Barring an upset, Georgia Tech baseball All-Americans Daniel Palka and Zane Evans have played their last for the Yellow Jackets.
They are two of at least five players who likely will be selected in the MLB draft that begins Thursday night with the first two rounds. The draft will continue Friday (rounds 3-10) and Saturday (11-40). Evans, a catcher, and Palka, a right fielder, said they will forego their senior seasons if their draft position and contract offers are commensurate with their perceived value.
“I think if I get a commitment from a team and they draft me in the right place, that’s all I’m looking for,” Evans said Wednesday.
Baseball America magazine rates Evans as the No. 111 prospect, one spot ahead of Palka. The three other Jackets in the top 500 are pitcher Buck Farmer (No. 98) and outfielders Brandon Thomas (No. 134) and Kyle Wren (No. 215). Farmer and Thomas are seniors who were expected to leave last year, but returned for their senior seasons.
Evans and Palka helped their draft stock with superior seasons at the plate. With Tech’s season over, Evans stands fifth in the ACC in batting average (.361), tied for third with Palka in RBIs (66) and second in home runs with 14, three behind Palka’s 17. Evans could be helped by the fact that this is a weak draft for catchers, Baseball America draft expert John Manuel said. Teams “want college hitters with power, and those are hard to find these days,” Manuel said. “Evans and Palka did that.”
Evans also has added value as a pitcher. Evans can hit the mid-90s and was a clutch member of the Tech bullpen, but his play behind the plate this season has altered opinions about his future. Evans’ preference is catcher, but “I just want to focus on one position. That’s important to me,” he said.
Like Evans, Palka hopes to be selected in the first five rounds. He is recovering from a turf-toe injury suffered in Tech’s NCAA Nashville regional game against Illinois on Sunday, and expects to be back to full speed by Friday.
“Most of all the teams I’ve talked to have said they like me in right or left field,” Palka said. “I’m going to work hard to stay there and try to avoid first base as much as I can.”
Farmer’s durability, competitiveness and four-pitch assortment should help his stock. Like Evans, his position is relatively thin this year, according to Manuel. Farmer became Tech’s first three-time All-ACC pitcher this season, finishing his career with a 33-13 record, a 3.12 ERA and a .237 opponents’ batting average.
Thomas started the season with sensational numbers, but cooled after a midseason case of mononucleosis, finishing with a .321 average and .406 on-base percentage. Wren bounced back from a down season in 2011, raising his average from .256 to .360, and is another candidate to leave as a junior. Shortstop Mott Hyde finished his junior season with authority, hitting six home runs in the final 28 games of the season. Third baseman Sam Dove, who hit .340 as a junior, but dropped to .288 this season, is another possibility.
Georgia likely won’t have to wait long to feel the impact of the draft. Clint Frazier, an outfielder from Loganville High who signed with the Bulldogs, is expected to be among the top few selections. Baseball America projects Frazier to go to the Red Sox with the seventh pick.
Right-handed pitcher Robert Tyler and outfielder Stephen Wrenn of Marietta also are rated among the top 100 prospects, according to various rankings. Shortstop Wesley Jones from Redan High could be drafted, but probably not high enough to persuade him to turn pro. Four seniors are expected to get a call: shortstop Kyle Farmer, third baseman Curt Powell; and left-handers Blake Dieterich and Patrick Boling.
Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this article.