Baron Radcliff’s baseball future is bright. His sweet left-handed swing can launch baseballs with stunning force. Despite possessing the size of a linebacker, he is still faster than all of his Georgia Tech teammates. His potential is so clear that he was offered a $600,000 signing bonus to skip Tech and play professionally – a deal he passed on to come to Tech.
Despite that promise, though, Radcliff doesn’t know for certain when or how that future will arrive. The uncertainty that confronts virtually every American amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Radcliff owns a share of that also.
Radcliff, who under normal circumstances would be about halfway through his junior season, is like hundreds of college and high school baseball players facing a decision – turn professional or remain an amateur – that has been complicated by the suspensions of seasons due to the pandemic.
“This has been a crazy year, to say the least,” Radcliff’s father Vic said. “None of us have ever dealt with this before.”
While answers about the draft are becoming clearer, other matters still remain murky. The Radcliffs rely on their faith to guide them.
“I think he feels good about it,” Nikki Radcliff, Baron’s mother, said. “I think he trusts that everything happens for a reason and that he’s worked very hard and prepared himself for whatever is next to come. Right now, it’s difficult to make any decisions about anything because we don’t know anything.”
Radcliff, a Norcross High grad, began his junior season in February with an opportunity to give his draft stock a healthy bump. Following a breakout sophomore season – 12 home runs in 183 at-bats, .503 slugging percentage, All-ACC second-team honors – Radcliff was being counted on to improve his performance and be a run generator for the Jackets.
Through 16 games this season, Radcliff hit three home runs in 58 at-bats with nine extra-base hits and a slugging percentage of .552. In his final game, he hit a titanic home run and a double as the Jackets beat Auburn 6-2 to avenge a pair of losses to the Tigers in NCAA regional play last season.
“He’s a really good player, and I think he’s starting to get real confident,” coach Danny Hall said following that March 10 game.
But, two days later, as Tech was preparing to board a bus to play a weekend series against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., the season was suspended and ultimately canceled. Radcliff has returned to his family’s Gwinnett County home to await what comes next.
“His mom says (having her son home) is awesome,” Vic Radcliff said. “I just came home to find out that I don’t have any more of my orange juice.”
Radcliff has the fortune of having a father, a middle-school science teacher in the Decatur school system, who is also a longtime youth baseball coach and recently opened his own training facility – Development First Sports Academy – in Tucker. There, Radcliff can hit in a batting cage and keep his swing sharp under the watch of his father, who was Baron’s coach for the entirety of his youth career.
The Radcliffs haven’t found any diamonds available, so they’ve made use of a park near their home. Vic hits flies and ground balls to Baron and has marked off basepaths for him to work on his baserunning.
“Baseball is a game that’s played outside, so if any game is safe for social distancing, it’s baseball,” Vic Radcliff said. “Still, to me, it’s a dad and a son playing catch in the park like normal.”
Of course, most sons playing catch with their dads don’t stand 6-foot-4 and weigh 239 pounds.
“He’s not a normal-looking athlete, so people ask questions like, ‘Who is this guy and who does he play for?’ ” Vic said.
Radcliff will take classes in a “distance learning” format when Tech resumes its semester on Monday. As for his baseball future, that’s gaining some clarity.
According to reports, the draft could be pushed back into July – it was originally scheduled for June 10-12 – and could be shortened to as few as five rounds. It is normally 40 rounds. Signing bonuses will reportedly be deferred.
Radcliff likely won’t have to worry about not getting drafted. But there are questions for the hundreds of prospects not as prized as Radcliff, both in high school and college. Primarily, is it wiser to sign as an undrafted free agent or later-round pick or go to (or remain in) college?
Will there be an opportunity for prospects to showcase their talent before the draft? How safe would it be? Given the layoff in competition, what’s the risk of injury?
With the NCAA expected to carry out a plan to give spring-sports athletes another year of eligibility to replace this one, it introduces more questions. While administrators and coaches try to figure out how it will be paid for, athletes may wonder what playing time might look like on a roster significantly larger than usual.
For Radcliff, a question is if he would use his leverage and return to Tech if he finds a signing-bonus offer not to his standard. The Radcliffs have an adviser monitoring his draft stock and offering counsel.
“I’ll say that he hasn’t made any decisions,” Vic Radcliff said. “His objective is to be a pro, but that’s going to happen when the time is right.”
In the meantime, he’ll be tracking down fly balls in a park near his house.
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