The Los Angeles Angels are one signing away from pulling off the Georgia hat trick.
The state was the talk of the June baseball draft after five Georgia high school players were selected in the first round, including three by the Angels. East Coweta pitcher Cameron Bedrosian and Marietta High outfielder Chevez Clarke, drafted No. 29 and 30 respectively, signed earlier this month for bonuses of around $1 million. The Angels are in negotiations with Cook third baseman Kaleb Cowart, the No. 18 pick, who reportedly is seeking $3 million.
It was like a West Coast invasion.
“You have to pay attention to Georgia,” said Eddie Bane, the Angels’ scouting director. “[Bedrosian] was asked by one of the L.A. reporters, ‘Are the Angels a big deal now in Georgia?’ I joked ‘I guess we weren’t before draft day, but we probably sold 15 hats in the first few days just to the families, so we’re a big deal now.’”
The draft wasn’t a laughing matter to the Braves, who appeared to be miffed by the outside interest. Despite one of the state’s best group of prospects in years, only one of the Braves’ 51 draft picks played for a Georgia high school — South Forsyth infielder Zach Alvord, who was taken in the 18th round. Tony DeMacio, the Braves’ first-year scouting director, pointed out to reporters that the Angels plucked three away before the Braves’ first pick at No. 35.
“That area is really well-known by the Braves, and they’ve taken about whomever they have wanted out of there,” Bane said. “I imagine [this year's draft results] lights a little fire under them.”
The Angels’ hefty investment in Georgia was one of the draft’s biggest surprises. The organization traditionally taps into the fertile talent base in southern California for future prospects. This year, however, the Angels went across the country for a Georgia lovefest.
“You would think that the Angels would go for southern California players or West Coast players,” Clarke said. “For them to come on the East Coast and get such a group of good players, it says something for the organization … and the state of Georgia.”
The Angels are satisfied with the trio, but drafting three Georgians wasn’t something they planned ahead of time. They weren’t sure how the first round would unfold. Bane says he didn’t notice the peachy trend until it was time to pick in the second round.
“During the draft, you get so immersed [with your strategy],” Bane said. “When it was our turn to draft, we simply took who we felt was the best talent available at that spot. At the end of the first round, it just ended up that all three were from Georgia.”
The picks show the influence of Chris McAlpin, a Moultrie resident and former baseball player at Colquitt County High. McAlpin has scouted Georgia and nearby states for the Angels since 2002, signing players such as former Redan High infielder P.J. Phillips, a second-round pick in the 2005 draft who plays in Class A for the Angels.
“I joked with Chris, ‘You better watch your back because [the other Angels scouts] didn’t get any players in the first round, and you got three,’” Bane said. “No, our staff was pretty good about it. We’ve been together for quite a while, and they know we’re going to pick the best guy.
“We lean on southern California a lot, but Georgia has gotten so much better over the years. And it keeps getting better.”
Bane ranks Georgia as one of the nation’s “prime areas” for high school talent, along with Florida, California and South Carolina. He says the Braves made baseball popular among the youth and that summer programs such as East Cobb have assisted the high schools in year-round player development.
Cowart and Clarke, along with Blessed Trinity outfielder Jake Skole (drafted No. 15 overall by the Texas Rangers), played at East Cobb.
“I wasn’t surprised that those kids went as high as they did … but I was surprised they all went to one team, especially a West Coast team,” said Kevin Baldwin, manager of the East Cobb Braves.
“However, the Angels obviously have some really good scouts in the area, and they respect their opinions. It’s great for Georgia high schools, and it’s great for those kids.”
For the Angels, it’s two down and one to go. They have until Aug. 16 to sign Cowart, who says he is torn between the Angels and playing baseball at Florida State.