Red Land pitcher can't lead team to another state title, so now he mulls baseball future

The (Carlisle) Sentinel (TNS)
  • Luke Wagner is the pitching ace for the Red Land High School baseball team.
  • The 2020 high school baseball season was wiped out by the coronavirus.
  • Wagner, a Georgia recruit, is mulling his future baseball options.
Luke Wagner

There will be no sounds of the bats cracking against baseballs, no sounds of baseballs hitting gloves and no sounds of fans cheering for Luke Wagner.

Well, at least for the high school baseball season.

The coronavirus reached the United States in mid-winter, and by March 12, the remaining PIAA winter championships and spring seasons were on hold. By April 9, the PIAA announced there would be no 2020 spring season because of the continuing spread of COVID-19.

With no season, there is no chance Wagner and his Red Land High School teammates can defend their 2019 PIAA Class 5-A championship, no chance to play with old friends one more time and no chance to have one last high school season before making big decisions about the future. There will be no last ride into the sunset for Wagner, the unquestioned ace of the Red Land staff, University of Georgia commit and potential Major League Baseball draft pick.

"It’s surreal that (the 2019 PIAA championship) was my final (high school) game, and I will never forget that," Wagner said. "(My catcher, Jared Payne) came up to me, and he was like, ‘All right, now win another one.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I got you.’

"We trained this whole winter, and it just sucks knowing that we cannot get two and we can only have one. But, it would be a lot worse if we couldn’t even win one."

Instead, the future is now for the York County standout.

Looking to draft: In two months, if the MLB does hold its already postponed draft in July as anticipated, Wagner will have a choice — go pro out of high school or play at least the next three years with the Georgia Bulldogs.

The draft will be drastically different compared to prior years because of the pandemic. The league and the players union agreed weeks ago to allow the owners to shorten the draft to as little as five rounds this year, although proposals appear to work with a 10-round format. (The draft is typically 40 rounds.) The draft has already been postponed a month from its original June dates, and the league is expected to have talks next week that could determine the dates, number of rounds and other details.

That means fewer high school and college ballplayers getting drafted. The ramifications for high school seniors such as Wagner are tough to predict.

According to Prospects Live, Wagner is a top prospect in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Storied career: Wagner’s storied career at Red Land led him on the path to become a possible early-round pick in the draft. In 2019, he went 11-2 in 68 1/3 innings with a 1.54 ERA and 117 strikeouts. When not on the mound, he manned center field, and as a lead-off man, he batted .352 with 30 runs scored, 15 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.

In 2017, he committed to the Bulldogs, along with his cousin, 2015 Little League World Series breakout star Cole Wagner. His high school career and extensive travel league performances put him on the map for this year's MLB draft. But, like everyone else in the high school class of 2020, he won't get one more chance to potentially improve his draft stock.

"I worked really hard this offseason to get to heavier weights to get a stronger body, and it’s just disappointing that (MLB scouts) won’t see that," said Wagner, who added he's been in contact with a few teams already.

Mulling his options: Wagner is certainly weighing his options. He is in a unique situation, too. His dad, Kyle, and uncle, Bret, led Red Land to the school's first state title in 1990. The Wagner brothers were later drafted out of Wake Forest University — Kyle was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 12th round in 1995 by the California Angels, while Bret was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round (19th overall) in 1994.

"The goal isn’t to become a professional, it’s to be a big leaguer," Kyle said. "Signing as an 18-year-old often sets many young kids up for failure. It’s nice to get drafted, but it’s even nicer to know you’re making the right decision for your long-term future."

Kyle would know. He was actually selected three times — the first time out of high school by Houston in the 27th round. He opted to go to Wake Forest, then was drafted again as a junior in 1994 by St. Louis. He knows the calculus a player must go through in deciding whether to head to the minors at 18 or take the college route.

Focusing on college: Luke and Kyle both said they are focused on Luke's college career. They wouldn't say if there was a spot in the draft that would sway them from going to college.

"I’m the only kid out of state for Georgia, so they must think highly of me. I’m just trying to understand what they want me to be and how I can be that,” Luke said. “Once I got the news that the season was canceled, my brain kind of flipped to, ‘All right, I’m a Georgia Bulldog now and it’s time to go.

"This fall I’m going to be fighting for a spot to play down there, so I changed my approach a little bit and changed my focus on the ways I’m training to focus on that now. At Red Land I was always like the No. 1, and now I gotta change my mindset to, ‘All right, now I gotta win a spot out.’"

Saying all the right things: That doesn't mean skipping college isn't on the table, but Wagner is saying all the right things for the Bulldogs.

For now, Luke will train for Georgia and wait to hear his name called in the draft.

"Well, I guess we get to work on what’s next," Kyle said. "Let’s control what we can control."