Gilman graduate Gavin Sheets got a clear message from the 2014 Major League Baseball amateur draft in June: He could have a future in professional baseball.
So Sheets, who was taken in the 37th round by the Atlanta Braves, is focusing on improving his skills as he prepares for a college career at Wake Forest University, starting in the fall. He hopes a successful stint there can lead to bigger things, such as following in the footsteps of his coach and dad, Larry Sheets, who played for the Orioles.
This summer, Gavin Sheets got the process started by playing first base in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League for the Baltimore Redbirds, who play their home games at Calvert Hall.
"It's nice to get drafted, but I am just going to try and get better and see how high I can eventually get drafted (in a few years)," Sheets explained. "At the end of the day, my goal is to be a professional player. If I could do that, it would be a dream come true."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Sheets, a Lutherville resident, is getting his first taste of the level of talent he'll face as a college player competing in the Cal Ripken League. He's holding his own, batting .333 in 14 games in a league that uses wood bats.
Sheets is competing against older players from all over the country and learning plenty from the more experienced players.
"Twenty-five guys in the league got drafted this year," said the elder Sheets, the head baseball coach at Gilman. "These kids play at Ole Miss, North Carolina, Maryland. They are talking a lot of baseball. That's terrific. You really get a chance to see quality pitching, night in and night out. I saw a guy from William & Mary and he struck out 16 out of the 19 guys he faced."
The pitchers are clearly tougher than the ones Gavin Sheets faced at Gilman, where he holds school records in hits, RBI and doubles.
He will take swings against similar standout pitchers at Wake Forest.
"I wanted to see college pitching and I am doing that this summer," Sheets said. "In high school, the average velocity is like 82 mph. Most guys in this league are 88 to 90. That's a big step up. Another big thing is I am seeing more change-ups."
All in all, he says, it's a preview of "what I'm going to see next year."
Sheets hopes to improve rapidly over the next three years and thereby put himself in excellent position for the 2017 amateur draft, for which he will be eligible for after junior season at Wake Forest.
Even so, he seemed thrilled to have been drafted by the Braves and have it on his resume.
"I think getting drafted was one of the main things you want in life," Sheets said.
Larry Sheets thinks his son could have gone higher the draft but he and Gavin informed scouts he intended to play baseball at Wake Forest.
And that it would take an overwhelming financial offer to tempt him to skip college and go directly into professional baseball.
"I am surprised he got drafted," Larry Sheets said. "There has to be a high number to make it worth him not going to college. We put a high number out there, which was a first, second or third-round slot."
Sheets didn't provide a figure. The Orioles two first-round picks last year, Hunter Harvey and Josh Hart, both signed for more $1 million, and second-round pick Chance Sisco got a $785,000 signing bonus, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Larry Sheets said he figures his son would have been drafted somewhere in the top 10 rounds last month if Gavin had decided to turn pro this summer.
"From what he heard, he is probably a seventh to 10th-round draft pick," Larry Sheets of his conversations with professional scouts.
Gavin Sheets realizes that, for now, he just needs to continue to work hard to impress scouts and succeed at Wake Forest, where he expects to play in the outfield.
He spends about two hours four days a week lifting weights.
"I am working on getting bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic," Sheets said. "I am working at Perform Fit (in Cockeysville) with Tim Bishop. He was the Orioles strength and conditioning coach for 14 years."
Redbirds coach Mike Carter has been especially impressed with Sheets' attitude.
"Anything you tell him, he absorbs," said Carter, who also is the head coach at the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex. "Gavin is very mature for his age. He is willing to learn and listen. You can tell he has the tools to get better and make it to the next level."