With one of the busiest baseball seasons of his life coming up, Forsyth Central head coach Kevin McCollum figured that he’d need some preparation himself.
Ethan Hankins, the Bulldogs’ senior righthander, had just had one of the best summer showcase seasons ever, and he was projected to go high in the first round of the MLB Draft, maybe even first overall. This hype and anticipation would draw pro scouts to every one of Hankins’ starts, and there was even a crowd in the double digits at Central’s first practice.
“It is a circus, no doubt about it,” said McCollum, who served as a go-between for those evaluators. “…I talked to a lot of people and scouts and former coaches that had these kind of young men in the past, and they said just buckle up, because it’s going to be an experience.”
Hankins’ spring was certainly eventful, but not in an ideal way. He missed a month early in the season with a shoulder issue, and while it turned out not to be a significant injury, the time off still affected Hankins’ progress during the spring.
His velocity gradually climbed as the season went on, and he was touching the upper 90s by the end of the year, but Hankins didn’t sit there, like he did at times during the summer. His control backed up, as he walked more batters than he did in 2017 while throwing less than half the innings he threw that year.
But Hankins is still considered one of the top high school prospects in the country, and he has a strong chance to go in the first round of the draft, which starts on June 4. He’s 6-foot-6, a good athlete, and still has room to add muscle. Baseball America took notice of Hankins’ up-and-down season, labeling him “perplexing” in their pre-draft report, but the publication still put him at No. 18 on their list of the top 500 draft prospects.
Hankins has spent the weeks leading up to the event jetting around to meetings and workouts with teams, and his eventual landing spot could vary significantly. He certainly won’t be the only Forsyth County product to go in the draft, though. It’s a particularly crowded year in terms of county natives and high school alums having the chance to get picked, so here’s a list of other names that could be called on one of the draft’s three days.
Seth Beer, IF/DH, Clemson
Beer helped Lambert win a state championship as a sophomore, and he skipped his senior year of high school to enroll early at Clemson, where he almost immediately became one of the best power hitters in the college ranks. He hasn’t equaled the dominance of his freshman year, but Beer is still one of the best hitters in the college ranks, earning First Team All-America honors from Baseball America this season.
There are significant doubts about the aspects of his game that don’t involve a bat, though. Beer is considered a below-average defender and baserunner, and there’s no obvious position in the field for him. There are few better bats in the draft than Beer, which means he has a strong chance to go on the first day, but he’s far from a complete prospect.
Chris Cullen, C, South Carolina
Cullen, a West Forsyth alum, was a strong high school prospect with the Wolverines, but he wound up in the college ranks. He stands 6-foot-5 and has shown that he can stick at catcher, but his statistical output with the Gamecocks has been inconsistent. He had a mediocre offensive year as a freshman, and while Cullen improved dramatically as a sophomore, that year was cut short due to injury. His bat has backed up considerably as a junior, and Cullen’s average sat at .198 as of June 1. His physical tools are strong, but Cullen’s track record is much hazier.
Andrew Grogan, RHP, Chipola College
Grogan won a NJCAA World Series title with the Indians as a freshman after graduating from North Forsyth in 2016, and he committed to play at North Carolina during the past offseason. He got off to a scorching start this season with Chipola, but Grogan has gotten knocked around in his last four outings leading up to June 1, and his sterling control – he didn’t walk a batter in his first 19 innings pitched this season – has looked less so. Team success has followed Grogan in college, though, as he just won his second title, throwing 4 2/3 innings and striking out six in Chipola's 10-7 win over Walters State.
Nik Verbeke, RHP, Furman
Verbeke, a two-time first team All-County choice and 2014 graduate of Forsyth Central, played two years at Spartansburg Methodist before finishing out his career at Furman. His junior season with the Paladins ended early due to injury, and Verbeke hasn’t been terribly effective as a senior – a 4.50 ERA and .315 opposing batting average in 68 innings – but his 6-foot-3 frame helps make him a potential senior sign.
Will Patota, IF, Pinecrest Academy
Patota had a massive senior season with the Paladins, and like past Pinecrest sluggers Andres Perez and Ryan McCarthy, scouts have taken notice. Patota said that he’s talked with a few evaluators, and there’s a chance he’ll be picked in a later round. The money offered there, though, wouldn’t be enough to sway Patota from his plan of attending Southern Union State Community College and then aiming for a spot on a Division I team.