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Former 'Toppers have pro options

June 10th, 2014 7:12 pm by Trey Williams

Former 'Toppers have pro options

Whether or not they elect to sign professional contracts this summer, two Senators got a vote of confidence via the Major League Baseball draft Saturday.

Will Carter was drafted in the 35th round by the Texas Rangers, and fellow Science Hill graduate/Walters State pitcher Matt Pope was taken in the 39th round by the Miami Marlins.

There’s no strong indication either will sign a pro contract by early August, but having the opportunity was a satisfying ending to a frustrating year for the hard-throwing right-handers.

The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Pope, who was drafted by Pittsburgh out of high school in the 38th round two years ago, began battling triceps tendinitis last summer, and it cost him much of the fall session. 

“Scouts would come and I would give it everything I had, but my arm just wasn’t 100 percent,” Pope said. “Some of them would call afterward and say, ‘Is your arm alright?’ And I’d be like, ‘Well, it’s kind of sore and a little bit tight, but it’ll be alright.’”

But it wasn’t, and he took four weeks off after an MRI revealed the problem.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Carter was coming off Tommy John surgery this year, and his velocity wasn’t where he wanted it until late in the season. But throwing 94 mph in an outing at Spartanburg Methodist and 95 in multiple workouts after the season was enough to get Carter drafted.

“It’s something you always dream about and work for,” Carter said. “It’s a great honor.”

Pope said he hit 96 mph last summer with the Coastal Plains League’s Asheboro Copperheads, but began feeling the triceps pain shortly thereafter. His strength returned gradually, even into the spring.

“I eventually started throwing harder and harder and kind of got back up to where I was,” Pope said. “So hopefully I just can keep throwing harder and more strikes.”

Control was an issue for the recovering Carter and Pope in 2014. They each pitched 16 1/3 innings. Carter, who was 1-0 with a 4.41 ERA, had 10 walks and 10 strikeouts. Pope (1-1, 6.06 ERA) tallied seven walks and 15 strikeouts.

Their careers have been all over the place, too. Carter pitched at ETSU as a freshman, transferred to Walters State and signed early with Tennessee in the fall of 2012. The Vols’ interest apparently dissolved after the elbow injury a month or two later and never was the same after he decided to return to Walters State for this past season. 

Pope redshirted at Kentucky as a freshman in 2013 after pitching sparingly at Science Hill due to control trouble. In fact, Pope can be found on Twitter at MJPwildthing. But Walters State coach Dave Shelton said Pope began to “pound the strike zone” toward the end of the season.

Pope made a late decision to play this summer for the Catawba Valley Stars of the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League. He plans to return to Walters State for a redshirt sophomore season, but he could generate more interest from Miami with an impressive summer.

“I started (Saturday), and right after I got off the mound I had a missed call and I figured it had something to do with the draft,” Pope said. “And I called back and it was the Marlins. It was the 30th round and they said they were gonna try to draft me and then they were gonna come to some summer games and see if maybe they could try to boost my money as much as they could to see if it was something maybe I’d think about taking. …

“If the money was right I’d definitely have to think about it. But I really don’t even know if they could get the money for what I’m thinking. Just getting a lot of innings on the mound, I think, will be best for me.”

Carter is done at Walters State, where Shelton said his changeup “has gotten a thousand times better.” Carter has worked out for the likes of Alabama, which made an aggressive offer. He’ll visit North Carolina today, and the Tar Heels have indicated a similarly aggressive offer could be forthcoming. Clemson has shown interest too, according to Carter.

Realizing a lifelong dream of playing professionally at any price is a decision that’s made tougher when you’re watching exciting NCAA super regional clashes for a berth in the College World Series.

“Part of me wants to, you know — I always said I would sign for nothing just because I wanted to have the opportunity to play (professionally),” Carter said. “But I mean, another part of me knows it’s smarter if I can go to school that maybe I can help my stock for the next year or the next year. And that’s the great thing about a junior college: you have so many opportunities.”

Carter hadn’t planned to play summer league this year, but certainly will if Texas suggests it could increase an offer.

“I might have to throw for them in a league,” Carter said. “I talked to somebody from the New England League, but I haven’t made a decision yet.”

One of Texas’ minor-league pitching coaches is former Walters State pitching coach Joey Seaver. And the Rangers’ minor-league pitching coordinator is former Milligan College coach Danny Clark.

But Carter said he hasn’t spoken with Clark, and only heard from Seaver via a congratulatory text. Carter’s contact with Texas was through area scout Chris Kemp. 

Texas also drafted Walters State left-handed pitcher Brett Martin (Morristown East) in the fourth round. Tampa Bay took another Walters State pitcher, Brent Honeywell, with the 72nd overall pick.

Carter also talked to Miami the day he was drafted, and had been contacted the night before by Pittsburgh. Still, as the names kept appearing and the rounds elapsed, doubt crept in.

“I kind of had a feeling it would happen,” Carter said. “But I thought there for a little while it wasn’t going to happen. … This is a dream come true. I can’t really lose with any decision I make.”

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