Georgia duo expected to get high draft calls

ATHENS, Ga. -- Sometime Thursday, Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and closer Josh Fields will become much richer than their teammates, as both players are expected to be selected among the first 25 picks in the amateur baseball draft.

Less than 24 hours later, Beckham and Fields will have to turn their attention to North Carolina State, the Bulldogs' opponent in this weekend's Athens Super Regional at Foley Field. The winner of the best-of-three series will advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The amateur draft is a dilemma facing many college baseball teams this week. Georgia figures to be hit harder than most, however, with as many as four juniors and seven incoming freshmen projected to be drafted.

"It's just bad timing," Georgia coach David Perno said. "I kind of wanted it to be on Tuesday, when it's always happened in the past. It's never perfect timing. But I trust these kids and know their minds are in the right places and their hearts are in the right places. They can't control it."

If Beckham and Fields are selected in the first round as expected, it will be the first time since 1987 that Georgia has had two first-rounders in the same year. In 1987, Derek Lilliquist was chosen No. 6 by the Atlanta Braves and Chris Carpenter was selected No. 14 by the St. Louis Cardinals. They were drafted after helping Georgia reach the College World Series for the first time.

Beckham and Fields insist they are focused on nothing more than helping the Bulldogs reach Omaha for the fourth time in eight seasons. Georgia, the national No. 8 seed, won its only national championship in baseball in 1990.

"I don't think [the draft] is a distraction," Beckham said. "I think the fact it's getting done before the super regional is good. You get it over with. I'm excited. Everybody who is going to get drafted has worked really hard."

Few players have worked harder than Beckham, a junior who wasn't drafted in 2005 after graduating from the Westminster School in Atlanta. He hit .280 as a freshman on the 2006 Georgia team that went to Omaha and hit .307 last season.

This year, Beckham was named SEC player of the year and is among the finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the top player in college baseball. He hit a team-best .397 and set school single-season records with 24 homers and 85 runs scored.

ESPN.com baseball analyst Keith Law projects Beckham as the eighth-best player available in the draft. Baseball America rates Beckham as the No. 6 prospect.

"He's a great kid, and he's got so much going for him," Perno said. "It's been special to watch him grow and mature. It's a unique situation. Everything about this season, including the timing of it, couldn't be better. I always knew he was special, but he just hadn't put up special numbers."

Fields, a home-grown product from Prince Avenue Christian School in Athens, has long been regarded as a special player, even after struggling mightily as a junior in 2007. After 15 saves and a 1.80 ERA as a sophomore in 2006, Fields struggled with a 1-6 record and 4.46 ERA last season. The Braves still selected him in the second round (69th overall) of the 2007 draft. But Fields never agreed to contract terms and returned to Georgia for his senior season.

He has bounced back in a big way this season, with a school-record 16 saves and 2.27 ERA. He was named the SEC pitcher of the year, and opponents hit only .112 against him. He didn't allow an earned run in his first 22 appearances this season.

Law rates Fields as the 16th-best prospect in the draft and projects he'll be selected by the Detroit Tigers with the No. 21 pick.

"I've been thinking about the draft a little bit more, but I still don't know what's going to happen," Fields said. "Baseball is nothing but business, and it's everybody looking out for themselves. You can't take anything personal."

Senior third baseman Ryan Peisel (.332, eight homers, 46 RBIs) and right fielder Matt Olson (.333, eight homers, 41 RBIs) also might be drafted. Olson, who had 18 hits in five games of the Athens Regional, wasn't considered a draft prospect until recently.

"If someone doesn't take Olson, I don't know what he needs to do," Perno said.

Perno also fears each of his team's three junior starting pitchers might be drafted in high rounds. Stephen Dodson (5-4, 4.41 ERA), Trevor Holder (7-4, 4.60) and Nathan Moreau (4-2, 4.93) combined to start 43 of Georgia's 62 games this season.

Four Georgia signees might be drafted among the first 100 selections. Left-handed pitcher Brett DeVall of Niceville, Fla., is ranked the No. 33 prospect in the draft by Baseball America. Right-handed pitcher Zeke Spruill of Marietta, Ga., is ranked No. 66, and outfielder Zach Cone of Lilburn, Ga., is rated No. 80. Outfielder Xavier Avery, who signed to play football for the Bulldogs, is ranked No. 59.

Perno believes the amateur draft might have affected his current players near the end of the regular season, when Georgia lost two of three games to Alabama in its last SEC series and then went 0-2 in the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.

But he is confident his team will be ready to play the Wolfpack with a trip to the College World Series at stake.

"I think it did hurt us the last two weeks, when we were scuffling and fighting to get things back together," Perno said. "Now, we're saying, 'Hey, let's play for each other.' That's how we won the SEC [regular-season championship]. We'll be ready to play. We've just got too many guys who have been to Omaha and want to go back."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.