ATLANTA, GA — Spring training is just about ready to open, but the college baseball season is in full swing. Georgia Tech opened the weekend at home, hosting three different teams in the Atlanta Challenge.
I caught Sunday’s game against St. John’s, one which the Jackets picked up their first loss of the season, 11-1. While there is a lot of youth in the lineup this season, including exciting freshman first baseman Drew Compton, there are three junior bats atop the lineup that should get some draft buzz as June draws closer. With Tech being so close to Truist Park, these guys are probably already on the Atlanta Braves radar, and should be on yours.
Here are some early 2020 thoughts on shortstop Luke Waddell and outfielders Michael Guldberg and Baron Radcliff.
Guldberg isn’t going to be an early-round guy right now, but he is certainly going to be a tough out this season, something he showed on Sunday. The right-handed hitting corner outfielder had a nice freshman debut, hitting .368 in just 38 at bats before breaking out in 2019. Guldberg hit .355 with a .859 OPS primarily playing DH because of an injured shoulder.
This year he is in left field and as long as that shoulder holds up, he has shown both the arm and range to hold down the position. Now, while he doesn’t have the power profile for a corner outfielder, he makes solid contact. He stands a little open towards third base with a little bounce in both his feet and hands, which he holds helmet high. He seems to adjust to the ball pretty well and has a level swing.
On Sunday, he ripped a double in his first at-bat, the first of two doubles on the day, but it was his second at-bat — an out no less — that was impressive. He fell behind 0-2 but battled off a good five or six foul balls before popping out to left. He has six hits in his first three games and hasn’t struck out, showing pretty solid bat-to-ball skills early on. Our own Matt Powers sees him as a Day 3 type of guy, which is hard to disagree with right now.
Baron Radcliff: Radcliff is a big guy who already was drafted by your Atlanta Braves once, selected in the 40th round of the 2017 MLB draft before heading to Tech. Listed at 6-4 and 228 pounds, the switch-hitter is an opposing presence in the box. With Tristan English and Kyle McCann now in the minor leagues, Radcliff carries the torch of being the power bat in this Tech lineup, hitting 12 last season.
Radcliff showed big with the wood bat in the Cape Cod Baseball League — hitting six bombs — which saw him jump up the draft rankings a bit and leaving us salivating for 2020. The problem is he does have a big swing and is quite aggressive leading to many strikeouts — he struck out the second-most among Yellow Jackets last season and 37 times in 93 CCBL at bats. That’s what he did Sunday as well, striking out in three of his four at bats.
Still, he does possess some real raw power. He starts out Ichiro-like, lining the bat up to the pitcher, arm fully extended. He holds his hands helmet high and cocks back and looks to shift his weight into the ball well. When he gets a hold of one it’s loud, fair or foul, with the Jackets really liking the fair ones best. D1Baseball.com has Radcliff ranked the 89th best college prospect.
Luke Waddell: Waddell is the slick-fielding shortstop who, paired with senior Austin Wilhite, form one of the better double-play combos in the ACC. He showed a much-improved bat in 2019, hitting .322 with two home runs while striking in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances.
Waddell had a double on Sunday but didn’t get to swing much else. He struck out on back-to-back check swings in his first at bat and walked on six pitches in his second at bat without taking a cut. I’ve seen Waddell enough over the years to know that he’s a ball player despite not showing much on Sunday. Waddell — who’s listed at a generous 5-9 — stands deep in the box, his bat almost resting on his shoulder. He has a pretty smooth, compact swing that gets around quickly and, as evidenced by his strikeout rate, barrels up pretty well making contact more often than not.
With his quick bat and smooth fielding, Waddell is ranked the highest on most draft boards, with D1Baseball ranking him the 60th-best college prospect. With a young pitching staff developing, he and Wilhite’s defense will be instrumental in 2020.