The lives of two local baseball prodigies are soon to change.
Years of hard work and remarkable performances should pay off handsomely for John Rhodes and Cooper Kinney, who are expected to be early selections in the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft which begins Sunday at 7 p.m.
This past month Kinney worked out for nearly 15 MLB teams while he traveled for individual workouts at pro ballparks of the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers. The left-handed hitter who played all over the field for Baylor School is projected as a first-round selection.
ESPN.com tabs Kinney as the No. 24 overall draft prospect. The Braves have the 24th pick which has a slot signing value of $2,831,000. The 36th and final overall pick of the first round, belonging to the Minnesota Twins, has a slot value of $2,045,400.
"The draft process has been really exciting," said Kinney, who was the Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year and Division II-AA Mr. Baseball after hitting .480 with 30 extra base hits (10 home runs) and 50 RBIs in 31 games for the Red Raiders, who won their third straight TSSAA state championship.
"Being in this arena with so many great players who are older than me and some my age has been a great experience. This is all a dream that's starting to come true. I grew up watching the Braves and cheering for guys like Chipper Jones, now I get to go on the MLB fields and hit. Hitting a home run at SunTrust Park was super cool for me and one of the best experiences baseball has brought me."
Rhodes is also a highly regarded MLB draft prospect as many project him to go in the second to early third round. The five-tool outfield talent from the University of Kentucky is considered the 67th overall prospect in the draft class. The signing slot value in the second round — from the 37th to 71st pick — ranges from nearly $2 million to $844,200.
Top draft picks of all-time from Chattanooga
Kenny Henderson (5th overall to Milwaukee in 1991), Ringgold High School
Dakota Hudson (34th to St. Louis in 2016), Sequatchie County High School
Kyler Burke (35th to San Diego in 2006), Ooltewah High School
David Mead (47th to Texas Rangers in 1999), Soddy-Daisy High School
Wes Hodges (69th to Cleveland in 2006), Baylor School
Cole Wilcox (80th to San Diego in 2020), Gordon Lee High School
Cory Gearrin (138th to Atlanta in 2007), Rhea County High School
The former Chattanooga Christian star's stock rose dramatically as he was one of the top freshmen in the country in a COVID-19 shortened 2020 season in which he hit .426 with 10 doubles in 17 games for the Wildcats. Rhodes showed even more pop this past season with 11 home runs in 187 at-bats in which his hard-hit percentage — balls hit over 95 miles per hour — was one of the best in the country. He also stole eight bases and walked 28 times while he did not make an error in 105 chances as a sophomore playing in right field.
"I feel like I can offer a lot of versatility and tools to teams," said Rhodes, who has heavy interest from half a dozen different MLB teams. "I have focused on one goal at a time since I was younger and now to have this chance to become a professional ball player is huge. You never think this day is going to come. It's honestly surreal. To go through all these meetings and talk to teams has been a cool experience."
While Rhodes and Kinney are two years apart in age, at 20 and 18, the two have been friends for quite a while.
Both played on the elite eXposure baseball circuit, a local select program started by Brandon Turner which has had 21 players drafted since 2016. The two star hitters have spent the past month helping one another stay grounded and prepare for the road ahead.
"We have talked several times a week about little things and dreamed of what our futures will be like," said Rhodes, who in June played center field in the premier Cape Cod League. "Cooper is an incredible talent and is one of the best high school hitters in this draft class. After playing in college I told him, you are too good for these guys. That is a special, special bat and he deserves first round money."
The two have spent the past several summers training and hitting together as both have added key elements, which MLB teams look for, to their game.
"John has put in so much work and should be proud of himself. I take a lot of pride when someone talks about him and I support him all the way. He's a really good friend," said Kinney, who grew up in Dayton. "His advice has been one of the best things I could have with this process. To think we could both be professional ball players soon is amazing and worth all the time we've put in."
The first round of Sunday's MLB Draft will span 36 picks in total, which includes the Competitive Balance Round A picks (31-36). The first round will be televised by the MLB Network and ESPN starting at 7:07 pm.
MLB.com will live stream Rounds 2-10, which start on Monday at 1, along with Rounds 11-20 on Tuesday which begin at noon.
Kinney and Rhodes both said they will be watching with friends and family and keeping their phones close by for their highly awaited phone calls.
"You just cross your fingers and pray," said Rhodes, who is from Soddy-Daisy. "I will be nervously waiting, but really excited. All it takes is for one team to pull the trigger on you."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.