Draft | State Preview | 5/14/2011

State Preivew: Georgia

Allan Simpson         David Rawnsley        
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico.  These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.
Georgia State-by-State List 
Georgia Overview:
By Georgia’s Lofty Standards, This Year’s Prep Draft Class Ranks Below Par
Georgia has established itself over the last two decades as one the nation’s top four talent-producing states. But even by the state’s lofty standards, the 2010 draft represented a once-in-a-generation windfall pool for Georgia.
Altogether, there were six players with Georgia connections that were selected in the first round, led by outfielder/second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. (Woodward Academy), chosen by the Houston Astros with the eighth pick overall. He was one of five high-school selections, and was subsequently joined in the first round by outfielder Jake Skole (15th/Rangers, Blessed Trinity HS), third baseman/righthander Kaleb Cowart (18th/Angels, Cook HS), righthander Cam Bedrosian (29th/Angels, East Cowetta HS) and outfielder Chevy Clarke (30th/Angels, Marietta HS). The Los Angeles Angels snapped up three of the selections themselves.
Overall, nine Georgia high-school players were taken in the first 103 selections. That total ranked second behind only California (11 players), and ahead of the other traditional baseball talent hotbeds, Florida (6) and Texas (5).
Georgia Tech righthander Deck McGuire (10th/Blue Jays) was the sixth first-round selection, but the only player to come from the Georgia college ranks.
It was an unprecedented haul in the first round for Georgia, but there were actually more players drafted in 2009 (79) that originally attended high school in the state than were drafted overall a year ago (72). Those two years represent the highest single-year totals in state history.
By any standard of comparison, the 2011 draft will not be so kind to Georgia. It will produce nowhere close to the kind of impact-level talent that last year’s draft did or number of draft picks overall, and is actually well below Georgia’s accustomed output on both counts.
Only one Georgia high-school prospect, McIntosh High outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., son of the former major leaguer, has even a remote chance of being drafted in the first round. More likely, he will be one of 27 supplemental first-round picks in this draft.
After Smith, it is conceivable that no Georgia prep player will be picked in the next 2-3 rounds. And that will all depend on signability issues and how players like Luella High shortstop Julius Gaines, Berrien County High outfielder Larry Greene and Richmond Hill High lefthander Kevin Matthews are evaluated.
One ingredient that is almost entirely missing from the traditionally-strong Georgia high-school talent pool this year is pitching. Matthews is acknowledged as the best pitching prospect in the state, but he’s a sub-6-footer with a near-binding scholarship offer to Virginia, which normally holds on to players its best recruits. Given that dilemma, it’s conceivable that no Georgia high-school arms could be taken in the top 10 rounds—a far cry from 2010.
The situation is a bit brighter on the college front, thanks in large part to the top three starting pitchers in the state that are eligible for the 2011 draft, Georgia Tech’s stellar twosome of lefthander Jed Bradley and righthander Mark Pope, and Georgia righthander Michael Palazzone.
Bradley, a Huntsville, Ala., native who topped out only in the mid- to upper-80s out of high school and was not drafted before enrolling at Georgia Tech, has the potential to be among the first 4-5 picks in this draft. He is linked with Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen as the two top college southpaws in the country. Bradley began his Georgia Tech career in inglorious fashion by going 2-3, 6.65 as a freshman, but improved to 9-5, 4.83 as a junior and has been dominant in almost every outing this spring, going 6-2, 2.63 with 83 strikeouts in 75 innings.
As productive as Bradley has been this year, Pope has been even better, going 10-2, 1.27 as Georgia Tech’s Friday starter. He has put himself on the short list of candidates for national pitcher-of-the-year honors. Pope, a 17th-round pick of the hometown Braves out of a Georgia high school, began his career at Georgia Tech as a closer, saving eight games, before being switched to a starting role as a sophomore. He is now 23-4 over his college career, but may not be a premium draft selection because he has just an average fastball.
If Bradley and Pope aren’t a difficult enough tandem for most teams that face Georgia Tech in a three-game weekend series, the Yellow Jackets have a third starter of some note, 6-foot-5 righthander Buck Farmer, who has a legitimate chance to become a first-round pick in 2012.
