Once again, professional baseball is wreaking havoc on Georgia’s roster.
The Bulldogs had six players selected in this year’s MLB draft. So far, the first four of those players taken have signed professional contracts.
- Freshman signees Spencer Adams, a right-handed pitcher, and Michael Gettys, an outfielder, each were drafted in the second round by the White Sox and Padres, respectively. They signed $1.3 million contracts.
- Shortstop Nelson Ward (12th round) and left-handed pitcher Jarret Brown (22nd round), each a junior last season, were drafted by the Mariners. They signed pro contracts for $95,000 and $25,000, respectively.
- Two more Bulldogs remain unsigned — rising senior third baseman Hunter Cole (26th round, Giants) and freshman signee Bo Tucker, a left-handed pitcher (38th round, Reds) — and Georgia is hopeful they'll show up for school in August.
They represent the delicate balance college coaches must strike between recruiting great baseball players who will command the attention of pro scouts and those that long especially for a college education.
“That’s the tricky part,” Georgia second-year coach Scott Stricklin said. “We want kids that want to come to college, but we also want kids that are good enough to be drafted high. Those two things conflict, and that makes it a really tricky business. But that’s why you get out in the field and research these kids and get to know families.”
The Bulldogs knew Adams and Gettys weren’t likely to show up on campus. Their skills simply commanded too much money on the free market. But Georgia was holding out hope for the returning lettermen, especially guys such as Ward, a team captain, and Cole, an honor-roll student.
Stricklin met with Ward a month before the draft to counsel him about his impending decision.
“He told me what he wanted out of the draft,” Stricklin said. “If he was able to get that, then he thought he was going to sign. At the end of the day, he got what he asked for, and I gave him my full blessing.”
Ward made his debut with the Pacific Mariners of the Rookie League on Thursday night. He was 4-for-5 with a grand slam and three stolen bases.
“Because Nelson Ward was drafted as a junior, that next high school shortstop will see he can get better at Georgia and develop and be that next guy,” Stricklin said. “If your juniors are getting drafted at a good rate and they’re going high in the draft, in the long run that’s positive thing. It’s going to influence that next group of high school kids to come to Georgia.”
The Bulldogs have reaped some of those benefits already. They signed Keegan McGovern, a left-handed-hitting shortstop out of Coffee County High who was an FBS recruit as a quarterback, and Ryan Avidano, a 6-foot-7 left-hander out of Starr’s Mill. They were among 12 players in Georgia’s Class of 2014, which ranked 19th nationally.
More complicated is a scenario such as the one Cole is debating. The team’s leading hitter also is one of its better students. He has until the underclassman deadline of July 18 to make up his mind. In the meantime, he’s displaying his skills in the Cape Cod League.
“I’d be very surprised if he signs,” said Jim Callis, a senior writer for MLB.com. “If he wanted to sign just to get out of there, then I think he probably would have communicated that before the draft and would’ve gone higher.”
And that’s part of the recruiting process, too. Stricklin has spoken to Cole about the merits of returning to UGA and finishing his degree. He has shared stories about players such as Clemson’s Khalil Greene, who was drafted in the 14th round as a junior in 2001, returned for his senior season and won the Golden Spikes Award before he was taken in the first round after that season.
“The conversations I’ve had with him are very positive about coming back to school,” Stricklin said. “He believes in what we’re doing and how we’re going about it. And Hunter now has a chip on his shoulder. A lot of guys decide to come back their senior year and set the world on fire. So, yeah, I’d like to coach him for one more year.”
He can only hope he’ll have that chance.
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