VALDOSTA –– On the final day of the Major League Baseball draft, Colby Thomas was at home watching it from his cell phone. Little did he know, he would be holding his future in his hands.
The Valdosta Wildcats outfielder was selected in the 37th round by the Baltimore Orioles on June 5.
Though he went into the draft process believing there was a chance he'd be taken, nothing was official, Thomas says, until he saw his name in writing.
"My agent told me right before (the draft), 'I'm not going to confirm anything but the Orioles are planning to take you in the 35th, 36th or 37th round," Thomas said. "The Baltimore Orioles had the first pick in each round, so the 36th round went by and they didn't pick me, but I was watching everybody else that got picked. Each round had its own page and I clicked to the next page and I saw my name. I was pretty pumped up –– I honestly had butterflies in my stomach."
About 3 minutes after seeing his name on the live draft tracker, Thomas received a call from the Orioles congratulating him on being selected.
"They were real nice," Thomas said of the call. "They didn't call me before then because I went in a later round, but it's still pretty cool to see my name on that draft board forever. ... It's kind of like a dream."
Thomas grew up playing baseball year-round, telling his parents, James and Carly Thomas, about his dream of one day playing professional baseball. Thomas enrolled at Valwood, where he was a two-sport athlete in football and baseball.
After winning a state championship with the Valiants' football team, Thomas transferred to Valdosta High to join the baseball team under incoming head coach Brad Porter.
For Thomas, the move from private school to public school raised his profile and ultimately facilitated his status as an MLB draftee.
"Growing up, I never knew about the draft –– I never knew you didn't have to go to college (to be drafted)," Thomas said. "As I got older and I transferred from Valwood to Valdosta, I started getting looks from colleges and getting some big schools looking at me. I never thought about the draft until last summer when I was invited to do some pro workouts and I was like, 'Okay, well maybe I can get drafted.'"
When Thomas signed a letter of intent with Mercer University in late-November, Porter was told by the Mercer coaching staff that felt they were getting "the best hitter in the state of Georgia."
Thomas did not disappoint as he helped lead the 'Cats to a 23-10 record and a berth in the GHSA Class 6A state playoffs. He opened the playoffs with a bang, crushing three home runs in a first-round doubleheader against M.L. King as the 'Cats didn't allow a single run and racked up 32 runs in a two-game sweep.
For the season, Thomas led the 'Cats with a .416 batting average, while collecting 45 RBIs and belting 13 home runs. Due to his fearsome swing, Thomas also led the team with 28 walks drawn and managed to finish second on the team in runs scored (39), second in stolen bases (17) and fourth in hits (37).
Thomas claimed the single-season home run record for the 'Cats as a junior with 14 in 2018. His 27 homers over two seasons broke the school's all-time home run record that previously stood since 1975.
"Last year, I hit 14 home runs and my goal this year was to beat that –– I wanted to hit at least 14," Thomas said of his senior season. "I didn't get to do that, but I ended up breaking the school home run record. ... That was good enough. That was pretty exciting.
"The season, I thought it went very well. I don't think it could've gone much better considering I had a suspension that held me back three games. Our coaches are the best coaches I've ever played for. I've never had a coach stick up for me the way that those coaches did. ... We didn't make it as far as we wanted to go, but I think we have good talent coming back year and I think they'll be O.K."
Thomas and Porter built a strong player-coach bond in the two years they spent together. Thomas's first season with the 'Cats was also the first for Porter, who took over for longtime coach Bart Shuman, who retired after the 2017 season.
While Thomas was gearing up for a pro workout following the baseball season, he shot a text message to Porter asking if he could take batting practice in the team's batting cage.
"He said, 'Come on up whenever you're ready," Thomas said. "He's always had the cages open for me. He's awesome on and off the field. Practices can be a little hectic when we have balls flying in a couple different directions, but you get in there and you get stuff done. We would usually get done with practice in about two hours. ... He definitely gets the most out of every practice.
"I've never had a coach push me like Coach Porter did –– he's not afraid to get in your face and tell you to fix something. He wants to make you the best player you can be and that's what Coach Porter did with me. ... When you see him on the baseball field, he's your coach but then when you get off the field, you'll see him at a restaurant in Valdosta and he'll be one of your best friends. He told me after our last game, 'If you need anything, baseball or not, let me know'. I'm going to hold him to that [laughs]."
After his stellar senior season, the 6-foot, 190-pound Thomas is focused on getting bigger and stronger at the next level. When it comes to his skills, Thomas is confident in his swing, but wants to take his fielding up a notch.
"I like where my hitting's at," Thomas said. "I haven't been told by a coach too much that my hitting needs work. I do want to work on my fielding. ... I want to play outfield as a professional baseball player –– I've been looked at actually as a second baseman in some places. I'll play wherever they want me to play. I need to work on my fielding more than anything –– not that I'm a bad fielder or anything, but it definitely needs some improvement."
Currently, Thomas waits to hear from the Orioles on a potential contract offer as soon as this week. If he doesn't sign with the Orioles, he plans to go forward attending Mercer in the fall and "use Mercer as a stepping stone" for his life on and off the field.
"I got drafted in the later rounds, so the money will probably not be there," Thomas said. "The coaches at Mercer have been very encouraging about it. They don't want to lose a player to the draft out of high school. They haven't pressured me to do anything and they said, 'We want to do what's best for you.' They want to keep up with me, asking me about school and what I want to do. The coaches have been very supportive.
"Hopefully, I'll be there three years or four and I can get my degree. I know I can't play baseball for the rest of my life –– I know I'll get an awesome degree and have a great job coming out of college, but I'm going to use that place to get bigger and stronger. A couple years ago, they had a first-rounder; Kyle Lewis. I want to be one of their first-rounders that go on the wall and I feel like that place has the coaches and the facilities to do it."