Jonathan Hughes has a clear mind and full heart as the MLB draft gets closer.
Now 23, the Flowery Branch High graduate knows the possibilities are countless as he navigates the scuttlebutt that goes along with this year’s pro baseball selection process, shortened to five rounds by the MLB as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s on conference calls every day, getting a feel for which pro clubs are most interested in his talents as a hard-throwing, right-handed pitcher. However, nothing in 2020 is the same as the past.
If he goes undrafted, Hughes can return to Georgia Tech for a sixth season, due to a waiver granted by the NCAA.
With a business degree already in hand, Hughes may end up this summer playing minor league ball or could end up back in Atlanta next fall for the Yellow Jackets.
It’s all a big waiting game leading up to the draft on June 10.
However, the last thing he’s going to do is worry.
“With everything the way it is right now, I just continue to trust in God that he has a plan,” said Hughes, who recorded a career-best nine strikeouts over seven innings against Virginia Tech on March 6, his final appearance of the season.
As the No. 1 guy in the Yellow Jackets’ rotation in 2020, Hughes got the ball four times and had a 2-1 record and scattered 17 hits and 10 earned runs over 21 2/3 innings on the mound.
Out of high school, Hughes was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015 but made the decision to attend Georgia Tech. He said it’s still one of the best decisions he’s made, learning from some of the best teachers in baseball with the Yellow Jackets and playing high-level summer ball along the way.
He remains a tantalizing prospect for pro scouts, now working with a five-pitch arsenal on the mound. Hughes’ go-to is still a fastball that clocks in the mid 90s on the radar gun, but he has become adept at throwing the changeup to get hitters out.
Hughes has continued his throwing sessions away from Georgia Tech’s campus. Mainly, it’s to keep his form crisp and body in shape, rather than a stringent pitch count.
“I’m just trying to work up a good lather throwing the ball,” said Hughes, who since he was a kid has gone by the nickname Jon Boy. “Really doing everything I can to stay sharp.”
His last full season on the bump for Georgia Tech was a good one, in 2019, appearing in 26 games out of the bullpen and tied for its team-high with nine victories.
Hughes gives much of the credit for his development to first-year Georgia Tech pitching coach Danny Borrell, who got the veteran righty back to form after 2016 surgery to insert a six-inch screw in his right elbow to assist with a growth plate that never fully developed.
The good news, as delivered by the renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, was that it was not an injury that would require Tommy John surgery.
However, it did take a diligent effort for Hughes to fully regain his full range of motion and optimal release point for maximum velocity.
“It was an injury where I continued to pitch and the pain got worse and worse,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t a sudden thing with a popping sound.”
Nothing was for certain after Hughes went under the knife.
His love for the game never waned. Since he was a kid, he’s dreamed of being a pro ball player.
However, Hughes did struggle once back on the mound in 2017 and 2018.
Some of his biggest strides came during the summer months. First, he did a stint in the Sunbelt League, which he considered more of a rehabilitation trip.
Then, he spent the summer of 2018 playing in the Coastal Plains League, followed by another sharp performance in the summer of 2019 with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the Cape Cod League.
Hughes was originally slated to play this summer with the Gainesville Braves.
He will now await the results of the draft next month to see if he will play for the team co-owned by Gainesville High graduate Micah Owings with its season slated to begin July 1 with home games to be played at Ivey-Watson Field.
Regardless of what happens in the draft, Hughes is resolute that he’s become better through his time at Georgia Tech, while the option for another year is still on the table.
On top of pitching in the ACC and earning a college diploma, Hughes has also enjoyed the student-athlete experience in Atlanta.
One of his top memories is taking a mission trip with Georgia Tech’s FCA to Puerto Rico, a baseball-rich culture, before Christmas one year.
“It’s been remarkable being able to live the lifestyle of a student-athlete at Georgia Tech,” Hughes said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”