Jonathan Cannon overcomes obstacles for UGA baseball team

Georgia pitcher Jonathan Cannon (12) during a game against Tennessee at Foley Field in Athens, Ga., on Sunday, March 21, 2021. (photo by Rob Davis)
Rob Davis

UGA pitcher Jonathan Cannon paused on the mound to collect himself in the fifth inning against the then top-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores,

With runners on first and second and no outs, Cannon pitched to the third Vanderbilt batter of the inning. The result was a sacrifice fly that advanced the runners. He could breathe, but he had no room to make a mistake. Not that he needed any, because Cannon would strike out the next two batters of the inning to preserve his shutout.

In addition to trying to keep the Georgia Bulldogs’ opponents off of the scoreboard, Cannon, a redshirt sophomore from Alpharetta, Ga., is trying to carry on the reputation of the recent professional-caliber pitchers who have stood on the mound at Foley Field while wearing the red and black: He is working hard to pick up where he left off more than a year ago, despite losing nearly all of last season because of the coronavirus and missing the start of this season due to mononucleosis.

Against Vanderbilt, Cannon would return to the mound in the sixth and seventh innings before being replaced by Jaden Woods at the top of the eighth to close out the Commodores. But he had done it. He had outdueled Vanderbilt pitcher Patrick Reilly and earned the game and series-clinching victory against the Commodores.

Cannon is 2-2 with a 4.19 ERA this season in his new role for the bulldogs this season after serving primarily as the team’s closer last year. Before the 2020 season ended early due to the coronavirus, Cannon tossed 13.5 innings without surrendering a run. His “lights out” performances at the end of games last season contributed to Georgia climbing as high as No. 2 in many of the collegiate baseball rankings.

Looking back on the unprecedented end to the 2020 season, Cannon cannot help but think about what might have been if the season had played out.

“It wasn’t easy at all. It really didn’t really set in for the first couple of weeks until everything got cancelled,” said Cannon. “It was the missed opportunity that we had with last year’s team that was the biggest disappointment for everyone.”

It would be 373 days before Cannon pitched in a collegiate game again. The start of his 2021 season was derailed due to a lengthy bout of mononucleosis. In his first game back, a home game against Georgia Southern, Cannon gave up two hits, zero runs, no walks and threw one strikeout to prove he was returning to form.

“It was awesome, the build-up in the days leading into it, I was just excited to get back out there,” said Cannon. “Once I was on the mound, it was a huge relief to be back out after watching my team for a month and having to sit on the sidelines.”

Cannon is draft eligible by age at the end of the season and is already projected to be a top prospect in the upcoming MLB amatuer draft. MLB.com lists Cannon as the No. 58 overall prospect in this year’s draft.

Cannon says he is not ready just yet to begin thinking about his professional future.

“I try not to pay attention to it,” he said. “At the end of the day I am here for my team. Whatever my future holds is after this year.”

Georgia pitching coach Sean Kenny has no doubt that Cannon’s talents will translate to the big leagues.

“He is a high-end prospect,” said Kenny. “Professional scouts love him because I don’t think he is done growing and he certainly is not done learning as a pitcher. I think the future is really bright for him.”

Cannon’s career-best outing against the Commodores will certainly grab the attention of major league scouts as he finished the night allowing zero runs on five hits, while striking out a career high nine batters.

Although his future is uncertain at the moment, there is still nearly a month left in the season and Cannon is focused on contributing to the Bulldogs’ journey, which continues this weekend when the team travels to take on the top-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.

“It is our team goal to get to (the College World Series),” he said. “I am going to work hard every single day. I am going to go compete every week in the SEC and try to get us to the postseason.”

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