By Jesse A. Hancock
Brandon Thomas was on his way to an afternoon Atlanta Braves game with his mom, Patti, when he got a cellphone call that could change his life.
A baseball scout called the recent Pace Academy graduate to say the Colorado Rockies had drafted him as a switch-hitting center fielder in the 37th round of the baseball draft, No. 1,111 overall.
He was one of 27 new Georgia high school graduates drafted and the only one from a prep school, as well as the only one in the Sandy Springs/Buckhead/Brookhaven area.
“Needless to say, it made watching the game a lot more fun,” said Brandon, who finished Pace with a 3.87 GPA. “We made many phone calls, and I started getting text messages as people found out.”
Brandon, who is 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, played on the varsity at Pace for four years and received a scholarship to play next year at Georgia Tech.
He has until Aug. 17 to decide whether he will postpone college, sign a contract with the Rockies and embark on a pro baseball career in the minor leagues. He and his family are “pretty certain” he will go to Tech in the fall and attend three years of college before becoming eligible for the pro draft again.
The North Buckhead resident, whose family lives just south of Sandy Springs and just west of Brookhaven, started playing organized baseball at age 7 with the Northside Youth Organization in Chastain Park, where he played until he was 14.
He then played for East Cobb Baseball and credits hitting coach CJ Stewart of Diamond Directors for helping him achieve much of his success. He also worked with speed and agility coach Tony Villani and said that experience improved his “marketability.”
During his junior and senior years at Pace, Brandon was scouted by many of the Major League Baseball clubs. He and his family met at home with some of the scouts, and he said scouts attended most of his games.
“At one game where we were playing against a pretty good pitcher, there were probably about 20 scouts,” Brandon said.
He had several college offers and originally made an oral commitment to play at the University of Kentucky. But when Georgia Tech offered him a scholarship last fall, he had to make a difficult decision. He eventually signed a letter of intent with Tech because he felt it was a better fit for his academic and baseball development.
Brandon attended pre-draft workouts with several teams, including the Chicago White Sox, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays. They liked his speed, ability to hit left-handed and right-handed, and strong throwing arm from the outfield.
This spring he went to workouts with the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies. He and his family also went to Seattle to a Mariners workout, where team officials told him they wanted to draft him.
Brandon also was named to the Baseball Clearinghouse All-National Team and was First Team All-Region 5A.
His baseball success came at a price, Brandon and his family said. He had to give up or limit many common childhood activities, such as camp, summer days hanging out at the pool, and time at the lake with friends and family. But he has made many friendships on the baseball field, where he said his experience has made him more determined, dedicated and focused.
“Work hard and don’t give up,” Brandon advised young players who want to play college or pro ball. “Keep striving to get better and better and find ways to improve your skills.”
This summer he is playing for the East Cobb Yankees, winners of the 2008 Connie Mack World Series, but Brandon knows he and his family have another tough decision to make in the next several weeks between pro and college baseball.
If he goes to college in the fall, the next time he will be eligible for the draft is June 2012.
Brandon said he would like to work hard at Tech to help the team get to the College World Series and in the process earn a higher draft pick in 2012.