A season which saw Scott Stricklin’s team set a school record for conference wins wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Despite a disappointing ending, 2019 brought reason for optimism for Georgia Bulldog fans. There were those 21 SEC victories, and 46 total wins. The Red and Black spent most of the college baseball season ranked in the top 10 and were seriously in the national title conversation right up until this weekend, when they suddenly weren’t. Again, for a team that hadn’t won a game at the SEC tournament in a decade and a coach who some thought might be on the hot seat if things went poorly, 2019 was a success and gave good reason to look forward to 2020.
Today fans will get a preliminary read on how much there is to look forward to. The 2019 Major League Baseball Draft begins tonight at 7:00 and continues through Wednesday with 40 total rounds of selections. High school players who have not yet entered college are eligible, and will make up many of the high selections. But college juniors can also be drafted. Georgia, like most teams, will be looking to see which members of its 2019 signing class and which of its underclassmen are taken early enough to guarantee enough money to forego further amateur competition.
Among players already on the Bulldog roster the news for the Diamond ‘Dawgs is pretty good. Many of the key players on the 2019 team were freshmen and sophomores who will likely be back next season. Sophomore ace Emerson Hancock will return in 2020, likely as one of the most closely watched pitching prospects in college baseball. Pitchers Ryan Webb and Cole Wilcox will also be back, giving the ‘Dawgs a nice nucleus of starting pitching to develop from.
Junior Tony Locey, arguably the team’s most effective pitcher in the postseason, is draft-eligible and will likely be selected. He’s got a pro fast ball, good command, and showed improved consistency in 2019. The question will be whether the former Houston County Bear is selected early enough to convince him to leave Athens. I still think he’s probably a day two pick, but this one bears watching.
Lakeside (Evans) pitcher Will Childers is a member of the Bulldog signing class, and also an Under Armour All-American selection. The right hander has garnered 7th and 8th round mock draft grades, and so could be a threat to never make it to Athens. That being said, UGA pitching coach Sean Kenny has built an impressive track record over the last couple of seasons to advertise his ability to improve players’ draft stock. If Childers makes it to the Classic City look for him to become a big part of the UGA rotation in 2020.
Junior Aaron Schunk, who split time between third base and closer, has climbed draft boards following a season that saw him named to the Olerud Award finalist list (given to the top two-way player in college baseball). Schunk has earned consistent second to fourth round mock draft grades and is among the best available college infielders due to both solid defensive skills and good power at the plate. It will be hard to keep him on campus.
Junior shortstop Cam Shepherd had a heroic SEC tournament and has been a consistent defensive player in the middle of the Bulldog infield since his freshman season. Shepherd looks like a second day selection, but teams looking to shore up their pool of shortstop prospects could take him a little higher. I expect Shepherd back in 2020, but it’s no sure thing if he gets the right offer.
The combination of minimal draft losses, only three seniors (John Cable, L.J. Talley, and pitcher Adam Goodman), and a solid thirteen man recruiting class mean that the 2020 Diamond ‘Dawgs are unlikely to be less talented than the 2019 iteration. The question will be whether next year’s group can produce on the big stage, and perhaps avoid drawing a hot FSU squad playing for a coach retiring after 40 years in the dugout. No matter what, it’s pretty clear that the UGA administration has been rewarded for its early faith in Scott Stricklin with a team that will once again contend for an SEC title and College World Series berth. Until later . . .