Georgia baseball: Top prospects choose Georgia over minors out of high school

The 2020 Georgia baseball team is 11-2 and ranked No. 4 in the nation. The team features several players who passed up opportunities to play in the minor leagues.

Two years ago, I had the pleasant experience of chatting with Aaron Shunk’s father at several Georgia baseball games. As the dad of a prospect several years younger than Aaron, and with only a fraction of Aaron’s credentials, I asked about Aaron’s choice to play at Georgia versus going straight to the pros.

To clarify, my son at the time was 14 years old, pitching, catching and playing outfield. He had a rifle arm but an iffy bat. By contrast, Aaron was a stellar third baseman and closing pitcher with an explosive bat and batting average from grade school up.

Two years later, my son is a varsity closing pitcher only as a sophomore at “baseball factory” Walton High School in East Cobb. While he is not the dual threat athlete that Aaron always was, the subject still intrigues.

To paraphrase Aaron’s dad, because it was two years ago, and I had no thoughts then of writing for Dawn of the Dawg, Aaron received offers from major league teams after putting up stellar numbers on offense and defense at Atlanta’s Lovett High School, another “baseball factory.” I have no idea what the dollars were, yet they had to be tempting to an 18-year-old. But Aaron opted to play at Georgia for many reasons.

It afforded him the opportunity to get a degree, or at least put a big dent towards that degree. He could get bigger and stronger. He could enjoy a college experience far superior to low-level minor league ball. He could gain lifelong friendships absent in the minor leagues, where players move from year-to-year, sometimes twice or more per year.

The college experience is simply a far better quality of life than A or even AA ball. Yet in the not too distant past most of the best high school players went straight to the pros. For Georgia baseball that trend began to reverse with current MLB players Gordon Beckham, Kyle Farmer, Justin Grimm, Jared Walsh and Alex Wood.

More recently in addition to Schunk, Tony Locey, Tim Elliott, LJ Talley, Zac Kristofak, Cam Shepherd, Tucker Maxwell and Riley King were MLB draft picks in 2019. Shepherd, Maxwell and King opted to stay with the Dawgs, which further attests to the appeal of college ball. Barring injury, their 2020 MLB prospects will only improve.

Junior pitcher Emerson Hancock is predicted by many to be the top pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. He certainly could have opted for the pros a year or two ago.

Not to imply anything one way or another about his pro prospects, catcher Mason “Moose” Meadows is listed as a redshirt junior. Meadows in fact earned his management bachelor’s degree in 2019, no small task while playing a demanding and time-consuming sport.

I hesitate to mention this, but the sophomore catcher to whom my son pitches to, or should I say “at whom my son throws to,”  is the nation’s top 2020 prospect and committed as a freshman to LSU. He was 6-4 and 230-plus pounds with the wingspan of an albatross at age 15. You think that kid might be a top pro prospect with two and a half years to grow and improve?

The result of all this is a higher caliber of college level play, not only at Georgia but across America. Just as minor league baseball is a joy to watch, it is even more so at the college level. Tickets are a bargain, every seat is excellent, and in most cases you can mingle with players after each game.

Sorry to not mention other members of the 2020 Georgia baseball roster who are destined for the pros. My point here is that Georgia baseball is amatuer sports at the highest level. Those who have not taken the opportunity to experience games in person do not know what they are missing.

Not to mention, the 2020 Diamond Dawgs might be the best team to take the field at Georgia in recent memory. My oh my, it’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog!

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