For college baseball players across the country, summertime might be the most important season of the year. It is a time for young players to mature and improve, and for the more established players to show the pro scouts what they can do.
Several Columbia County players are participating in various summer leagues around the East Coast, and they fall into each category mentioned above.
Former Augusta Christian standouts Taylor Hensley and Josh Whitaker are attempting to improve in hopes of big sophomore campaigns. Former Greenbrier High School standout and University of Georgia first baseman Rich Poythress will try to show pro scouts he should be considered in the first few rounds of the draft.
Here is a look at a few of the area standouts playing:
Taylor Hensley (Augusta Christian/Middle Georgia)
Hensley played primarily catcher in high school, but was recruited to pitch at Middle Georgia. The right-hander is playing for the Orlando Suns, of the Florida Collegiate Summer League.
The summer has been good news, bad news for Hensley. He is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA and has walked four batters in five relief appearances. However, he has yielded only three hits, holding opposing hitters to a .167 batting average.
Josh Whitaker (Augusta Christian/Kennesaw State)
Whitaker, who had a sensational prep career for the Lions, started 40 games last year as a freshman at Kennesaw State. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder played several positions for the Owls, and will likely do the same this summer. He hit .252 a year ago, with five doubles, two homers and 13 RBI.
Whitaker is playing for the Outer Banks Daredevils in the Coastal Plain League, the same league where a year ago, Poythress was named the top pro prospect in the league by Baseball America . Whitaker is currently hitting .250, with six doubles, two homers and 16 RBI in just 24 games. His RBI total is among the team leaders for the Daredevils.
Jeff Rowland (Greenbrier/Georgia Tech)
Rowland did not miss a beat making the jump from Class AAAA high school ball to the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was Georgia Tech's everyday center fielder and hit No. 2 in the order.
Rowland was second for the Jackets in batting average at .335, while hitting four home runs and driving in 26 runs. He also swiped 22 bases in 26 attempts (second on the team).
This summer is big for Rowland as he tries to shake off the label of "a college player." It seems to be a term used by pro scouts to talk about a player they don't intend to draft, but who keeps putting up big numbers wherever they play. Poythress had this label in high school, by the way.
Rowland is playing in Maryland for the Youse's Orioles, of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Collegiate Baseball League. He is once again showing he can play the game. In 15 games (all starts), he is hitting .328, has scored 13 runs, and stole a team-best 10 bases. He also has an on-base percentage of .406.
Brandon Cumpton (Greenbrier/Georgia Tech)
Cumpton was amazing during his prep career. He was 25-1 during his final two seasons and was a Louisville Slugger National All-American. His first season at Georgia Tech had its ups and downs but was not bad for a freshman playing in a league featuring three of the top five teams in the country.
Cumpton finished 2-1 with a 7.19 ERA. The earned run average was inflated due to a couple of bad outings late in the season. He made five starts and pitched in 14 games. He struck out 40 batters in just 46Q innings.
This summer, Cumpton has a major opportunity. He is playing for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod League, easily the most prestigious of all summer leagues.
The league is usually reserved for players who will be considered in the next Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. So far, Cumpton has been pretty solid. He is 0-1 in two starts. He had a 6.00 ERA, with six strikeouts in nine innings pitched, as of Wednesday. His early problem has been control. He has issued eight walks already this summer.
Rich Poythress (Greenbrier/Georgia)
Poythress is coming off a breakout year for the Bulldogs. The first baseman has positioned himself as a likely early round draft pick next summer. He hit .374 (fourth in the SEC) with 15 homers and a whopping 74 RBI, as he helped lead the Dogs to the national title series.
Throughout the postseason, Poythress continued to pound the baseball despite nursing a wrist injury. He took about eight-to-10 days off, but has now reported to the Cape Cod League and will try to duplicate last summer's exploits in the Coastal Plain League, where he nearly won the league's triple crown and was named the top pro prospect in the league by Baseball America .
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