May 17, 2024

Charlie Condon’s rise to college baseball stardom almost didn’t happen

ATHENS, Ga. — If then-Georgia coach Scott Stricklin hadn’t obtained a name from a buddy in October of 2020, Bulldogs star Charlie Condon might need been enjoying quarterback at a Division III college as a substitute of manufacturing one of the vital memorable seasons in college baseball historical past.

Before his senior season at The Walker School in Marietta, Georgia, the one colleges that have been recruiting Condon have been Division III Rhodes College in Memphis and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, which expressed curiosity in him enjoying baseball and soccer.

A most popular walk-on spot to play baseball at Tennessee didn’t pan out, so Condon was ready to play two sports activities at a smaller college.

But then Stricklin’s buddy persuaded the Georgia coach to take an opportunity on a thin 6-foot-5 hitter who hadn’t stopped rising and had someway been missed by practically each college baseball program within the nation.

Four years later, the prospect almost everybody missed cannot appear to miss on the plate. Condon leads NCAA hitters in batting common (.483), house runs (26), slugging proportion (1.119), whole bases (169), hits (73) and residential runs per recreation (.67).

Going into Tuesday’s recreation in opposition to No. 5 Clemson at Foley Field (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU) in Athens, Condon is simply two house runs away from breaking Georgia’s profession HR file — in solely two seasons — and is threatening a 39-year-old NCAA file for slugging proportion.

Now a 6-6, 216-pound sophomore who has performed first base, third base and all three outfield spots for the Bulldogs, Condon is in line to doubtlessly be the No. 1 decide within the Major League Baseball draft on July 14.

“No one saw this coming,” Stricklin stated.

How did the once-overlooked highschool prospect rise to change into the most well liked commodity within the MLB draft? Described by one scout as a “unicorn” due to his peak, lengthy arms and uncommon skill in dealing with inside pitches, Condon is taken into account a can’t-miss prospect who will not want an excessive amount of time within the minors.

“It’s a question I ask myself to this day,” Condon stated. “It’s hard to say that it’s taken me by surprise because I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this spot. But at the same time, if I pick my head up and look back at the last three years, and where I was in high school and my freshman year when I was just competing to stick around and hold on to my roster spot, I couldn’t have imagined being here.”

Stricklin, who coached at Georgia from 2014 to 2023, stated Condon was the sufferer of unlucky timing greater than the rest. His recruiting window fell at first of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. College coaches weren’t in a position to scout prospects in individual that spring, after which the NCAA modified its guidelines to give college athletes an extra yr of eligibility. There have been even fewer scholarships accessible after MLB shortened its 2021 draft from 40 rounds to 20, inflicting extra gamers to keep in college.

Condon, who didn’t even play on the highest group together with his journey baseball group, fell by means of the cracks.

“I think more than anything with Charlie, his story was just that he’s a really late bloomer,” stated his father, Jim Condon. “He was a late puberty kid and one of the youngest in his class. He really wasn’t ready to be seen. He’ll tell you he has no regrets about people passing over him.

“He determined that if he was going to spend this a lot time enjoying baseball, he was going to wager on himself and go for it.”

After his friend’s call, Stricklin and his assistants talked to Condon and his family. They watched videos of his games. They believed if Condon gained weight and muscle, he might be able to contribute. Because Condon was an excellent student, he could get accepted into Georgia on his own and wouldn’t need a scholarship.

“He’s a pure walk-on,” Stricklin said. “When he confirmed up his freshman yr, he was actually good. We thought he had an opportunity. We simply sat down and got here up with a plan.”

Stricklin’s plan was for Condon to redshirt as a freshman in 2022 and spend much of his time in the weight room trying to gain strength.

“I feel it was a tough capsule to swallow once I first obtained it as a result of I felt like I had confirmed myself and proved I might be a contributor,” Condon said. “To have that chance sort of slip away was powerful to wrap my head round. Once I accepted it, I spotted there was most likely going to be a silver lining someplace alongside the best way. I knew there was going to be a spot for me if I trusted the method and saved getting higher.”

That summer, Condon played for the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League, playing 61 games in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin over three months. Using wooden bats and facing college pitchers from around the country, Condon hit .286 with seven homers and 68 RBIs.

“Seeing the college pitching was huge,” Condon said. “It takes a whole lot of psychological energy to get by means of a season like that being away from every little thing. You’re sort of remoted on the market and it is simply you and the sport. It actually forces you to get comfy in your pores and skin shortly.”

Condon blew up the next season at Georgia. He led the Bulldogs with a .386 average with 25 homers and 67 RBIs. He reached base in 52 of 56 games and had a 24-game hitting streak. Condon was named SEC Freshman of the Year and Freshman of the Year by D1Baseball.

“It’s almost just like the old-school soccer coaches who redshirt a child and see what occurs,” Stricklin said. “He placed on 15 or 20 kilos and all of it simply clicked on the similar time.”

