He’s pitched under the sunny skies of Long Beach, Calif., and the intense atmosphere of urban Venezuela, but Jonathan Hughes decided Atlanta would be the best choice to continue his storied baseball career.
Three months after pitching in front of major league scouts on the West Coast, the Flowery Branch senior right-hander signed his letter of intent last week to play for Georgia Tech after high school.
“It felt more like a home than anything else,” Hughes said. “It makes things a whole lot easier, being close to home. It should be a blast to work harder and get after it.”
A family connection helped get Hughes on Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall’s radar, but it was the right hander’s impressive performances that sealed the deal.
Hughes had one of his best statistical years this spring when he posted a 1.23 ERA and a 7-0 record, giving up just 23 hits and one home run all season, while leading the Falcons to their fourth straight playoff appearance.
He had a breakout performance against rival and then-No. 2 Gainesville when he led the Falcons to a 3-1 win over Red Elephants pitcher Michael Gettys, who was taken in the second round of the MLB Draft earlier this year. Hughes struck out seven in the win, which bolstered Flowery Branch to a 20-10 season and a second-place finish in Region 8-AAAAA.
Flowery Branch coach Scott Myers called Hughes a “fierce competitor” who has the potential to succeed at the next level.
“I think he’s the best pitcher in our region and probably one of the best in the state,” Myers said. “He may be dominant at the next level at some point. He’s a phenomenal player.”
Hughes played with Hall’s son, Carter, while growing up through travel baseball teams, including his current East Cobb Yankees U-18 squad. The pair bonded during the summer days, but Hughes’ steadily-improving fastball earned him a scholarship offer in his sophomore year.
Hughes said he’s recently topped out at 96-97 miles per hour, one of many reasons why Perfect Game USA ranked him on the Preseason All-American first team in March.
The senior hasn’t stopped working as his college days draw closer. Hughes participated in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif. this summer, along with 240 other talented ball players throughout the country, to show off their skills in front of MLB scouts.
Travelling isn’t an issue for the talented right hander (6-foot-1, 185 pounds). In 2011, he made the cut for a U-14 U.S. national team to play in the COPABE Pan Am Championships in San Felipe, Venezuela.
Hughes said the atmosphere was like a World Cup soccer match, with hundreds of the fans playing in bands or blowing horns when he came up to pitch.
“It was probably the best team I’ve ever experienced,” Hughes said. “You always want to play for your country. Getting to the pros is miraculous, but playing for your country anywhere around the world is always cool.”
Hughes will have the chance to add to his credentials when he joins his new teammates in Atlanta next year. He’ll be a part of a squad that won the 2014 ACC tournament, the school’s ninth title in program history.
He’ll be joined by East Cobb Yankee teammates Joey Bart and Keyton Gibson, a pair of Buford players who have also committed to the Yellow Jackets.
Last year, Georgia Tech ranked eighth in the ACC for combined earned run average (3.35). Myers said Hughes is the most highly-touted Falcons prospect since pitcher Brad Keller, who was drafted in the 8th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013.
“He’s got that really good fastball, good speed, his competitiveness on the mound,” said Myers, a fifth-year coach with the Falcons. “He’s got to have the complete makeup, and he’ll be bearing down and getting after it.”
Until then, Hughes said he’s working on improving his pitch signals in an effort to improve upon last year’s playoff run.
The dream is to make it to the big leagues, but Hughes said his focus is all about enjoying the journey.
“I look forward to the next level,” he said. “God has a plan for me, and if that’s the plan, I’ll be there to sign the papers with a big, old smile on my face.”