A bumper crop of high school pitching talent hit the Augusta area in 2008 and left one Burke County High School arm in the shadows.
Four years later, lefty Brandon Love is getting more attention, and it might translate into a professional career when the Major League Baseball First Year Players’ Draft begins Monday.
Love had a stellar senior year for Burke County when he posted a 7-2 record with a 1.21 ERA during his senior year. But the buzz around the Augusta baseball community then centered around other pitching prospects, including Greenbrier’s Nolan Belcher and North Augusta’s Marty Gantt.
Belcher’s career hit a road block in college when he missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound this season for the South Carolina Gamecocks but had only seen 29 innings of work entering the weekend.
Gantt, who originally signed with the Gamecocks, instead played two seasons of junior college ball at Spartanburg Methodist before joining the College of Charleston squad as a junior. Though he was a top pitching prospect in high school, Gantt has since shifted his focus at the plate and led College of Charleston as a quality-hitting third baseman this year with a team-leading .375 batting average.
Love had his choice of several college programs but settled with Mercer University in Macon, where he developed into the team’s ace. The choice to pursue a college career came after first considering a jump straight to the professional ranks out of high school.
“I was talking to two or three teams, but after I hurt my wrist I decided to go to college,” Love said.
Picking which college was another challenge. Love said 18 different programs showed interest.
“I remember spreading out all those envelopes on my bed, and my dad and I went through and eliminated one at a time,” he said. “In the end Mercer was (NCAA) D-I and only two hours away so my dad could go to the games.”
Love overcame the wrist problems, made the most of his appearances out of the bullpen during his freshman year and cracked the starting rotation as a sophomore. He was named to the Atlantic Sun All-Tournament Team his sophomore season and landed on the all-conference first team a year later with an 8-1 record and 3.26 ERA.
Love doesn’t have a triple-digit fastball like that of Jonathan Broxton, Burke County’s most famous athlete with an eight-year career in the big leagues. The 22-year-old left-hander prides himself in fooling batters with location and off-speed pitches. Love’s fastball tops out in the low 90s.
“I know I’m not going to overpower. My strategy has always been with the ability to locate and change speeds,” he said. “The coaches at Mercer challenged me, and that’s what I respond to. You always hear you have to outwork your competition. That’s what I want to do. Work beats talent when talent doesn’t work.”
Though Love, who went 7-3 with a 3.36 ERA his senior year, is hoping to continue his baseball career into the professional ranks, he won’t see his name pop up until the second or third day in the draft. The nationally-televised first round will take place Monday at 7 p.m. Rounds 2 through 15 will run Tuesday starting at noon, while the remaining rounds will be completed Wednesday.
A pair of USC Aiken teammates, shortstop Stephen Carmon and left-handed pitcher Kelly Holt, could also become draft picks, along with Westside High School and Middle Georgia College product Joseph Boatright.