Riding around Florida’s Dade County last week with sunny skies above and a beach nearby, the contentment in Brian Goodwin’s voice was evident.
The Rocky Mount native had just completed another successful college baseball season, and though he soon will be making a decision similar to the one laid at his feet two years ago, Goodwin is stress-free.
There are lots of reasons to flash the smile that made Goodwin one of the more memorable athletes to come out of Rocky Mount High School in some time. By many accounts, Goodwin will be one of the top 50 players selected next month during Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft.
It likely will be Goodwin’s second time drafted. Goodwin was a 17th-round selection in the 2009 draft by the Chicago White Sox, but he chose to play for the University of North Carolina instead of following his dream of playing pro ball.
Goodwin said that at that time he was stressed out and unsure of the process. Now, he is as confident about the off-the-field stuff as he is with a bat in his hands.
“It’s just baseball,” Goodwin said. “I’m taking care of myself. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.”
Goodwin committed earlier in the week to play at South Carolina next season. By most accounts, that is a long shot. During the past two seasons, the first at North Carolina, and the second at Miami-Dade Junior College, Goodwin has impressed scouts and analysts to the point where it might be hard for him to turn down the pros again.
“I think we’re going to see him picked anywhere from the late-first round to the second round,” Baseball America draft writer Conor Glassey said. “It’s a deep draft because there are a lot of good players this year. He has good tools, and scouts are getting excited about him playing centerfield in the minor leagues. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
Baseball never has been an issue for Goodwin — no matter where he has played.
Two years after he dazzled fans and observers by leading Rocky Mount High to the NCHSAA 3-A state title, Goodwin was on campus in Chapel Hill. It was a place that Goodwin was enamored with as a youngster, so much so that he gave Tar Heels coach Mike Fox a verbal commitment to play for the Tar Heels after his sophomore season.
Goodwin, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound outfielder, did not disappoint.
Goodwin started all 60 games his freshman season, and he batted .291 with 13 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs and 63 RBI. Goodwin also finished with a .511 slugging percentage and an on-base percentage of .409.
He seemingly was right at home — except he did not enjoy being in Chapel Hill as much as he thought he would.
“It was my first time experiencing college, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Goodwin said. “I enjoyed the freedom. The school life and campus life wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
After a year and a half at North Carolina, Goodwin faced adversity. He was suspended for the 2011 season for violating university policy. Everything happened so fast, and Goodwin spent Christmas listening to recruiting pitches from coaches who wanted him to play for them.
His dream of playing for North Carolina at the College Baseball World Series in Omaha was evaporating, but Goodwin felt change wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Personally, I wanted to get away and try something different,” Goodwin said. “I had been in North Carolina all my life. I wanted to try something different.”
Goodwin did leave North Carolina, but he fell into the arms of a program that is led by a former Rocky Mount resident.
Danny Price, a 1970 graduate of Northern Nash, spent last Christmas trying to encourage Goodwin to come play junior college ball at Miami-Dade.
“I thought I had him six different times,” Price said. “Then he called me and told me he was going to Miami-Dade.”
Price, knowing that Goodwin’s mother, Brenda, also graduated from Northern Nash, gave the player a simple pitch.
“I said, ‘Son, you have to come to Miami-Dade,” Price said with a chuckle. “I can’t come back to North Carolina without you.”
Price, who spent 28 years at Florida International before settling into a private sector job in Miami, was able to land one of the top transfers in the nation in his first year at Miami-Dade.
Miami-Dade has sent more than 100 players to the major leagues, and by transferring to a junior college, Goodwin made himself eligible for re-entry into the amateur draft a year early. Had he remained at a four-year school, he would not have been draft-eligible until after his junior season.
Price said he received a productive player who has smiled ever since he arrived in Miami.
“He has been an outstanding talent,” Price said. “Most of all, I’ve enjoyed the person. He worked extremely hard. You never had to get on him about running things out. He understood what he was playing for. His ceiling is very high. I think he’s going to get the opportunity to play at the highest level.”
Goodwin finished with team-highs in batting average (.367), home runs (8) and runs scored (40). He drove in 32 runs, and the Sharks finished 25-17 after a season where they were ranked No. 1 in the country at one juncture.
Price said watching Goodwin run the bases was like looking at a work of Picasso — it was something special.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better,” Goodwin said. “My game is starting to come together a little better. It’s more fluid. It comes like second nature. I went to the cage and had a good year against some good competition. I found out some stuff that works better for me.”
Perhaps, more important, Goodwin was just as happy off the diamond as he was on it.
“I can’t complain,” Goodwin said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I played from day one. It was a new experience, new friends. I’ve just been having a good time.”
Goodwin has all the tools to succeed — power and speed rank among his best attributes — and others have taken notice.
Si.com’s Jon Heyman recently ranked Goodwin as the 25th-most intriguing prospect of this year’s draft.
He is listed near the bottom of the first round in a number of mock drafts.
Goodwin is aware of his status, and he said his phone has been ringing constantly during the past month.
This time around, he likely will have to take an even more serious look at signing with a pro club.
“I’m open to signing,” Goodwin said. “It just depends on the circumstances, the team, and the organization. A bunch of stuff will go into the decision. It’s not really the round as much as the team and organization and their farm system.”
If it doesn’t work out, Goodwin will go play for the Gamecocks, who won last season’s College World Series title.
At some point, Goodwin is destined for professional ball, and it looks like now is as good a time as any.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com