All-Star game, draft demonstrate state’s baseball prowess

Braves right fielder Nick Markakis is among three former Georgia high school players selected to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Washington. Markakis played at Woodstock High School.

Braves right fielder Nick Markakis is among three former Georgia high school players selected to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Washington. Markakis played at Woodstock High School.

Three former Georgia high school baseball players – Nick Markakis, Charlie Blackmon and Buster Posey -- are major league All-Stars this week.

That’s not unusual for Georgia, not lately.

Since 2010, there have been 13 Georgia MLB All-Stars who have accounted for 24 appearances. Seven were in the 2010 game in Anaheim, where Matt Capps of Alexander High in Douglasville was the winning pitcher, and Jonathan Broxton of Burke County got the save.

How special was that?

Consider that in the 1970s, Georgia did not have any All-Stars. The drought extended from 1969 (Blue Moon Odom of Macon’s Ballard-Hudson High) to 1980 (Ray Knight of Albany’s Dougherty High). Metro Atlanta didn’t have an All-Star from 1952 (Jim Hearn of North Fulton) until 1986 (Wally Joyner of Redan).

Now, Georgia has had at least one All-Star every season since 2005.

“The talent level here in unbelievable right now,’’ said Harvey Cochran, the executive director of the Georgia Dugout Club and a Georgia high school coach from 1971 to 2012. “These kids in Georgia high school baseball can do things they couldn’t do 30 years ago. Scouts tell me it’s the third-most recruited state in the country now behind Texas and California and right there with Florida.’’

Georgia’s standing also can be seen in the major leagues’ annual June draft.

This year, two Georgia high school players were picked in the first round. Cartersville catcher Anthony Seigler went to the Yankees, and Forsyth Central pitcher Ethan Hankins went to the Indians.

Two others, Kumar Rocker of North Oconee and Cole Wilcox of Heritage-Ringgold, almost certainly would’ve gone in the first round had they not stated their intentions to take their mid-90s fastballs to college. Rocker will pitch for Vanderbilt, Wilcox for Georgia.

In the 1980s, there was only one Georgia player taken in the first round out of high school. That was Willie Greene of Jones County in 1989. But since 2010, there have been 22 first-round picks out of Georgia high schools. There were 12 from 2000 to 2009, and 10 from 1990 to 1999.

Those totals don’t include Georgia players drafted out of colleges. This year, Joey Bart was a first-rounder last month out of Georgia Tech four years after leading Buford High to a state championship. Bart has hit six home runs in his 61 rookie-league games for the Giants, who believe he can follow their All-Star Posey as a slugging Georgia catcher.

Markakis, Posey and Blackman were drafted out of college, too, with Markakis and Posey going in the first round, Markakis out of Young Harris in 2003 and Posey out of Florida State in 2008. Blackmon went in the second round out of Georgia Tech in 2008. (Markakis played high school ball at Woodstock. Posey played at Lee County. Blackmon played at North Gwinnett.)

Local high school coaches have similar timelines and theories on Georgia’s evolution as a baseball national power. Cochran, who spent most of his career at North Cobb, points to the 1983 East Marietta team that won the Little League World Series, which was heavily covered in the media. ‘’That’s when the game suddenly got noticed,’’ he said.

Soon after, Marietta and Cobb County became a Georgia epicenter for the baseball’s popularity at the youth level. There began to be waiting lists for recreational leagues.

East Cobb Baseball, founded in 1985, over time would become nationally renowned as a training program. Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dansby Swanson, among others, all passed through East Cobb.

The Braves’ success played a big role, too.

“I think that you are seeing a huge difference in the Atlanta area due to the great seasons that the Braves had in the ’90s,’’ said Parkview coach Chan Brown, whose nationally ranked team won Class AAAAAAA last spring. “I honestly feel like people started moving to the Atlanta area because of that.’’

Showcase tournaments have grown exponentially nationwide and especially in Georgia. The LakePoint facility, featuring eight baseball fields, opened in 2014 in Bartow County. Perfect Game puts on several showcase events that attracts national talent there. Those include high school teams.

“The MLB Scouting has learned of the last 10 years that Atlanta is a hot bed of talent,’’ Brown said. “All you have to do is look at all of the national high school polls and there is always 5 or 10 teams in them from Georgia. The talent and the amount of really good high school teams in Georgia is really deep.’’

As an example of that depth, Etowah of Cherokee County won its first state title in 2017 after barely making the playoffs a fourth-place finisher from its strong Cherokee-Cobb region. Etowah’s best player, Drew Waters, was a second-round pick of the Braves that year and has shown great promise at Single- A Rome this summer.

“You just don’t play anybody that doesn’t have four or five really good hitters and two or three good arms and guys that can run,’’ Etowah coach Greg Robinson said. “And then you look at the facilities – expensive scoreboards, sunken dugouts, immaculate warning tracks. People just take pride in their baseball here.’’

Georgia All-Stars since 2010:

Charlie Blackmon (North Gwinnett) 2014, 2017-18

Domonic Brown (Redan) 2013

Jonathan Broxton (Burke County) 2010

Marlon Byrd (Sprayberry) 2010

Matt Capps (Alexander) 2010

Dexter Fowler (Milton) 2016

Jason Heyward (Henry County) 2010

Nick Markakis (Woodstock) 2018

Brian McCann (Duluth) 2010-11, 2013

Brandon Moss (Loganville) 2014

Brandon Phillips (Redan) 2010-11, 2013

*Buster Posey (Lee County) 2012-13, 2015-18

Adam Wainwright (Glynn Academy) 2010, 2013, 2014

*Posey is an All-Star in 2018, but won’t play because of an injury.