In his days as a quarterback at Norcross High, Georgia Tech outfielder Baron Radcliff once shared showcase workouts with the likes of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm.
He was a three-star prospect who led the Blue Devils to the Region 7-AAAAAAA championship, broke single-season passing records and earned scholarship offers from Vanderbilt and Boston College.
But, while Radcliff chose baseball and Georgia Tech over football, his background may have provided suitable experience for the role that awaits him this season.
“Being quarterback, everybody’s looking at me,” Radcliff said. “We win or lose a game, it’s, ‘Oh, he didn’t do this here’ or whatever. So it’s not something that I haven’t been accustomed to in the past.”
As Tech begins its defense of the ACC Coastal Division championship and the pursuit of consecutive 40-win seasons, the junior outfielder bears sizable expectations to be the main provider of the Yellow Jackets’ offense. A year ago, Tech was an offensive juggernaut, finishing in the top 40 nationally in slugging percentage and home runs per game and runs per game. But with the two players primarily responsible for the production now playing professionally -- Tristin English and Kyle McCann – the power-generation role now falls to Radcliff.
Last year, as a sophomore, Radcliff broke out, improving on a freshman season in which he hit .180 and struck out 44 times in 89 at-bats by hitting .257 with 12 home runs in 183 at-bats and a .503 slugging percentage, trailing only English and McCann in both power categories. In ACC play, he was even better, hitting .317 with nine home runs in 101 at-bats and a .653 slugging percentage, earning second-team All-ACC honors. His tape-measure home runs, both in games and batting practice, became a source of awe among teammates and coaches.
“We hope that he makes another jump this year like he did last year, maybe not striking out as much but hitting for a higher average,” Tech coach Danny Hall said.
To that end, Radcliff has trained under the tutelage of assistant coach James Ramsey, becoming more consistent in his posture at the plate and learning to better think through at-bats. Knowing that he may not have as much protection behind him in the order, Ramsey wants him ready to attack at-bats even if he’s being pitched around.
“I preach plate discipline, but I also know when you can handle it, and there’s a guy on third and you’re getting pitched around, you may get one pitch – and it may not be a fastball – that you can do damage, whether it’s a sac fly, homer, single,” Ramsey said.
They are lessons that Radcliff is learning as a college junior in part because of his days spent quarterbacking at Norcross. As a two-sport athlete, Radcliff did not play as much baseball as most of his teammates.
“So there’s things I’m learning every day at practice just because the experience just wasn’t there,” Radcliff said.
Even still, scouts saw enough in high school to identify him as a legitimate prospect. It was that potential, as well as other factors such as the physical toll of football, that caused Radcliff to commit to a baseball-only path going into his senior-year football season.
“It was tough after all those big (football) offers rolled in afterwards, but I know in my heart I made the best decision for me,” he said.
After his senior baseball season at Norcross, Radcliff said that the San Diego Padres made a signing-bonus offer of $600,000, but Radcliff passed, so the Padres didn’t draft him.
By that point, Radcliff was intent on playing baseball at Tech. As he saw it, he could get a high-level education, stay close to home and improve as a player to potentially put himself in a position to earn an even larger signing bonus. Radcliff called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Radcliff’s coming season could likewise be a tremendous opportunity to lead the Jackets and showcase his talent for scouts.
The ability to connect has already been demonstrated. He had the longest home run hit at Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium (471 feet) and the hardest-hit ball (exit velocity of 118.9 mph).
But on top of being the strongest Jacket pound for pound at 6-foot-4 and 239 pounds, he also is the fastest. Ramsey has told him that, should teams avoid pitching to him and walk him, he wants Radcliff to go ahead and steal second.
He has also tried to convince Radcliff to accept the mantle of being the primary threat in the lineup, one who can take the pressure off of his teammates.
“It’s getting back to a little bit of that quarterback mentality of, you want to be the guy in the huddle,” Ramsey said. “It’s not just good enough to get a 6-yard gain if you can bust it for 35.”
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