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HAMMOCK: MLB Draft focusing on local talent more than ever

Sports Editor Will Hammock

Sports Editor Will Hammock

Expect Gwinnett County's steep rise to baseball prominence to continue tonight.

For all the top talent Gwinnett has produced over the years, no local player has been drafted in the top 20 of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Not even six-time all-star catcher Brian McCann, who the hometown Braves grabbed in the 2002 second round, or high school superstar Jeff Francoeur, who Atlanta drafted with the 23rd pick of the first round that same year.

Grayson senior Austin Meadows, a projected five-tool outfielder like Francoeur, figures to buck that trend tonight. He is predicted as a first-rounder in the No. 5 to No. 12 range in most mock drafts, which would be another milestone for Gwinnett.

Meadows would become the county's highest-drafted player in the MLB Draft's history, topping Brookwood grad Lucas Sims, taken 21st overall by the Braves last year. James Ramsey of Wesleyan went two spots after Sims last season to the Cardinals.

Sims' selection at No. 21 broke the previous high mark for a Gwinnett player, set in 2001 when the Diamondbacks drafted Brookwood's Jason Bulger 22nd.

Meadows' selection -- and also the possible first-round selection of Parkview center fielder Josh Hart --will perpetuate Gwinnett's recent baseball success (much like putting all four teams in the Class AAAAA Final Four in 2012), a trend that even warranted a Sports Illustrated feature in last week's issue. Though the story made Loganville, home to high first-round prospect Clint Frazier, seem like it was in Gwinnett, too, it did make a very valid point.

Georgia, and Gwinnett more specifically, is churning out loads of baseball talent. Major league teams are dedicating more scouts and higher draft picks to an area that hasn't always garnered this kind of MLB Draft attention.

Over the last 15 years, Gwinnett has averaged close to five MLB Draft picks per year. Last year, it had five players taken in the first five rounds alone.

A total of 10 locals were selected last year, which was still off the record 13 draftees in 2011. The only other year that Gwinnett had close to that many players picked in a single year was in 2001, which was an anomaly because three of those nine local picks were from the same family --Jason, Kevin and Brian Bulger.

The increased scouting of Gwinnett players also has introduced another trend, the drafting of local talent straight out of high school. In years past, the county's top players generally went the college route first after MLB Draft selections that weren't particularly high. Now, pro teams are signing those guys before they hit a college campus.

From 2001-09, the highest Gwinnett player drafted in all but one year was a college player. The only year it didn't happen was 2002 when Francoeur went to the Braves. In 2003, only three Gwinnettians were drafted, all college guys. The same nearly happened in 2007, when only three locals were drafted, two college kids and North Gwinnett's Mitch Rider in the 47th round.

It's hard to imagine a slim draft year like those happening again.

Instead, years like this one will be the norm. Hopefully with even more high first-round picks like Meadows.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.