Baseball preview: Preseason Power Rankings
Here we are, knocking on the door of the 2020 baseball season. Our Top 5 consist of Jefferson, Banks, Commerce, Stephens, and Union. As the first handful of games get underway, more clarity will give us a better picture.
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 25-3 (17-1); Region Champions; 3A State RND 1; #1 State Ranking
- COACH: Tommy Knight
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Lane Watkins (UGA), Zac Corbin (Kennesaw State), Sammy Elegreet
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Brycen Jewell, Mason Cooper, Trey McEver, Derek Vaughn, Rem Maxwell, Cole Watkins
Losing three division one athletes in Watkins (UGA), Corbin (KSU), and Elegreet (Georgia State football) is tough, but Jewell is back after anchoring the rotation behind Watkins with an 8-0 mark that included a 1.50 ERA. Still, Watkins was 7-1 with a 1.43 ERA and hit .463 with 5 homers and 31 RBI is a huge void. Cooper (.337 avg, 21 RBI), Vaughn (5-0, 1.18), and Cole Watkins (.360 avg, 15 RBI) give Tommy Knight plenty to build around though. This team should still be a favorite to win a region title and make last year’s enormous first round upset a thing of the past.
2. BANKS COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-8 (10-4); Region 3rd; 2A State RND 1; #10 State Ranking
- COACH: Peyton Hart
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Ty Davis
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Justin Whitehead, Ty Burchett, Tripp Williams
This team has a lot to be excited about after a surprise run and 20-win season in 2019. With losing one key impact player in Davis (ABAC), the Leopards do return much of their star power, including Whitehead (.494 avg, 2 HR, 34 RBI), Burchett, and Williams.
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-13 (4-6); Region 8th; 1A Quarterfinals; #8 State Ranking
- COACH: Steve Cotrell
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Tucker Maloch, Jacob Welch, Chase Bridges, Chandler Martin
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Kody Mintz, Nate Ray, Colby Rogers
The Tigers will return a solid core consisting of Mintz (.368 avg, 14 RBI), Ray (5-4, 2.58 ERA), and Rogers (.421 avg, 2 HR, 24 RBI; 2-2, 3.00 ERA). There’s no denying the impact of Maloch (7-1, 2.98 ERA) though, so expect Ray to step up as the dominant pitcher he is and can be. Losing slugger Welch (.340 avg, 4 HR, 30 RBI) also stings, but Commerce has a plethora of talented athletes that can fill the void in aggregate.
4. STEPHENS COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 18-12-1 (7-5); Region Runner-Up; 4A State RND 1; #9 State Ranking
- COACH: Greg McCall
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Dawson Sorrells, Davis Swenson, Gabe White, Cayden Maxwell
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: 12 seniors
When you lose the 1-2 punch in your rotation, which combined for 11 wins and 160 strikeouts, that’s a big concern. That’s what the Indians will be without after graduating Sorrells and Swenson. Seven seniors departed from a team that was among the best in the state for awhile. The good news is Greg McCall is great at loading the next group, which consists of 12 seniors who were juniors on the roster last season. There is no shortage of playmakers who can step into a big role this season.
5. UNION COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-12 (10-4); Region 4th; 2A State RND 1
- COACH: Zach Odom
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Hunter Kelley, Alec Scott
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Isaak Mullinak, Cayden Rich, Zeke Swartz
Odom did a stellar job in year one at his alma mater. He loses a couple of key seniors in Kelley and Scott, but brings back his best three players in Mullinak (.361 avg, 9 RBI; 3-1, 3.17 ERA), Rich (.357 avg, 16 RBI), and Swartz (5-1, 0.75 ERA; .360 avg, 16 RBI). This bodes very well for the Panthers in an attempt to rise to the top of 8-AA.
6. DAWSON COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-13 (8-10); Region 5th
- COACH: Dwayne Sapp
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Cameron Moore
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Hudson Sapp (Ole Miss commit), Bo Lewis
The Tigers are ready to shake off the disappointing 2019 in which the team underperformed to expectations. Sapp will anchor the returning core, fresh off his BLITZ Player of the Year season (.582 avg, 6 HR, 22 RBI), along with catcher Lewis (.339 avg, 2 HR, 31 RBI), provide a punch in the lineup to build around for coach Dwayne Sapp. It’s worth asking who will anchor the rotation and handle the load on the bump, and will Hudson Sapp get more time there. He’s done well in a small sample size on the hill.
