Blackmon, Cone go in early rounds of MLB draft

As recently as March, it would have been difficult for Charlie Blackmon or Zach Cone to imagine themselves being selected on the first day of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Just three months later, however, both became early-round selections Thursday.

Former North Gwinnett and current Georgia Tech standout Blackmon going to the Colorado Rockies in the second round and recent Parkview graduate Cone being taken by the Los Angeles Angels in the third supplemental round.

Joining Blackmon and Cone in being selected Thursday was a third player with Gwinnett County ties.

Former Dacula and current College of Charleston standout Jeremie Tice was taken by the Cleveland Indians near the end of the sixth round.

For Cone, Thursday represented the highest of highs in what turned out to be a roller coaster senior season.

Amid high expectations after being named to the Daily Post's preseason Super Six, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound outfielder got off to a slow start, hitting just .258 in his first nine games.

But after an encouraging phone call from Parkview legend and current Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, Cone's bat heated up late in the season and he wound up hitting .424 with 6 home runs and 25 RBIs in helping the Panthers to another Class AAAAA state playoff berth.

As quickly as his average rose, so did his draft stock, culminated in Thursday's selection by the Angels with the 112th pick of the draft in the third supplemental round.

"I'm more than excited right now," said Cone when reached at his Lilburn home Thursday night. "(The Angels have) been scouting me a lot. So, I had a pretty good idea they might be taking me."

Blackmon's path to the draft was even less predictable, even though the former Bulldog star had been drafted in two previous years - in the 28th round by the Florida Marlins in 2004 and in the 20th round by the Boston Red Sox a year later.

But that was as a pitcher. When arm trouble hit him in his first season at Georgia Tech after transferring from Young Harris College, Blackmon made the transition back to a position player last summer.

The 6-foot-3, 201-pounder quickly adjusted to the outfield and led the Yellow Jackets in batting average (.396), hits (99), runs scored (68), stolen bases (25) and on-base percentage (.469), and added 8 homers and 45 RBIs as Tech returned to the NCAA Tournament after a year absence.

Still, Blackmon said there was no way he could've predicted he'd have the type of season that wound up getting him selected with the 72nd pick in the draft by Colorado - 18 rounds higher than three years ago.

"If you'd have asked me at the beginning of the season if I'd be anywhere close to this, I'd have laughed at you and said no," Blackmon said. "But I had a good season at Georgia Tech, and it worked out well.

"I was completely blown away I was taken this high. I expected (to go) a bit later. And I'd been talking to a few teams, and Colorado was one of them. But there were a lot of other teams that seemed more interested. I wasn't expecting (the Rockies) as far as what the interest seemed like."

As far as what both players expect now that they've been taken, the future still seems somewhat uncertain.

Cone signed to play college baseball at Georgia and still has the option of joining the Bulldogs in the fall, though he said he will begin meeting with Angels officials next week.

Blackmon, meanwhile, has one more year of eligibility at Tech and is close to graduation. However, he declined to talk about his options Thursday.

Tice made it three Gwinnett players selected when his name was called by Cleveland with the 201st overall pick near the end of Thursday's activity.

The 6-1, 225-pound infielder had an outstanding junior season with College of Charleston, leading all of the team's regulars with a .393 averge, 25 homers, 83 RBIs, an .838 slugging percentage and .495 on-base percentage.

Those numbers helped lead the Cougars (44-22) to the championship game of the Southern Conference Tournament, where they fell to Elon.

The draft continues today, and several more current and former Gwinnett high school players could wind up being taken.