Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Despite playing at a smaller school, Hebron's Danny Lockhart has carried a big bat, leading the county in batting average the last two seasons and posting a career average over .500.
DACULA — Danny Lockhart has been such a fixture at the top of Gwinnett County’s high school baseball batting average leaders the past two seasons that it seems strange not to see him currently there.
Never mind that the Hebron Christian slugger headed into spring break still fifth among all Gwinnett hitters at .556 (30 hits in 54 at bats).
“It’s early in the season,” Lockhart joked.
The Lockhart File
Who: Danny Lockhart
School: Hebron Christian
Favorite TV show: Baseball Tonight
Favorite athlete: Josh Hamilton
Dream job: Major League Baseball player
What’s the best advice your father ever gave you? Always be yourself and don’t let the game change you
• Has been Gwinnett County’s batting average leader the last two seasons, hitting .568 last season and .513 in 2009. Also hit .403 as a freshman in 2008. Has a career batting average of .512
• Is Hebron’s all-time career leader in hits (154) and RBIs (102)
• Currently in the top five in Gwinnett County in hitting (.556) with home runs (4), RBIs (19) and runs (24) and leads the county with 15 stolen bases
• Named first-team All-County by the Daily Post last year with his .568 average, plus 7 HR, 43 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and a 1.673 OPS
• Played on Senior Team Georgia and helped it to the title of the Heartland Baseball Classic last summer
• Named first-team Preseason All-State by the Georgia Dugout Club and Preseason Super Six by the Daily Post
• Is the son of former Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals utility infielder Keith Lockhart
• Signed to play college baseball at Kennesaw State
If his first three varsity seasons are any indication, the senior infielder will finish this season with eye-popping numbers.
With a career .512 average — including the county batting titles the last two years — and already owning Hebron’s school career records in hits (184) and RBIs (121), Lockhart has been a model of consistency and efficiency.
“The way you evaluate him is, the kid just gets in a zone and stays in it,” Hebron coach Heath Kennedy said. “He’s just a pure hitter. I think he’s one of the best in Georgia.”
Those instincts at the plate have been on display since he burst upon the scene by hitting .403 as a freshman in 2008 and helping the Lions to 14 wins — at the time, a single-season school record.
Since then, the rise in Lockhart’s average to .513 as a sophomore and .568 last season has paralleled a similar rise in Hebron’s success — from a 19-6 record and the Lions’ first Class A state playoff berth in school history in 2009 to a 25-4 mark and the program’s first playoff-round victory a year ago.
“Since I was young, hitting has been the main aspect (of my game),” Lockhart said. “My freshman year, I was nervous coming in because I’d never played high school ball before. I got off to a good start, and it just kind of came natural.”
That hitting comes natural to Lockhart shouldn’t come as a big surprise considering that his father is Keith Lockhart, who spent 10 years in Major League Baseball as a part-time starter and utility infielder with the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals.
However, the younger Lockhart appears to be on a track with his hitting that even his father — who has served as a part-time assistant coach with the Lions the last several seasons — never achieved.
And as good as his natural hitting instinct has been, Lockhart’s success hasn’t come without a lot of hard work.
“He’s making his own path,” Kennedy said of Danny Lockhart. “He’s paving his own way, and he’s learned a lot (over his high school career).”
But Lockhart knows that hard work cannot stop with just his hitting.
Though he has already signed a national letter of intent to play college baseball at Kennesaw State, he has his sights set even higher one day.
And he knows that to get there, he has to be more than just a one-trick pony.
To that end, he has worked tirelessly in the weight room to get stronger despite his smallish, 6-foot, 180-pound frame.
That work has paid off as his power number climbed to a career-high seven home runs last year, which he is already more than halfway to matching this season.
“With baseball, you play about three seasons a year, so you don’t have much offseason,” Lockhart said. “This year and last year, I had about three months in between the fall and the spring. Me and my buddies, we’d just go to the gym and get stronger. We all knew we could hit singles, … but we all worked to get our strength up so the ball would start carrying.”
And Lockhart has also followed in his father’s footsteps by working on some of the finer points of the game to help maximize his skills.
In addition to taking extra ground balls to improve his defense, Kennedy said Lockhart has paid particular attention to improving his speed and savvy on the basepaths.
As a result, he currently leads Gwinnett County with 15 stolen bases, nearly matching last year’s total of 17, which should also catch the eye of several pro scouts that have been watching him throughout his career.
“He’s always been able to hit,” Kennedy said of Lockhart.
“But it’s been a 180-degree turnaround in his ability to field. He’s put the time in and gotten better at it. And he has deceptive speed. His game has really matured.
“A lot of people throw things around, but I really think he could be a top-10-round pick (in this summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft).”
But before that happens, Lockhart is focused on trying to keep Hebron’s ascension toward the top moving forward.
With a supporting cast that includes other top players from the county, likesenior outfielder Christian Davila, junior infielder/pitcher Jordan Hillyer and junior pitcher Mason Felt the Lions (15-1 and currently ranked No. 3 in Class A) seem poised at another historic finish.
“Every year, you could see us getting better and better,” Lockhart said. “And everyone realized we had a chance to win, so everyone was working harder. Every year, it’s started to pay off.”