0

Heffley, Hillyer round out large, history Gwinnett draft class

By sheer numbers, Gwinnett County's 2012 class of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft isn't the largest, falling short of the 14 players with local ties that were take in last year's event.

Still, the 2012 class can be considered historic.

The selections of Brookwood grad and Western Carolina second baseman Ross Heffley (17th round, Atlanta Braves) and recent Hebron Christian grad Jordan Hillyer (20th round, Miami Marlins) on the draft's final day Wednesday brought this year's class to nine players, tying with the class of 2001 as the county's second-largest.

But seven of those picks came in the first 13 rounds -- highlighted by first-rounders Lucas Sims (Braves) and James Ramsey (St. Louis Cardinals) and compensatory A pick Matt Olson (Oakland Athletics) -- the most local picks ever made so high in the draft.

"It does kind of blow my mind in a way," Parkview grad Olson said after being selected by Oakland with the 47th overall pick late Monday night. "But it shows the kind of baseball we play here in Gwinnett County, especially with the Final Four being all-Gwinnett this year. We're not here to mess around in Gwinnett."

For many of this year's local picks, a decision now awaits -- whether to jump immediately into a professional career or to either head to college programs or stay there.

For Ramsey and Heffley, both college seniors, there is no decision.

And underclassmen Sims and Olson, the decision seems pretty easy. In fact, Sims said Wednesday afternoon he planned to sign his first contract with the Braves later in the evening and was looking forward to getting started in Rookie League ball in Florida next week.

"I'm going to Disney World," joked Sims, who noted the Braves' affiliate in the Gulf Coast Rookie League plays out of Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex outside Orlando.

For others taken in later rounds, the decision may be tougher. It's one Ramsey had to make last year after being selected by the Minnesota Twins a year ago, but elected to return to Florida State for his first season.

The move paid off after the Wesleyan grad, who is currently hitting .364 with 10 home runs, 67 RBIs and 11 stolen bases for the Seminoles this season, was taken 22 rounds earlier this year with the 23rd overall pick.

"It was a tough decision," said Ramsey, who recently graduated from Florida State, following a practice Tuesday as he and the Seminoles prepare to take on Stanford in an NCAA Super Regional series this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. "I decided not to sign for the (signing bonus) slot money offered, but it was more than a baseball decision. I felt like I had some unfinished business at Florida State."

Meanwhile, the excitement of draft week is slow to wear off for many of the local players selected.

Sims, for example, will be introduced to the crowd at Turner Field before the Braves' game against Toronto -- and he will be there to witness the club retiring the number of one of his childhood heroes in John Smotlz -- before heading to Florida on Tuesday.

"We tried to get tickets through my mom's work. We got four tickets," Sims said. "Then I get that phone call and I talk to Brian Bridges, my area (scout), (Braves director of scouting Tony) DeMacio and (Braves general manager) Frank Wren. Then, Bridges calls me in about 15 minutes and said, 'We're going to bring you up to Turner Field.'

"I told him we already had tickets and he said, 'Well, give those to somebody else. We're bringing you up here.'"