Originally created 02/28/05

Area standouts swing for fences



High school baseball is no different than walking the halls.

Everybody starts off a nobody freshman. Along the way, that nobody does something recognizable to become a somebody.

Then everybody knows your name. And if you're a strong player, the word gets out faster than gossip from giggling schoolgirls.

As the baseball season kicks off, the area boasts four players who stand out at each grade.

TAKE JON EGAN. Cross Creek's strapping catcher has toured the nation over the past year. He's played in all-star games, met Cal Ripken and launched moon shot homers off the top of the foul pole at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The latest assessment of Egan's skills by Baseball America lists him as a second-team All-America. He's rated the 24th-best prep prospect in the nation and the fourth-ranked catcher for June's amateur draft.

Conversations with area scouts reveal he's the most-polished area prospect in at least the past decade, possibly ever. That's because the senior has held his own against the country's elite competition.

"That comes from all the summers Jon has given up," Cross Creek coach Bob Polewski said. "He's been on travel teams for so long. Pro baseball one day will probably seem like just another summer to him."

Egan's reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since his freshman year.

"When I was younger, nobody really knew who I was," Egan said. "I just tried to do my best. I just thought it was cool to hang out with the older guys on our team."

Egan's bat cranked out 19 home runs his freshman and sophomore years. He kept his average high at .456 last year but hit just six home runs. He was walked 27 times in 105 plate appearances.

His was the name on the lineup most opposing managers didn't want to get beat by.

"After those two years, everybody knew me and I didn't get much to hit," Egan said. "I thought I still had a good year. It was just a different year."

Egan hit the weights for the first time this fall. He's bulked up to 225 pounds.

"You should see the way the ball has been jumping off Jon's bat," Polewski said. "It was already special for a high school player but that weight he's put on his frame makes a difference."

EGAN'S On the last leg of the route that Midland Valley freshman Cody McElhaney starts this spring.

McElhaney, boosted by a backyard batting cage, wowed all last season as an eighth-grader. McElhaney hit .475 in the leadoff slot last year.

"Cody was the real deal last year," Midland Valley coach Bruce Zuehlke said. "He's hitting third this year. I look forward to four more very good years."

McElhaney is just 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds. But he's tough off the mound. The righty has already reached 85 mph on the radar gun. He struck out 10 and allowed no earned runs on 77 pitches against South Aiken last week.

GREENBRIER JUNIOR RICH Poythress might face the same issues Egan did last year. He hit eight home runs and struck out just eight times last year.

The 225-pound first baseman showed off his potential with a grand slam in the Class AAAA playoffs against highly regarded Ian Sebastain of eventual state champion Columbus.

The early verbal commitment will to Georgia have to work harder this year.

The Wolfpack lost stars Brooks Robinson and Scott Wandless to graduation. And they are in a very tough region now that Evans returns to face Lakeside and the Wolfpack.

THE AREA'S BEST sophomore stands at a cross between those roads. Demetrius Washington of Silver Bluff could play college football or basketball one day.

But the way he brings his bat through the hitting zone is something special. Washington also has a strong arm, already capable of high 80s from the mound.

"If you hold a draft right now of just 10th-graders in the United States," one area scout said. "I'd bet the name Demetrius Washington would go the first two rounds. He's already that good."

That means he better enjoy this year. It might be his last before he's a marked man.

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.

AREA PLAYERS TO WATCH

The 2005 high school baseball season begins this week. Here's the early cream of the crop for the Augusta area:

Name - School - Class - Position

Carl Burrow - Lakeside - Sr. - RF

Just has too much all-around talent to be ignored

Jon Egan - Cross Creek - Sr. - C

Won't last past third round of the June amateur draft

Dane Jennings - Hephzibah - Sr. - IF

Gutty effort player should stand out in college, fun to watch

Dustin Johnson - Washington County - Sr. - IF/P

Solid power prospect and strong arm

Cody McElhaney - Midland Valley - Fr. - IF/P

Hit leadoff and .475 on varsity - in eighth-grade

Ty McTier - Home-schooled - Sr. - P

Likely collegian still trying to refine top-tier talent

Rich Poythress - Greenbrier - Jr. - 1B

Already a verbal commitment to Georgia

Ryan Pressley - Evans - Sr. - 1B

Switch-hitter intrigues scouts; he's 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds

Jeff Rowland - Lakeside - Soph. - OF

Talented outfielder hits from both sides and has some speed

Ryne Salmon - South Aiken - Sr. - OF

On some scouts' watch lists with his size and ability

Demetrius Washington - Silver Bluff - Soph. - OF/P

Has all the tools, looks like young Eric Davis

Brett Wiggins - Cross Creek - Sr. - P

Talented and savvy senior hurler