Photos by Brian Paglia
“It’ll probably be one of the best moments in my life, and I probably won’t ever forget it,” said former Luella standout Vincent Jackson about possibly being a high-round pick in next week’s MLB Draft.
A couple years ago, Vincent Jackson couldn’t have imagined this — sitting in Orlando, Fla., the weekend before the MLB Draft trying to take a break from baseball before it possibly turns into a non-stop, full-time career.
“Now that we’re getting down to it, I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is happening,’” Jackson said.
But, yes, this is happening for the former Luella baseball standout. In fact, most 6-foot-4, 200-pound left-handed baseball players who can throw 90-mph from the mound as effortlessly as they can lead a region championship team in RBIs are in demand this time of year.
This year, it’s Jackson’s turn to ruminate over draft projections, collective bargaining agreements, signability concerns and dollar signs. He’s gone from fall showcases, winter pro workouts, the spring high school season, then more pro workouts to a fateful draft, which begins on live television Monday night and continues through Wednesday.
“It is crazy,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know a couple of years ago it would be this crazy. ... There’s a chance in two to three weeks I could be in Florida or Arizona playing baseball for a career. That’s just what people dream of.”
Jackson won’t be the only Southern Crescent draft hopeful. His former Luella teammate, Chase Scott, a Chipola Junior College signee, figures to be an intriguing prospect. Another former Luella standout, pitcher Kelly Holt, could see his journey from Kennesaw State to Middle Georgia to USC-Aiken end with good news in the draft. Henry County outfielder Tevin Johnson, Mundy’s Mill’s Corey Harmon and Stockbridge outfielder Chris Sims could also be selected.
But, Jackson comes with a compelling amount of draft-day suspense. Many draft projections have Jackson being selected as high as the second round, but no lower than the fourth round. That would place him within a range that often brings a financial package that makes signing a no-brainer. Driving up Jackson’s price is his scholarship to Tennessee.
That puts Jackson at ease. Jackson said he and his family have already determined what kind of signing bonus would be enough for him to bypass Tennessee and sign with a major league team.
And if that offer doesn’t materialize, Jackson won’t think twice.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I just had to get it in my head that I’m in a win-win situation. Either the draft goes or Tennessee goes. Either way, I’m still in a good situation.”
Jackson started to gain notoriety this summer, when he was named one of the top 100 high school prospects in the country and had a good showing at the East Coast Pro Showcase in Bradenton, Fla., in August.
That led to another strong performance this spring for Luella. Jackson hit .360 with three home runs, 33 RBIs and only struck out once. On the mound, he went 4-1 with 55 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings and an 2.38 ERA.
Along with Scott and several other seniors, Jackson helped elevate Luella to new heights of recognition. The Lions were nationally-ranked by Baseball America before the start of Jackson’s junior season and spent time ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA both last season and this season. Luella reached the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2011 and lost to Grayson in the second round this past season.
Then it was off to pro workouts at places like Southern Polytechnic State University and Home Plate Baseball in Peachtree City. Jackson worked out with many of Georgia’s top high school prospects, like Parkview’s Matt Olsen, Duane Underwood of Pope and Appling County superstar Byron Buxton, who could be the No. 1 overall pick.
“This is the culmination of their hard work,” Luella coach Andy Cooper said. “It’s nice to see. I’m happy for the kids that they have these opportunities.”
Jackson, with one opportunity already in his back pocket, will return from Orlando this weekend and wait to see if an even better one awaits.
“If it’s the call that we want and the pick, it’s going to be a sigh of relief and enjoyment,” Jackson said. “It’ll probably be one of the best moments in my life, and I probably won’t ever forget it.”