No. 1 Gainesville Red Elephants (Gainesville, Ga.)
State Association/League: Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class AAAAA/GHSA 8A-AAAAA Region
Head Coach: Jeremy Kemp (6th season as head coach)
2013 Results: 28-5 overall record; GHSA 8A-AAAAA Region Champion; GHSA Class AAAAA State Quarterfinalist
Key Losses: RHP/OF Hunter Anglin (Lipscomb); C Skyler Weber (Georgia); 2B Luke Moore
Top Returning Players: Sr. OF/RHP Michael Gettys (Georgia); Sr. SS/RHP Sims Griffith (Furman); Sr. LHP/OF Chandler Newton (Mercer); Sr. C/1B Drew Satterfield (Tennessee Temple); Jr. 1B/RHP Caleb Whitenton (South Carolina); Jr. C/RHP Michael Curry (Georgia)
Notable Matchups: March 14 vs. Mill Creek; March 26-29 vs. National High School Invitational at Cary, N.C.; March 31 at Winder-Barrow; April 1 vs. Winder-Barrow; April 4 vs. Loganville; April 7 at Loganville
THERE’S AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, AND IN THIS CASE everyone’s more than willing to acknowledge it. It can’t be ignored – not this big Red Elephant. It’s there for the entire country to see and talk about, and it’s not going to go away without a bellowing trumpet call or two.
The Gainesville High School Red Elephants – winners of 61 games over the past two seasons but with no GHSA state championship to show for all those victories – will begin the 2014 campaign Feb. 28 at Lambert High School in Suwanee, Ga., carrying the badge of honor as the No. 1 team in the 2014 Perfect Game Preseason National High School Rankings.
The Red Elephants finished No. 65 in 2013 after a 28-5 season that ended in the Georgia High School Association’s Class AAAAA playoff’s quarterfinal round. Led by the return of 2013 Perfect Game All-American Michael Gettys, they expect their final 2014 ranking to be in the next galaxy over when compared to 2013.
“We’ve got a chance to be really good; that’s the plan anyway,” Gainesville head coach Jeremy Kemp told PG in a recent telephone interview. “We lost three quality seniors from last year and we’ve got to replace them, so we’re still searching a little bit, but the kids are working hard and I couldn’t be any happier at this moment.”
Behind the play of Gettys, Gainesville roared to its 2013 GHSA 8A-AAAAA Region championship with a 14-2 record but lost a little steam in the playoffs. It was the Red Elephants first go-around as a Class AAAAA program, and they lost a pair of games to upstart Whitewater, 2-1 and 4-3, in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament.
“We jumped up two classes (in 2013) from triple-A to five-A, so I thought we had had a pretty good season,” Kemp said. “We played great during the regular season and the first two series (in the postseason) we played pretty good, and in the third series we just didn’t play well.”
Gettys, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound athletic outfielder and right-handed pitcher, was sensational during his junior season. He hit .420 with five home runs and 37 RBI and went 10-1 with a 0.77 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched. He couldn’t be any more excited about getting his senior season under way.
“This should be a real fun year,” Gettys told PG last week. “I’ve worked on a lot of stuff and our team has worked on a lot of stuff and it’s just going to be fun to get out there and play. We’ve always been one of the best teams in the state and we’ve always had some of the best talent, but we just haven’t been able to put it all together. Our chemistry is really, really good this year and I feel like we have a really good shot at winning every game.”
That will be a tall order but never underestimate Gettys. He is a University of Georgia signee who Perfect Game ranks the No. 2 overall national prospect in the class of 2014.
And he won’t be called upon to be the only provider of senior leadership to the Red Elephants this spring. Shortstop Sims Griffith is ranked as a “high follow” and has signed with Furman; left-hander/outfielder Chandler Newton, another “high follow”, is a Mercer signee; catcher/first baseman Drew Satterfield has signed with Tennessee Temple University, a National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) school located in Greenville, S.C.
Top Red Elephant juniors include first baseman/right-hander Caleb Whitenton, a South Carolina commit, and catcher/right-hander Michael Curry, a Georgia recruit.
Curry, PG’s No. 91-ranked national prospect in the class of 2015, moved into the Gainesville district from Murphy (N.C.) High School over the summer. He hit .537 (29-for-54) with a home run, eight doubles 28 RBI and 25 runs in 17 games, and also allowed no earned runs on five hits with 17 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings on the mound for Murphy High as a sophomore.