Palazzone was picked in the 18th round by the Braves in 2008, just one round after the Braves took Pope. Though they play on rival college teams, Palazzone and Pope were teammates on the same East Cobb youth teams during their high-school years. Palazzone has recovered sufficiently from both Tommy John surgery in the past and the meltdown by Georgia’s entire pitching staff in 2010 to become one of the top starters in the Southeastern Conference this season. He was 8-2, 2.15 through his first 12 starts.
With Palazzone’s best pitch being a changeup, he may lack the true power pitch to propel him into the top 3-5 rounds, but his three-pitch arsenal, command and maturity should easily land him in the first 10 rounds.
According to Perfect Game pre-draft rankings, the best talent in Georgia at the junior-college level is concentrated at one school, Middle Georgia College. The Warriors feature the state’s top six prospects, led by Georgia-bound lefthander Matt Taylor. But Middle Georgia finished no better than third this spring in the state junior-college standings, a sign of the team’s inexperience. Taylor is the only one of the team’s top half-dozen prospects, all products of Georgia high schools, who wasn’t a freshman.
While 2011 may be considered a down year overall for baseball talent in Georgia, things should turn around in a hurry.
The talent on the rosters of the elite teams in the vaunted East Cobb youth program is usually a good barometer for young talent coming through the state. Skole, Cowart and Clarke were all East Cobb alumni from the 2010 draft, but last year’s upper-level East Cobb teams were noticeably down in talent, and it is reflected in the sparse crop of Georgia high-school prospects this year.
The good news for Georgia in 2012 and beyond, though, is East Cobb’s 2012 and 2013 draft classes appear to be exceptionally talented, especially the 2013 class.
Georgia in a Nutshell:
STRENGTH: Georgia Tech pitchers, high-school position players.
WEAKNESS: High-school arms.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Wayne County HS, Jesup.
PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Mark Pope, rhp, Georgia Tech. Pope won’t overwhelm hitters with his marginal raw stuff, but has achieved significant success this spring with consistency and command. His 10-2, 1.27 record also includes 16 walks and 75 strikeouts in 92 innings, so Pope cannot be ignored by big-league teams looking for proven college performers in the early rounds.
PROSPECTS ON THE DECLINE: Kevin Jacob, rhp, Georgia Tech / LHP Cecil Tanner, rhp, Georgia. Both pitchers have massive frames (6-feet-6, 240 pounds) and fastballs that have peaked in the past in the high-90s. Had they developed in college, as expected, both could have been sure-fire first-rounders. But Jacobs was slowed by medical issues in 2010, and has never come close to regaining his previous form, while Tanner has been plagued throughout his career by mechanical issues that prevent him from throwing strikes on a consistent basis—much less reaching even 90 mph, at times. It’s unlikely either pitcher will be drafted before the 10th round.
WILD CARD: Julius Gaines, ss, Luella HS, Locust Grove. Opinions vary across the board on the flashy defensive shortstop, who missed a key early part of the season with a shoulder injury. Gaines struggled to find a rhythm at the plate this spring, but has a demonstrated history of success swinging wood bats in summer competition.
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Georgia Connection: Grayson Garvin, lhp, Vanderbilt University (attended high school in Suwanee).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Buck Farmer, rhp, Georgia Tech.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Wesley Jones, ss/rhp, Redan HS, Lithonia.
Draft History: Ron Blomberg, 1b, Druid Hills HS, Atlanta (1967, Yankees/1st round, 1st pick); Mike Ivie, c, Walker HS, Decatur (1970, Padres/1st round, 1st pick); Tim Beckham, ss, Griffin HS (2008, Rays/1st round, 1st pick).
2006 Draft: Brooks Brown, rhp, U. of Georgia (Diamondbacks/1st round; 34th pick).
2007 Draft: Matt Wieters, c, Georgia Tech (Orioles/1st round, 5th pick).
2008 Draft: Tim Beckham, ss, Griffin HS (Rays/1st round, 1st pick).
2009 Draft: Donavan Tate, of, Cartersville HS (Padres/1st round, 3rd pick).
2010 Draft: Delino DeShields Jr., of/2b, Woodward Academy, College Park (Astros/1st round, 8th pick).
Best Hitter: Dwight Smith, of, McIntosh HS, Peachtree City.
