Fear of the unknown is natural. It can set your mind off in all kinds of directions.
Heading into Monday’s Major League Baseball Draft, Georgia Tech junior catcher Joey Bart could have his mind going in as many as 30 directions — one for each Major League franchise. More than likely, however, he can narrow it down to 10, probably even fewer, as he’s expected to be an early first-round pick.
Bart has found a simpler approach. He’s narrowed it to one direction — straight ahead.
“Any team that selects me, it’s an honor to go,” said the Jackets’ co-captain in 2018. “Everyone can use a good catcher. Going anywhere would be awesome so I’m not really looking into the cities. When my name’s called with that opportunity, that’s what’s going to mean the most to me, those people that believed in me. I’ll be ready to get my career going and I’ll put everything I have into it for them.”
Bart showed just how much he has to offer in 2018. He led the ACC in hitting with a .359 average, ranked second in slugging (.632) and hits (79), and ranked in the top 10 in home runs (16), runs scored (55) and on-base percentage (.471). Each category led the Jackets and were easily career highs — a 63-point rise in average, 57 points higher in slugging, 24 more hits, three more homers, 19 more runs and up 101 points in on-base percentage. Defensively, his .992 fielding percentage was a career-best, his two passed balls were tied for the lowest in the league and his 12 caught-stealings were top-10 (seventh).
All that was enough to earn him first-team all-America, ACC Player of the Year, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, all-ACC first team and semifinalist honors for the Golden Spikes Award (finalists to be announced Wednesday), the Dick Howser Trophy (finalists are announced Friday, the winner announced on the 17th), and Johnny Bench Award (winners announced the end of June).
Bart became only the fifth Yellow Jacket to be named ACC Player of the Year — the first since Mark Teixeira in 2000. Interestingly, the Jackets catcher completed the double of first-team all-American and ACC Player of the Year on the 25th anniversary of the last Yellow Jacket catcher to complete that double, Jason Varitek. Being grouped in with Teixeira and Varitek, who combined for 29 Major League seasons, six MLB All-Star Game appearances and three World Series Championships — not to mention the previous 16 first-team all-Americans (they’ve accounted for 20 first-team selections) means a lot.
“Those guys were exceptional players. For my name to be mentioned there is unreal,” he said. “I’ve met ‘Tex’ a few times and spoke to him. I’ve actually never talked to Jason Varitek, but look forward to maybe doing so in the future. ACC Player of the Year definitely was cool. It’s probably one of the best honors that I’ve ever been given — first-team all-American that came out the other day is pretty cool, too. Hopefully I’ll have a team call my name on Monday. That would be the biggest accomplishment so far. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
He probably won’t have to wait long, as different projections have Bart going everywhere from first overall by Detroit, second overall to San Francisco, or fourth overall to the Chicago White Sox. Should Bart be a first-three pick, he would be the earliest Jacket drafted — pitcher Kevin Brown currently is the highest, selected fourth overall by the Texas Rangers in 1986. Should he be top-10, he’d be the fifth Yellow Jacket to do so — Varitek was ninth in 1988 by the Seattle Mariners, Teixeira (2001 by Texas) and Matt Wieters (2007 by the Baltimore Orioles) went fifth.
Where he’s expected to go all depends on who you read. Bart’s chosen not to read any of them.
“It’s hard to NOT see that because we have social media nowadays but I don’t really look it at all,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t want to really put that much pressure on myself. I’m pretty confident in myself. When the time comes, this is what I’m made for, this is what I’ve worked for my whole life so it’s kind of at the point now where, ‘If you don’t pick me, I’m sorry.’ That’s kind of the way I look at it. I feel like I’m the best player out there.”
Of course, just because he hasn’t read about anyone else’s thoughts about where he’ll end up going, doesn’t mean that he hasn’t thought about it. That includes first overall.
“That would be unreal,” he said. “It’s just a tribute to the work I’ve put in and how competitive I’ve been over these past couple of years, where college has gotten me, how my teammates have put me in this position, all of my coaches, my family, everything. It would be super-cool, no doubt, almost surreal.”
He’s also intrigued about going second — a scenario that has become more realistic with the emergence of Auburn righty Casey Mize and the possibility of the San Francisco Giants looking for a potential successor to Buster Posey.
“That would be so cool,” he said. “(Posey’s) a guy I look up to and I have for a long time — Georgia guy, play the same position. He’s one of the best players in the game. So my name being mentioned there is crazy. This is so much fun, everything coming out is cool and everything, but there are teams and there are general managers and there are people that are the ones that make the decisions. So I’ve kind of kept my nose out of that stuff and tried to keep my head on the game. I would never reject any team. Unfortunately, now that we’re out of it, it’s kind of just keep my body right, be ready to play, getting ready for the Draft. That’s kind of where my focus has been.”
Another team starting to come into focus is the Chicago White Sox at No. 4 — the Phillies, who select third, don’t appear in the market for a catcher.
“That would be awesome, too,” Bart said. “The city of Chicago – that would be cool.”
Chicago has become even cooler this season with the arrival of former Yellow Jackets Daniel Palka, a friend of Bart’s and the last Jacket to be first-team all-ACC and first-team all-America, doing so in 2013, and Matt Skole. Coincidentally, that year the Jackets had three first-team all-ACC selections, Palka, catcher Zane Evans, and pitcher Buck Farmer, and all three were drafted by, or landed in, the A.L. Central — Palka, an Arizona Diamondbacks selection is currently with the ChiSox, Farmer was drafted by and is still with the Detroit Tigers and Evans was selected by the Kansas City Royals (outfielder Kyle Wren, second-team all-ACC in ‘13, was taken by the Atlanta Braves).
Monday’s Draft will be Bart’s second foray into the MLB Draft — he was selected in the 27th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015. It promises to be a lot more rewarding this time around.
“It’s totally different. It’s a lot cooler,” Bart said. “Before I was maybe in that third-to-fourth-round slot out of high school. Now, who knows WHERE I’ll get picked? Hopefully pretty high, but it’s definitely a different magnitude. There are not as many question marks as before.”
He’s a lot more relaxed heading into it.
“I’ll just hang out at the house and have some friends come over,” he said. “I’ll be pretty relaxed. I’m looking to have a great time on Monday. No one knows what’s going to happen but it’s all going to be for the best.”