For Pope’s Duane Underwood, the question isn’t whether or not he will be drafted, but where.
“It’s something me and my family have worked hard for a very long time for,” Underwood said. “Hopefully, the chips fall my way. I’m hoping for the best-case scenario whether it’s the first, second or third round. I just hope my name comes across. I don’t think it matters what round.”
For others, like former Lassiter standout and current Georgia pitcher Michael Palazzone and Kennesaw State’s Andy Chriscaden, the draft has far more uncertainty.
“I’ve been blessed to play for four years after high school, which is more than a lot of my friends have,” Chriscaden said. “I was lucky enough to get my college education paid for. I really can’t complain. I just don’t want to stop playing. A lot of guys are out there making their money and deserve it. I just don’t want to stop playing.”
Much like most seasons for Cobb County, the draft will be littered with local names. Last year, former Alabama and Kell star Adam Morgan was the first player selected in the draft at No. 120 with the last pick in the third round.
Underwood has chance to be drafted higher than Morgan this year. He’s been scouted mostly as a pitcher, though Underwood also has the tools to play as an everyday outfielder. On the mound, Underwood tops out at 97 mph on the radar gun with his four-seam fastball, though he said had a two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup that he is confident in throwing.
During the high school, season, Underwood hit seven home runs and was usually a threat to steal on the basepaths. So, what position does he want to play if given the opportunity?
“Wherever they need me, to be honest,” Underwood said, echoing the sentiment of many ballplayers trying to go pro. “Any day on a baseball field is a great day. I’m going to give my best effort and play in the field. If they need me to pitch, then I’ll strike everyone out. If they need me to drop a bomb, then I’ll drop a bomb.”
However, there will more contenders at the top of the draft this year within the first three rounds. Much like Underwood, Allatoona’s Clate Schmidt, Harrison’s Zack Bowers and Marietta’s Dansby Swanson are all candidates to be selected within the first five rounds of the draft. Among college players, Kennesaw State’s Ronnie Freeman has the best chance to be picked within the same range.
For those potential high school picks, the draft presents a difficult decision between attempting to realize their dreams of playing professional baseball against holding off on those dreams in order to go to college. Underwood, a Georgia signee, said that where he is selected will have an impact on deciding between college and the pros.
“I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t,” Underwood said. “That does have some input into my decision. I want (pro teams) to tell me that if they were to sign me, they would give me the best and quickest way to make it to pro ball that I can. Once I get in, I believe in myself and everything that everyone has helped me with. I just need to get there. Staying there is a long-term goal.”
However, the Pope product also said that he could see himself donning red and black come next year as well under the right circumstances.
“(Georgia) does have a lot of upside and the coaches are great,” he said. “If me and my family feel it’s better to wait it out at UGA, then that will be the route to take. Either way, I think I’ll be able to make it. Georgia would be a great opportunity to get a degree. That’s where a lot of my friends signed.”
Schmidt wouldn’t say definitely whether or not he would choose to sign or go to Clemson where he signed, though he did say that he and his family do value college.
“My family and I have been sitting down talking about it,” he said. “Education is important to us. The mock drafts say I could go in the first or second rounds or the first supplemental round. My family and I have been discussing and it comes down draft day. I have a great opportunity at Clemson, and either way it’s a blessing. In the end, it’s up to me, but I want my family’s input and opinion. I’ll put it all together in the end.”
After earning the Marietta Daily Journal’s Player of the Year honor and shaking off injury during the season, Harrison’s Zack Bowers was somewhat more decisive about his future than either Schmidt or Underwood.
“I heard as high as second, third or fourth rounds, but I think I have my hopes set on UGA,” he said of his draft prospects. “It’s been a dream of mine to go there. But, depending on different factors that I really can’t say right now, I would have to look into things depending on the situation. I can’t just turn (a draft position) down right now before it’s even happened.”
— Carlton D. White contributed to this report.