like Pope this year, commanding a fringy fastball at 87-89 mph, touching 91 and showing more life than he did in the past. He's done a much better job throwing his slurvy breaking ball and changeup for strikes, and his pitch patterns have improved significantly. He's expected to be drafted in the first 12 rounds.

Among Georgia's other players, second baseman Levi Hyams should be drafted as a grinder with a sound approach, solid defensive ability and fringy offensive tools. Chase Davidson was a third-rounder out of high school in 2008 who won't be offered close to the $425,000 or so he would have received had he signed for slot back then with the Astros. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Davidson has played a lot of DH in 2011 and heated up as the season went on, but he's streaky and a below-average athlete whose only plus tool is raw power. He has a career 133-33 strikeout-walk ratio in 347 at-bats for the Bulldogs.

Georgia could get a boost next year if the state's top junior-college prospect doesn't get drafted high. Middle Georgia JC lefthander Matt Taylor is a 6-foot-2 sophomore who began his career at Alabama and ranked 17th on BA's Georgia draft list in 2009. He has pitched with an average to plus fastball in 2011, topping out at 93. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, and he throws both a slider and curveball, with the slider the better offering. He competes well and had a banner year, with 128 strikeouts in 82 innings during a 7-5, 3.31 season.

His teammate DeMondre Arnold, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who was a 37th-round pick of the Rays last season, also has a chance to be drafted. Arnold concentrated on pitching as a freshman this year and threw in the low 90s, though he's quite raw and wasn't able to earn a consistent roster spot for his juco team.

Georgia Tech has its own once-touted prospect who has faltered in Kevin Jacob, a righthander who was the No. 1 prospect in the Alaska League in 2009, when he was hitting 97-99 mph. Jacob always had unusual pitching mechanics, with an over-the-top delivery, and he broke down last season, missing much of the year with a shoulder injury. He avoided surgery, but hasnt found that elite velocity since then. He had a good outing against Georgia in late April when he threw 91-93 mph and didn't walk a batter; scouts who saw him then may bite on the senior, who didn't sign as an 18th-round pick of the Yankees last season.

More attractive for most scouts is raw arm Jacob Esch, who is the Yellow Jackets' starting shortstop. One of the club's few lineup veterans, Esch opened the season as the starting second baseman, then flipped spots with freshman Mott Hyde and sparked the Jackets' season by providing solid defense and gap power. He has pitched sparingly this season, with just six appearances spanning five innings after being used for 19 innings in 2009. Esch, who went to Joe Mauer's alma mater, Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn., has a pitcher's body at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, and his fastball hit 95 mph in fall practice. He sat in the 89-91 range this season and has piqued scouts' interest more than any Yellow Jackets player save Bradley.

Hulking third baseman Matt Skole nearly made BA's Top 200, but a power slump pushed him off the list. He didn't homer in Atlantic Coast Conference play until the season's penultimate series, against North Carolina. Skole comes from a baseball family, as his grandfather played professionally. His father played at Georgia Southern, while his uncle Tony coaches East Tennessee State, and most famously, his younger brother Jake was a first-round pick of the Rangers in 2010. Matt Skole was one of the few veterans in a young Georgia Tech lineup and was pitched around all season. After hitting 37 home runs his first two seasons, Skole was down to nine in 2011. Still, he has plus raw power from the left side, has trimmed up his body over the last three seasons and has a polished offensive approach, drawing more walks than strikeouts the last two seasons. He's competent at third base but fits better at first base as a pro, which will require more offense. A February charge of driving under the influence hasn't soured scouts on his makeup.

The state's smaller college ranks will be better next year with Georgia Southern sophomores Chris Beck, a righthander, and national home run leader Victor Roache, an outfielder. The Eagles' top prospect this year is righthander Matt Murray, who was the Southern Conference pitcher of the year. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Murray has pro size and draft pedigree, as he was a 39th-rounder out of high school. He started for two seasons and struggled to put hitters away thanks to a below-average curveball and changeup. While those pitches improved this year, he was better because he attacked hitters out of a relief role with his fastball, often in the 90-92 mph range with sink, and his changeup now has similar life and plays average.

Kennesaw State's top draft pick will be senior righty Bryan Blough, who was on BA's 2009 list as a junior college product. He had a rough adjustment to Division I in 2010, posting a 10.29 ERA, but rebounded to go 4-4, 3.61 this season. He keeps the ball down and can push his fastball into the 88-92 mph range from an over-the-top delivery. Blough also holds his velocity well and gets depth on his slider.

Mercer's top draft pick will be third baseman Jacob Tanis, who is slow afoot but otherwise has solid-average tools. Tanis has a feel for hitting and produces good bat speed and power from the right side. He was much more patient in 2011 (35 walks after 15 last season) and maintained his power production despite the bat change, belting 15 home runs. He may lack the quick feet for third base and profiles better behind the plate at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. He wasn't picked as a draft-eligible sophomore a year ago.

Teammate Brandon Love is the next Bears draftee as a lefthander with a fringe-average 87-89 mph fastball and plus change. His breaking ball is charitably described as "functional," and he has a solid pitcher's frame at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. Fellow Mercer pitchers Justice French, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound sinkerballer with a decent slider and changeup, and sidearm closer J.T. Odom should both be picked. Both are senior righthanders. French had by far his best season in 2011, allowing only one home run in 80 innings. Odom has a similar arm slot to Mercer big league alum Cory Gearrin but throws in the mid-80s instead of the low 90s as Gearring does. He locates his stuff much better and had a 73-9 K-BB ratio in 55 innings in 2011.

Division II Armstrong Atlantic could have three players picked in physical reliever Travis Morris, righthander Scott Strickland and catcher John Roberts. Morris has touched 93 mph and used a slider and split-finger fastball to rack up 23 strikeouts in 20 innings this season, but his spotty command limited him to a set-up role. Strickland was the team's ace, going 8-3, 2.90. He pitches with a fringy fastball at 86-89 mph but throws both his solid slider and 12-to-6 curve for strikes, while mixing in a changeup. He redshirted last year, spending that season and two previous ones at Augusta State, so he's already 22. Roberts was the team's leading hitter at .355/.391/.535 and has a solid-average arm, generating sub-2.0 second pop times. He's a solid receiver and physical enough at 6-foot, 200 pounds.

Columbus State also has some pitchers who could get drafted, including fifth-year senior Thomas Campbell, a workhorse with an average fastball,and eligible sophomore Brodie Liebrandt, the son of ex-Braves lefty Charlie Liebrandt. Like his dad, Brodie is a soft-tossing, touch-and-feel lefthander. His younger brother Brandon Liebrandt, however, has more power, with a fastball in the upper 80s and a 6-foot-5, 185-pound frame that has some projection. He helped lead Marist High to the state 4-A championship, going 12-0. He's a Florida State recruit and considered a tough sign.

The Liebrandts had more success than Georgia's Craig Gullickson, the son of 1980 No. 2 overall pick Bill Gullickson. He went backward with the Bulldogs, losing fastball velocity and going 3-2, 8.23 this season.