Jonathan Hughes will never forget the moment his lifelong dream officially came true.
Hughes — a Flowery Branch graduate who has spent the last five years pitching for Georgia Tech — signed a free agency contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday. The feeling was about as surreal as Hughes was expecting it to be.
“It was a great moment,” he said. “I was just standing there, thinking ‘Did this just really happen?’”
Hughes’ journey to the pros was a long and winding one. He was selected with the No. 68 overall pick by the Baltimore Oriole out of high school in the 2015 MLB Draft, but instead opted to pursue a college career at Georgia Tech first. After missing most of his true freshman season with an elbow injury, Hughes returned to great success in his last couple years of college, positioning himself for his latest opportunity to join the ranks of professionals.
But much like his college career, Hughes’ entrance into the MLB did not go as expected.
Due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 MLB Draft last week was a shortened one, and although Hughes didn’t hear his name called then, it was followed by a larger than usual free agency signing frenzy.
“I started getting a lot of calls on Sunday morning,” he said. “A lot of teams were interested.”
Hughes said his pitching coach from Georgia Tech — who had spent time as a pitching coordinator for the New York Yankees — was one of his primary resources when choosing a team. He learned that the Phillies had a strong reputation when it came to making sure their players are well taken care of, and he enjoyed his interactions with the team during the free agency signing period.
“There were a couple of teams that were in the mix, but it was just something that always was pulling me to (the Phillies),” Hughes said. “So I was like you know what, I’m not going to just lay around and kind of doublethink myself, second guess myself. It was just one of those things where I was like ‘You know what? That’s where I want to go.’”
After sleeping on it Monday night, Hughes woke up on Tuesday knowing exactly where he wanted to be.
And while he never had any second thoughts about his decision, Hughes said some of his Georgia Tech teammates were a little less happy that he had signed with a National League East rival of the hometown Atlanta Braves he grew up watching and supporting.
Hughes joked that his college roommate, Robert Winborne, had conflicting feelings on the signing.
“He was like, ‘Man, I don’t know why you’re doing this to me,” Hughes said. “‘Why are you making me cheer for the Phillies?’”
Hughes is still a bit in the dark about what will come next for him in his professional career.
With many questions still left unanswered regarding the MLB season as well as how the minor league season may be handled, he said he and the rest of the latest rookie class remain in wait-and-see mode while they wait for the higher ups to make a decision on how things will play out.
As his professional career gets underway, Hughes said his main goal is the same one he’s had since he was a kid: win a World Series. When it comes to more immediate aspirations, he said he’s not looking too far ahead.
“First comes first, is to focus on the present and not look too much in the future,” Hughes said. “And then I’ll set my specific goals from there.”