7. LUMPKIN COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-14 (7-11); Region 6th
- COACH: Jonathan Gastley
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Braylen Chastain, Eli Wingo, Connor Pierce, Matthew Grizzle, Jacob Martin, Dalton Stephens, Geovanny Torres
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Logan Choflet and 9 total seniors
The Indians had a great first season under coach Jonathan Gastley. Losing Chastain (.340, 7 RBI) is a big hit, but Lumpkin should reload quickly with 9 seniors coming back from last season. 7-AAA was a very tight race last year with little separation, so it will be interesting to see if Lumpkin can rise to the top group, or if most programs will have another year in which little separates them in the middle of the pack.
8. HABERSHAM CENTRAL
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-13 (7-7); Region 3rd; 6A State RND 1; #10 State Ranking
- COACH: Chris Akridge
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Payton Irvin (Piedmont), Alex McFarlane (’19 MLB Draft Cardinals, U of Miami), Colby Jones
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Christian King
The Raiders will have their work cut out for them with having to replace the trio of McFarlane (Miami), Irvin (Piedmont), and Jones. Those guys were the backbone of this program, but King will be an obvious leader to help guide Hab Central in 2020, where hopefully the Raiders can take on the next man up mentality and ride that wave to a possible playoff berth.
9. RABUN COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 6-21 (5-9); Region 5th
- COACH: Wes Satterfield
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Kasin Old
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Gunner Stockton, Brody Jarrard, Garrett Horton, Jon Sego, Brady Wilson
Let’s get started…last year did not go well for the Cats, but one-and-done head coach Kevin McConnell is out, giving way to a very good coach in Wes Satterfield. He will have to re-tool the rotation, which was spearheaded by Old (3-4, 2.72 ERA), but returns the bulk of the offense, assuming Stockton continues to play baseball with his 5-star football status accompanying him. If he continues to play on the diamond, combine Stockton’s RBI totals with Jarrard and Wilson, and that’s 45 runs driven in between the trio. There are a good number of players who can help get Rabun back to the class of 8-AA.
10. TALLULAH FALLS
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 7-10 (1-9); Region 10th
- COACH: Mark Wilcox
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Nathan Lewis, Gage Webb
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Chathan Clouatre, Davis Jennings, Thomas Harris
All-state talent Clouatre will be the key cog in the Indians’ lineup this season, as he hit .439 with 14 RBI and was a great defensive catcher last season as a sophomore. TFS had some growing pains with a young, inexperienced group in 2019 that, with some seasoning now, should be taking some big steps forward.
11. WHITE COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-15 (3-9); Region 6th
- COACH: Jim Waits
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Jared Johnson
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: J Ben Haynes
The Warriors will again face a tough road in 7-AAAA, but were competitive last year. Leading the way this year will again be J Ben Haynes. Losing Johnson hurts (4-4, 1.87 ERA; .360 avg) but there are others on the roster that will need to step up.
12. TOWNS COUNTY
- 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-14 (0-10); Region 11th
- COACH: Shannon Floyd
- KEY PLAYERS LOST: Seth Fullerton, Andrew Griffin, Kayden McClure, Trent Bradshaw, Lane Denton
- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Aidan Berrong, Brack Burrell, Colin Crowder
Berrong returning for the Indians is huge, as he hit .406 and had 19 RBI last season. On the flip side, Fullerton (4-4, 2.81 ERA; .345 avg, 18 RBI) is a huge loss for Towns. Five of the top six hitters on the team have moved on, putting more pressure on top-hitting Berrong. Guys like Burrell and Crowder will really be counted on heavily too. Fullerton and Bradshaw accounted for the bulk of the pitching, so Crowder (1-2, 4.61 ERA) will likely be the man to step up. A lot of work to be done here for sure, but it will be exciting to see who’s up for the challenge.