Best Power: Matt Skole, 3b, Georgia Tech.
Best Speed: Zach Cone, of, University of Georgia.
Best Defender: Julius Gaines, ss, Luella HS, Locust Grove.
Best Velocity: Jed Bradley, lhp, Georgia Tech.
Best Breaking Stuff: Mark Pope, rhp, Georgia Tech.
GROUP ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
1. JED BRADLEY, lhp, Georgia Tech (Jr.)
Ideal 6-4 profile build; FB sits 92-93/touches 96, SL/CH are + pitches, easy mechanics from high- ¾ release.
2. DWIGHT SMITH, of, McIntosh HS, Peachtree City
MLB bloodlines (son of Dwight Sr.); very polished bat/line-drive machine, average speed/arm, + performer.
3. ZACH CONE, of, University of Georgia (Jr.)
Superior athlete with 5-tool potential; 6.45 in 60, excellent OF, + raw bat speed, but very undisciplined hitter.
4. LARRY GREENE, of, Berrien County HS, Nashville
Raw strength/power in 6-1/230 build; bat is best tool/ball jumps at contact, 6.8 speed; corner OF, OK arm.
5. MARK POPE, rhp, Georgia Tech (Jr.)
Solid competitor/performer (10-2, 1.27); gets+ sink on 90-mph FB/commands SL from deceptive ¾ release.
6. JULIUS GAINES, ss, Luella HS, Locust Grove
Missed time with shoulder issue; ++ defensive SS, +hands, flashy/confident style, bat speed/line-drive swing.
GROUP TWO (Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)
7. MATT SKOLE, 3b, Georgia Tech (Jr.)
Polished LH power bat (.354-5-47, 42 career HR), patient plate approach; playable defender at 3B, also 1B/C.
8. KEVIN MATTHEWS, lhp, Richmond Hill HS
Undersized lefty, pitches at 88-92 mph/touches 95; has big/hard CU, nice CH, repeats delivery, + competitor.
9. MATT TAYLOR, lhp, Middle Georgia JC (So.)
Ex-Alabama lefty dominated (67 IP/112 SO) with 88-93 FB, + SL; + competes, excellent feel for pitching.
10. JAKE BURNETTE, rhp, Buford HS
6-5/175 basketball standout; throws downhill with 88-91 FB/projects more velo; downer CU, feel for K zone.
11. MATT MURRAY, rhp, Georgia Southern University (Jr.)
Ex-starter re-invented himself this spring as closer (4-2, 1.73, 7 SV, 52 IP/55 SO), FB at steady 91-93, + CH.
12. CONNOR LYNCH, c, Pope HS, Marietta
Multi-tooled catcher; has + arm strength/agility, blocking skills; aggressive bat/power, + performer, 7.0 in 60.
13. TYLER GIBSON, ss, Stratford HS, Macon
Son of Mercer head BB coach; broad frame (6-2/190), LH bat, smooth swing, + power potential, 6.7 runner.
14. MICHAEL PALAZZONE, rhp, University of Georgia (Jr.)
UGA ace (8-2, 2.15, 88 IP/8 BB), OK stuff (88-92 mph FB/+ CH/downer CU), but works ahead consistently.
15. DeMONDRE ARNOLD, rhp, Middle Georgia JC (Fr.)
Ex-2-way player has focused on pitching (32 IP/45 SO); just scratching surface, but consistent 91-92, + SL.
16. LEVI HYAMS, 2b, University of Georgia (Jr.)
Lacks flashy tools/approach, but very steady at bat/in field; has average bat/speed/range/arm, hit .335-2-29.
17. REGGIE McCLAIN, rhp, Northview HS, Johns Creek
Loose/projectable frame (6-2/185); easy delivery with 88-92 mph FB, 81 SL with bite/depth, strike thrower.
18. MAX PENTECOST, c, Winder Barrow HS, Winder
Big improvement this spring for 6-2/190 athlete, 6.8 runner, power in swing; hurt elbow in April, TJ surgery.
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