Curry also excelled at the PG Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis last June. He then played in three PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments with the Georgia Roadrunners before playing with Marucci Elite at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and with the Marlins Scout Team at the PG WWBA World Championship in October.
All of Gainesville’s top players – Gettys, Griffith, Whitenton, Satterfield and Newton among them – were part of prominent Georgia travel ball teams last summer, most notably Gainesville-based Tigers Baseball and Loganville-based Team Elite Baseball. In past years many of them were also involved with Marietta-based East Cobb Baseball.
“This is a great group of kids,” Kemp said. “We have some question marks pitching-wise. … We’re going to hit the ball a lot better than we did last year but the biggest question right now is what we’re going to be able to do on the mound and who’s going to step up.”
Gettys, too, likes the vibes this team generates. While he might grab most of the headlines, Gettys knows his teammates are all comfortable in their own skin.
“This year I feel like this is the best it’s been since I’ve been at Gainesville,” Gettys said of the camaraderie he and his teammates enjoy. “There were times (in the past) that we just didn’t have good chemistry, but this year everyone really knows each other and it’s just a good year for everyone – everyone is on the same page.”
It’s been a remarkable run for Gettys, who made his Perfect Game debut at the 2009 PG WWBA 14u National Championship as a 5-foot-6, 130-pound, 13-year-old outfielder playing for the East Cobb Astros 13u. Eighteen PG events later, he showed all five impressive tools at last June’s Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis when set an event record with a 100 mph throw from the outfield, delivered a 94 mph fastball from the mound and ran a 6.43-second 60-yard dash.
“He’s special; there’s nothing he can’t do on the baseball field,” Kemp said. “Everybody’s coming to look at him and it’s all as a hitter and an outfielder, and he’s a legit 94 (mph) and he’s the real deal off the mound. There’s nothing on the baseball field that he can’t do, and it’s unbelievable to be able to watch him play every day and unbelievable to be able to coach him.”
It’s likely Gettys will never step foot on the University of Georgia campus in Athens next fall, but that didn’t keep Bulldogs head coach Scott Stricklin from heaping praise on him last week. After Stricklin had secured his 2014 recruiting class on Feb. 5 with signed letters of intent, he said in a news release:
“Michael (Gettys) may be one of the best high school athletes in the country. He is a true, two-way player that can run balls down in the outfield and throw in the mid-90s off the mound. He has big-time bat speed and can also run with the very best. There are very few five-tool players out there and Michael is one of them.”
Following his appearance at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego in August, Gettys didn’t hitch his wagon with any team for the PG WWBA World Championship in October. He made the decision to spend the fall months working on improving his strength and speed, and he told PG last week that he added nearly 15 pounds of muscle without slowing down a tick.
“I really started working on being a hitter, and the (added strength) made a big-time difference,” Gettys said. “I’ve changed some stuff in my swing, and we played a scrimmage the other day and I hit the ball very, very well. I feel like this summer made me more mentally focused and mentally prepared – I use to get down on myself … but now I feel like I’m really mentally focused and I just go out there and have fun instead of being so tense.
“I’m looking forward to having a really, really good (high school) season,” he continued. “I feel like I didn’t do as well during the summer, which is fine, so there’s only room to improve this year; I feel like I’m going to go off this year and have a great season.”
When the Gainesville Red Elephants’ season comes to an end sometime in late May, the seniors can seriously begin contemplating their lives after high school. Most will head off to college – some of them to continue their baseball careers – while others will head into the work force.
Gettys is one of those rare young men who will get to choose between college and making money, and in his case he stands to make an awful lot of money. Perfect Game ranks Gettys as the No. 7 overall (college, juco, high school) prospect and No. 1 overall outfield prospect in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, which should make him a high first-round selection.
“I love the coaches up in Georgia, and I have a lot of friends up there. I love it up there and it’s great that that (opportunity) is there for me,” he said. “But everyone wants to play Major League Baseball – I can’t tell you that I would not want to play Major League Baseball. That’s a goal of mine and I feel like I’m going to have a great season this year and we’ll just have to see what happens.”
That’s another elephant in the room everybody is more than happy to talk about.