Kersh's lessons pay off for Carraway on Day 2

June 12th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Two images stick with Dallas Baptist head coach Dan Heefner when he recalls the moment his players learned their season was being wiped away by the global coronavirus pandemic. First there were the shocked seniors, hands on their heads, wearing a look of disbelief.

And then there was pitcher Burl Carraway. About an hour after the Patriots players absorbed the news, Carraway remained at the field, staring out at the empty diamond. He was off to a great start in 2020, but he had already thrown his final collegiate pitch. He just did not realize it at the time.

"He was just rolling," Heefner said. "He's an incredible worker, disciplined. He did everything to prepare himself to dominate this year. He was dominating. He would have rewritten our record books."

Carraway did enough this year and in the previous season to convince the Cubs to take him in the second round (51st overall) on Day 2 of the MLB Draft on Thursday. The 21-year-old entered the Draft as arguably the best relief prospect available, giving Chicago a powerful arm with late-inning potential who could climb the ranks swiftly.

This year the No. 51 pick comes with a slot value of $1,436,900.

According to Trackman Baseball, Carraway's fastball graded out as the best four-seamer in the 2020 class. He combines that overpowering pitch with a big curveball, and he began working on a slider in January. The addition of that third pitch was one of the takeaways Carraway had from a conversation with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw at a baseball clinic at Dallas Baptist.

"He could end up being a fast mover," vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said. "He's got an upper-90s, explosive fastball that's comparable to some of the better big league fastballs today. And he's got two different types of breakers that are true knee-bucklers. We feel like he's an impact arm."

The pick of Carraway followed one of the feel-good moments of the Draft on Day 1, when the Cubs took Chicago product Ed Howard with the 16th overall pick in the first round. The 18-year-old Howard, taken out of Mount Carmel High School, already had a taste of national attention when he reached the Little League World Series finals with Jackie Robinson West in 2014.

Howard is thrilled to stay in his hometown with the Cubs. Carraway sees the franchise as a great fit, too.

"I knew that they were just a top-notch organization," Carraway said on Thursday night. "Not only in the way they go about their business, but being ahead of the curve with technology and data and things like that. So I knew that that was going to be a good fit."

Carraway -- who graduated with his Business degree in three years -- piled up 72 strikeouts with 22 walks in 41 2/3 innings in 2019. He paired that rate of 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings with a 2.81 ERA in 28 games. This year he was off to a strong start, turning in a tidy 0.96 ERA with 17 strikeouts against six walks in 9 1/3 innings.

As was the case for so many high school and college players this year, the news of the cancelled season was an emotional jolt for Carraway.

"You kind of feel like you have some unfinished business," he said. "That's why I didn't want to leave the field, because I may have thrown my last pitch there, and I didn't necessarily know it. It was definitely sad, but I'm a big believer that God has a plan for me, and I'm very excited to be where I'm at now."

Carraway kept reporting to campus to get his workouts, throwing into an empty bucket during long-toss if no throwing partner was present. He adjusted his workouts, shifted to once-a-week mound sessions and began hearing from MLB teams. Once clubs gained clearance to reach out, the Cubs were one of the first to set up a Zoom conference.

He liked what he heard then, and he loved hearing his name called by the Cubs on Thursday.

"I'm fired up to be where I'm at," Carraway said. "I'm ready to roll."

Round 3, 88th overall: Jordan Nwogu, OF, Michigan

The Cubs looked to the college ranks to take one of the more advanced bats in the country with the selection of Nwogu, an imposing outfielder with elite power and plus speed.

"We prioritized tools -- no doubt," Kantrovitz said. "And I think in his case, there's impact speed, there's impact power, and I think probably the latter is what stands out the most. He impacts the ball about as hard and as loud as anybody in college baseball today."

Prior to the NCAA season being shut down, Nwogu was putting together the makings of a stellar junior campaign. He hit .353 with two home runs and an .845 OPS in 15 games as Michigan’s leadoff hitter, and entered the Draft ranked 108th among the Top 200 prospects by MLB Pipeline.

"I feel like I proved I could hit and I could hang with a lot of the college guys," Nwogu said on Thursday night. "I know I have a long way to go."

In three seasons with Michigan, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound corner outfielder (and Computer Science & Engineering major) hit .334/.430/.545 with 20 homers, 23 doubles, 30 steals, 79 RBIs, 97 runs, 96 strikeouts and 63 walks in 125 games.

"He's proven that he’s one of the elite hitters in college baseball," Michigan head baseball coach Erik Bakich said. "But the thing that Cubs fans are going to see here really quickly is there is no finish line with this kid when it comes to growth and improvement. He is a relentless worker."

Round 4, 117th overall: Luke Little, LHP, San Jacinto JC (Texas)

The Cubs grabbed another power arm in Little, who defies his name with a 6-foot-8 frame. The 19-year-old opened eyes in May, when he posted a video of himself hitting 105 mph during a workout. MLB Pipeline's scouting report notes that Little has the "highest maximum velocity" of any left-handed prospect in the 2020 Draft class, though he tends to sit in the 93-96 mph range in longer outings. The 166th-ranked Draft prospect, Little will need to fine-tune his secondary weapons and likely profiles as a reliever.

"The upside is obvious," Kantrovitz said. "He's going to be somebody that we're going to, I think, really just leverage the resources and instructors and technology in our player development operation. Whether that's in pitch design, whether that's in refining his mechanics or getting consistency in release point, he definitely has some work to do."

Round 5, 147th overall: Koen Moreno, RHP, Panther Creek HS (N.C.)

Chicago concluded its 2020 Draft by picking Moreno, who has a fastball that sits in the 90-93 mph range. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound right-hander, who was not among MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft prospects, is an East Carolina University commit. During his junior season, Moreno used his fastball, changeup and slider mix to log a 1.62 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings.

"Koen's a pretty interesting and unique situation," Kantrovitz said. "He's somebody that we've identified some really special traits in, whether that's the arm path, whether that's how his different pitches move. He's somebody that we're really excited about and think has a high upside."