Likely successor to All-American Kevin Parada came to Georgia Tech from Emory

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech’s last catcher is one of the top prospects across the minor leagues. The Yellow Jackets catcher who could take the place of Kevin Parada is a top prospect in the field of real-estate development who also hit .333 in backup duty last season.

Jack Rubenstein did not come to Tech as Parada did, as the heir apparent to Tech’s “Catcher U.” legacy. But Rubenstein, a Pace Academy grad who transferred to Tech after graduating from Emory, has the opportunity to take his place behind the plate for the Jackets, who start their season Feb. 17 with a three-game home series against Miami (Ohio).

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“Nobody’s going to replace Kevin Parada,” coach Danny Hall said at a Jan. 27 news conference to preview the season. “I’ll just start by saying that. Jack Rubenstein had a good fall, and if we started today, he’d be the starting catcher.”

Rubenstein may prove a useful bridge, or possibly more, for the Jackets. After Parada was drafted 11th overall by the New York Mets, Hall had hoped that high-school signee Lamar King would be willing to wait on professional baseball to enroll at Tech and follow in the footsteps of Jason Varitek, Matt Wieters, Joey Bart and Parada to catch for the Jackets. But King was drafted in the fourth round by the San Diego Padres and received a signing bonus of $502,800.

King’s decision to forgo college created an opportunity for Rubenstein to come back for a sixth season of college and a chance to be the starting catcher.

Tech coaches “told me what my situation would be, which started with a great opportunity to go play in the Cape last summer,” Rubenstein said, referring to the renowned Cape Cod Baseball League. “I decided it was definitely worth sticking around and taking over this season.”

It’s quite a progression from where he was at the start of his college career, which started in 2018 playing left field for Emory. Eagles coach Mike Twardoski said that Rubenstein weighed about 160 pounds when he arrived.

But, “he got himself in the weight room to make himself a great hitter,” Twardoski said.

He hit .294 in 92 games with 42 RBIs. He distinguished himself further, by, among other things, getting hit by pitch a school-record 39 times and stealing 27 bases in 33 attempts. He graduated from Emory with a business degree in 2021, but had two seasons of eligibility, as Division III athletes had the opportunity to obtain two extra seasons of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic as opposed to the one available for Division I athletes.

Twardoski said that Rubenstein and a few teammates wanted to stay at Emory, but recognized that graduate school and college athletics were not compatible at Emory. But at the same time, Rubenstein’s weight-room work added about 40 pounds and he had developed as a catcher.

Twardoski said that when Rubenstein came as a freshman, he had deficiencies defensively but developed into a solid receiver behind the plate.

“He loved working out, he loved baseball. He loved the blocking (of pitches),” Twardoski said. “Who loves to block? He loved it.”

Division I is a different level of competition, but Twardoski knew it was possible to make the jump. Since Twardoski started at Emory in 2000, four Eagles players have been drafted and more have signed professional contracts as undrafted free agents. Tech had another Division III transfer, pitcher John Medich, who appeared in 32 games for the Jackets in the past two seasons.

“Once (Tech assistant coach James Ramsey) reached out to me, I knew there was a chance to get in there behind Parada, and I was definitely attracted to Georgia Tech because of the real-estate development master’s program,” Rubenstein said. “And that’s ultimately what drove my decision to come here, and it’s been a great decision so far.”

Backing Parada, Rubenstein started 10 games, played in 27 and was 15-for-45 with nine runs and seven RBIs. He managed to get hit by five more pitches.

“Definitely a big jump in talent level coming here, so I felt like the fall of 2021 was super important for me adjusting to the position,” Rubenstein said. “But I honestly think just being surrounded by so many talented guys, especially hitters, it’s pretty contagious, and I felt like it definitely rubbed off on me.”

Rubenstein will compete with Tyler Minnick, an early-enrollee freshman from Mount Paran Christian School who was rated the No. 35 catcher in the country by Perfect Game, and Nathan Smith, a Buford High grad who redshirted last season as a freshman at Tennessee. Aidan Jolley is a recruited walk-on freshman from Allatoona High.

The shift from the All-American Parada to a foursome of aspirants (three who have not played an inning of college baseball and a fourth who started his career in Division III) is representative of greater differences between last season’s team, which led Division I in batting average, was fifth in slugging percentage and was the engine of a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the third season in a row (not counting the canceled season of 2020), and this year’s, which brings back only three of the everyday starters from the 2022 team.

“We’re excited,” Hall said. “Obviously, a lot of new faces and a lot of guys that will probably be starters or have a chance to establish a role on the team for the first time.”

That includes the transfer from Emory.

“Cannot get a better kid or harder worker,” Twardoski said. “I’m so appreciative of the time that we had with him.”