0

Grayson's Meadows, Parkview's Hart tread parallel paths to MLB draft

In just five days, a pair of recently graduated Gwinnett County high school senior baseball players are expected to receive a phone call any kid who has ever played the game dreams of.

Both Austin Meadows of Grayson and Josh Hart of Parkview are expected to hear their phones ring Thursday with news they've been selected on the first night of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

And it's very possible one or both could pass Brookwood grad Lucas Sims, who was selected with the 21st overall pick by the Atlanta Braves last year, as the highest selection ever for a Gwinnett player.

But all that is still nearly a week away, leaving both playing the waiting game, which can be both a good and bad thing.

On the one hand, it allows the nerves and anticipation of draft night to start building up.

"I'm very excited," said Hart, who helped Parkview to its fourth straight region championship and a berth in the Class AAAAAA state semifinals by hitting .449, with five home runs, 29 RBIs, 39 runs scored and 33 stolen bases this spring. "Right now, I'm just trying to keep composure. ... It only gets harder from here."

On the other hand, while the excitement for the draft builds, the next few days gives both players a much-needed rest.

"Honestly, I'm looking forward to it," said Meadows, who headed out to Kansas City on Friday for a workout for the Royals today, his last such scheduled workout before the draft. "It's been a long process. ... It's been a while (since having some time off). I'm just looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the last few (days) with my friends before probably having some family, and maybe some teammates, over in our living room (on draft night)."

Such a feeling of relief for both players is understandable.

After all, the paths Hart and Meadows have taken to this year's draft have been long -- spanning nearly two years through summer tournaments, showcases, national team tryouts, all-star games and two high school seasons.

But while those paths have been separate, they've also run parallel to each other.

While they've often been foes on the field as star centerfielders for rival high school teams, as well as their summer travel clubs, the two have been longtime friends off the field.

"It's just cool to see what he's doing especially growing up together," Meadows said of Hart. "He's always stood out. It's cool to see the process we're (both) going through. ... Me and him have been to a lot of the same workouts, for the most part. ... It is a friendly competition, but we don't like to compare each other."

Still, considering their connection and proximity to each other, the comparison's are inevitable.

While their numbers have been nearly very similar throughout their careers, especially this season, when Meadows hit .535 with four homers, 28 RBIs, 14 doubles, 29 runs, 17 stolen bases and a 1.586 OPS for a Grayson team that reached the state playoffs, each has their own bragging rights to enjoy.

Meadows, who was rated as the nation's No. 1 high school senior prospect by Baseball America at the beginning of the season, is projected to be the first of the two selected with most mock drafts having him taken anywhere from the fifth to the 12th overall pick.

Hart, meanwhile, is also very highly rated, though his draft projections seem more widely varied -- from as high as the No. 15 overall pick to perhaps falling into the compensatory round following the first round.

Of course, Hart can point to the two Class AAAAA state championships he and the Panthers won before being having the streak snapped in this year's AAAAAA playoffs, as well as the region titles they won over Meadows' Rams.

But like his friend, Hart said it was always easy to take his game to a higher level when he knew he was taking on Meadows and Grayson.

"Absolutely. Austin is a phenomenal player," Hart said. "Everytime I see him he gets bigger and stronger. He brings the best out in me.

"It's been a fun experience playing with these guys. I wish them the best of luck. We're good friends and we'll stay in touch. That's the bittersweet thing about it growing up with these cats, but it's time to grow up and be men now."

Indeed, the tight circle around both Meadows and Hart also contain two more area players the pair have come to develop a friendship with, both of whom will also likely have a big night Thursday.

Loganville centerfielder Clint Frazier is expected to be right there with Meadows among the top 10-12 selections, while Winder-Barrow third baseman Travis Demeritte has a similar projection to Hart -- possibly a first-round or compensatory-round selection.

At least one mock draft has all four players, who hail from inside an approximately 30-mile radius, to be taken within the first 28 picks.

But while Hart, Meadows, Frazier and Demeritte have taking their journeys along long, parallel paths, draft night also means those paths will likely split off in different directions.

"It's good to have them all together playing and having fun," Meadows said. "We've all been there for each other. It's cool to see we're in the same position, especially after growing up playing together. We're definitely going to keep in touch to see how each other's doing (after the draft)."