Royal Treatment

GHC pitcher Bryant plucked by Kansas City in 17th round

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Less than a year after converting from catcher to pitcher, Noah Bryant has already reaped the rewards.

The raw Georgia Highlands freshman caught the eye of the Kansas City Royals, who selected him in the 17th round of the MLB draft Wednesday afternoon.

"It's unbelievable," Bryant said. "It's something I've worked for my whole life. It happened, but it hasn't really sank in yet. It just seems so unreal, so surreal. I really don't know how to describe it."

As with many players drafted, the Royals see a lot of upside in Bryant. His numbers this past season suggest some natural ability but some control issues. He walked 23 batters and struck out 22 in 18 1/3 innings for the Chargers.

GHC head coach Dash O'Neill believes Bryant will only continue to improve as he logs more and more time on the mound. That goes for the right-handed flamethrower whether he returns to the Chargers or signs a pro contract.

"Whether its here or in professional baseball, he just needs more time on the mound," O'Neill said. "He's been pitching for a very short time, so his command is probably what he needs to work on the most. His fastball is electric. He topped at 97 miles per hour and frequently sits at that 93-95 mile-per-hour range. He's got a developing slider that when it's working is a wipeout pitch. It's in the mid-80s.

"Really, I just think it's time, being on the mound for another year or two to become a pitcher. He was a catcher in high school. … Pitching is really new to him, so I just think it's a matter of time served. Whether it ends up being for me or for Kansas City, if they're patient and continue to get him out there and get him opportunities, he's going to shape into something very, very special."

In some ways, it would seem great for Bryant to have some different options for his future. O'Neill even mentioned Bryant has garnered some attention from SEC programs. On the other hand, it adds a few layers to an already difficult decision.

"I feel like it complicates things, because there's so many different outcomes that could happen for every single situation," Bryant said. "No matter which one I choose, there's so many risks and rewards in each of them."

No matter which path he ultimately takes, O'Neill expects to see Bryant have an extremely successful future.

"Maybe he can leverage his time at Georgia Highlands into an SEC opportunity, where he can develop even more," O'Neill said. "I really believe he could end up a top-three-round draft pick down the road if he chooses that route. It also wouldn't surprise me if he signed and, in three or four years, we saw him on TV [in the majors]. I think either of those is entirely possible."

Understandably, Bryant didn't indicate one way or the other how he's leaning. O'Neill would love nothing more to have him back in the fold in 2019, but he also wants what's best for Bryant.

"I think it's too early to tell," O'Neill said of Bryant's decision. "That's his decision, it's not mine. I will support him no matter what he chooses to do. I want what's best for him.

"That's one of those things where, selfishly, I would love to have him back. But this really isn't about me, it's about Noah Bryant and what's best for him as a person, his family. I don't know what his plan is. I just know whatever his plan is, I support him 100 percent and I'll try to help him in any way achieve his dreams."

Bryant spent just one semester at GHC after transferring from the University of North Georgia. He admitted it wasn't always easy dealing with the inconsistency this season playing for the Chargers, who also saw one of their signees — L.J. Fisher out of North Gwinnett — drafted in the 37th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He managed to develop a day-by-day approach that would serve him well as a relief pitcher in the pros.

"It was frustrating at times," Bryant said. "I had just look at it as one day at a time, not look too far ahead at the result and just focused on the day. … It worked out."

Bryant had plenty of success behind the plate in his time at Bainbridge High, hitting .400 with 32 RBIs as a senior. But he decided he would have more opportunities as a pitcher, so he made the switch.

The move certainly paid off in the short term, and the Royals will hope it pays off in the long term.

"When you can walk into a ballpark and hear a guy pitching, I think that automatically perks your ears up," O'Neill said. "I think the first thing that jumps out is this kid's got a howitzer for an arm. When you talk to him, you realize he's a very respectful young man, he's intelligent and really eager to improve and put in the work."