Late in the 2023 season, Stricklin asked Condon if he had ever imagined the success he was having.

“He’s only a very, very humble child,” Stricklin said. “He simply sort of chuckled to himself. He’s clearly very proficient, however he has an especially excessive work ethic and very excessive character. You put all these issues along with a 6-foot-6 body and 220 kilos, it is obtained an opportunity to be particular.

“I think what’s made him so good is that he’s had adversity. He’s had obstacles, and he never complained. He bought into everything.”

Another hurdle got here after the Bulldogs completed 29-27 and missed the NCAA event in 2023. Stricklin was fired after compiling a 299-236-1 file in 10 seasons. Georgia reached the NCAA event thrice throughout his tenure however by no means superior previous regionals.

Georgia employed LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson, and Johnson’s first recruiting name was to Condon to make sure that he wasn’t going to go away through the switch portal.

“It was never a real possibility that I wanted to get in the portal and go anywhere else,” Condon stated. “Whether it was this coaching staff or not, the university was the only place that gave me a chance out of high school. It was the university that had given me all the time and resources and put so much into my development. I couldn’t turn my back on that.”

Condon has been even higher in his second season with the No. 20 Bulldogs. He has practically as many homers (26) as strikeouts (29) and there was little doubt about his lengthy balls. He hit a 457-foot homer in opposition to Missouri, a 454-footer in opposition to Stetson and a 445-footer in opposition to Northern Colorado. His exit velocity on homers has routinely been about 100 mph and as excessive as 118.

Condon has hit 51 homers in 95 video games, tied for second most in class historical past. Former main leaguer Gordon Beckham hit 53 homers at Georgia in 197 video games from 2006 to ’08. Beckham additionally owns the single-season file with 28 in 2008. Condon can be on tempo to set the UGA profession file with a .427 common; Joe Stewart hit .394 from 1977 to ’79.

Condon’s slugging proportion (1.119) is just under NCAA house run king Pete Incaviglia’s single-season file of 1.140, set at Oklahoma State in 1985. Augusta’s Keith Hammonds established the NCAA file for house runs per recreation at .74 (26 in 35 video games) in 1987. Condon, at .67, is inside putting distance of that file, too.

“In an industry full of special people, he’s like a true unicorn,” stated one MLB scout who has watched Condon play at Georgia. “When you start going through the comparisons for him, we start brushing up against Hall of Fame players and legendary figures. There are very few right-handed hitters with those long arms that can get to the inside pitch and handle the velocity that he can.

“It’s unbelievable if you have a look at his numbers. Now granted, they’re smaller pattern sizes, however if you have a look at his numbers in opposition to 95 mph-plus pitching or in opposition to particular breaking balls, his numbers are literally higher. He’s such a uncommon mixture of dimension, energy and the flexibility to hit. You hate to throw round a colloquialism, however he is sort of a generational college participant.”

The Cleveland Guardians have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and Condon, Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana, Wake Forest first baseman Nick Kurtz and Florida first baseman Jac Caglianone are considered the top prospects available.

Even if Condon doesn’t go No. 1 in the draft, the MLB scout who spoke to ESPN said he might still top the record $9.2 million signing bonus that former LSU pitcher Paul Skenes obtained from the Pittsburgh Pirates final yr. The Cincinnati Reds have the second decide, adopted by the Colorado Rockies, Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox.

Coming into the season, the scout believed a good MLB comparison for Condon was longtime outfielder Jayson Werth. Now, he’s not so sure it isn’t New York Yankees outfielders Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton.

“It’s the tremendous lengthy arms and tremendous quick bat,” the scout said. “You have a look at him and his swing, you suppose you are going to beat him on the opposite half, after which he simply destroys the ball. Because of the size of his levers, his energy is simply so seamless and straightforward. He simply flips balls 450 ft. The guys who do this, it is simply very rarefied air.”

Johnson coached Skenes for one season at LSU. Like Condon, Skenes was lightly recruited out of high school. He spent two seasons at the Air Force Academy before joining the Tigers in 2023. Last season, Skenes was the SEC Pitcher of the Year and Dick Howser Trophy winner as the best player in the country. He went 13-2 with a 1.69 ERA while helping LSU win a national championship.

“Nobody wished Charlie popping out of highschool,” Johnson said. “I feel that is what makes the story. We can all have a look at the nice ones who had related adversity earlier of their profession, proper? Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity group. Sometimes that fuels them. Paul Skenes was lots the identical method. You be ok with them coping with adversity.”

For now, at least, Condon is focused on finishing his final season at Georgia. He wants to lead the Bulldogs back to the Men’s College World Series, where they haven’t been since 2008.

“Right now, we’re targeted on getting this group again to Omaha and within the postseason,” Condon said, “the place the state of Georgia belongs yearly due to the expertise that is right here.”