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Ken SugiuraKen Sugiura

Clay is Tech’s top draft prospect

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Georgia Tech pitcher Sam Clay was not All-ACC and wasn’t even a starter, but major-league scouts are well aware of him.

Clay, a sophomore reliever, figures to be the first Yellow Jackets player taken in the draft, which begins Thursday and continues through Saturday.

“I think he’s just elevated his status, really the whole year,” coach Danny Hall said Wednesday. “I think he had a dominant year for us. He’s left-handed and he’s a good athlete, and so I think how he goes, I have no idea, but I think he’s got a chance to go certainly within the first five rounds.”

If that happens, Hall expects that he would receive a large enough signing-bonus offer to leave Tech. Clay is eligible as a sophomore for the draft as he turns 21 on June 21.

When Clay signed with Tech out of Buford High, Hall called him the best left-handed pitching prospect in the state. He didn’t show it as a freshman, with a 6.94 ERA in 23 1/3 innings and a .258 opponent batting average. This season, Hall said Clay was more aggressive and confident and turned into the No. 144 draft prospect in the country, according to Baseball America.

This season, in 57 innings, all out of the bullpen, he had a 1.26 ERA, the second lowest ERA in Tech history for a pitcher with at least 40 innings. His eight runs allowed were tied for fewest in school history. He had a 64/29 strikeout/walk ratio and had an opponent batting average of .197.

Hall said an increasing number of scouts saw him as the season progressed, first area scouts, then cross checkers and then scouting directors. At the ACC tournament, in front of a slew of scouting directors (teams’ decision makers in the draft), Clay was unscored upon in eight innings across three appearances, helping the Jackets to the conference title.

“So my gut is that they saw him throw really well, so he’s going up the draft boards, because the guys that make the decisions saw him and liked him,” Hall said.

That Clay has only started once in college may impact his stock. Hall said he discussed that matter with Clay and his parents when they met Tuesday. Hall said that if he returned, he would start next year. (Tech could have three other starting pitchers drafted – juniors Matthew Grimes, Josh Heddinger and Devin Stanton – although it’s no guarantee any would actually sign.

Besides Clay, Grimes (No. 291), Heddinger (No. 305) and reliever Dusty Isaacs (No. 370) are in Baseball America’s list of top 500 prospects. Other Tech players who could be drafted are shortstop Mott Hyde and pitcher Jonathan Roberts (both seniors) and  junior center fielder Daniel Spingola.

Tech signees to watch are outfielder Kel Johnson (No. 268) and pitcher Daniel Gooden (No. 494).

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