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Meet the Draft prospect with an 'elite' curve

HS righty Stewart has intriguing breaking ball, spin rate
MLB.com

In today's era of analytics and advanced metrics, a pitcher's spin rate has become as much a part of scouting reports as the more traditional evaluation of how much bite he has on his curveball or the average velocity of his four-seamer.

If spin rates are one of the main criteria that drives the conversation in the final weeks before the 2018 Draft commences on Monday, it's no surprise that one particular pitching prospect has watched his stock rise dramatically in the past year.

In today's era of analytics and advanced metrics, a pitcher's spin rate has become as much a part of scouting reports as the more traditional evaluation of how much bite he has on his curveball or the average velocity of his four-seamer.

If spin rates are one of the main criteria that drives the conversation in the final weeks before the 2018 Draft commences on Monday, it's no surprise that one particular pitching prospect has watched his stock rise dramatically in the past year.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

Meet right-handed pitcher Carter Stewart, a 6-foot-6 fireballer from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla. He is considered to have one of the best curveballs -- if not the best -- of all pitchers projected to be early selections in the Draft this year. Its spin rate, unsurprisingly, has been labeled as "elite," reaching levels that rival some Major League pitchers.

That curveball has elevated Stewart's status among talent evaluators over the past year. He had a strong summer showcase at some events, and he seemed to improve even more during his senior season at Eau Gallie. As he anticipates a transition to pro baseball, he'll focus a little more on adding a changeup, which will complete an impressive arsenal of pitches that would be attractive to anyone considering him as their first selection in the upcoming Draft.

"In high school, I was more of a fastball-curveball guy," Stewart said in a phone interview with MLB.com. "Then people kind of raved about my curveball. Apparently, I guess, it's impressive to some people. I've been trying to work really hard on a third pitch, which would be a changeup. It's kind of been better over the last year or so."

Stewart spoke modestly, careful not to sound too boastful about his talent, but it's clear that he has the tools and the makeup to go high in the first round.

2018 Draft order | 2018 Draft: June 4-6 | All-time Draft picks

Stewart pinpointed the summer after his sophomore year when things began to come together for him. That's when college recruiting offers started coming in at a steady rate, and by the beginning of his junior year, he had already committed to Mississippi State.

"I improved tremendously and kind of burst onto some people's scenes," Stewart said. "It went pretty quick."

According to MLB Pipeline, Stewart has been "as lights out as any prep arm in the country," touching 96-98 mph in most starts and settling in at 92-94 mph. The increased velocity is one factor that helped elevate him to higher on many Draft boards, and he currently sits at No. 5 on the MLB Pipeline Top 200 Draft prospects list.

Stewart has been invited, along with several other Draft prospects, to attend the MLB Draft at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., on Monday. He'll be there with his parents to be a part of what he described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"I said, 'Let's do it. Why not?'" Stewart said. "If I go little later than expected, I can deal with it. Just chill. What's wrong with being in one of the most popular studios in baseball?"

Stewart finished up his senior year of high school a couple of weeks ago, which has given him ample time to think about the Draft and his future beyond that day. The waiting, as Tom Petty put it, is the hardest part.

"I've just been waiting for this," Stewart said. "I've gotten a lot of support from family and friends. Everybody's really excited, really supporting me in this. It's been a cool thing -- in my area, it's been a long time since anybody has been drafted."

Though he's from central Florida -- Melbourne is east of Orlando, on the coast -- Stewart has been an Astros fan and an admirer of Jose Altuve, for a while. But unlike a segment of today's fanbase, he started watching them when they were bad -- really, really bad -- and enjoyed watching the rebuild come to fruition with last year's World Series win.

"Five or six years ago when they were, what, 58-102?" Stewart said, referring to the 51-111 team of 2013. "I was watching them. I said, 'You know what? I'm going to have to start following a team like this.' I didn't expect them to get that good, that quick. But I started following, and I really enjoyed watching. That's how I became a fan."

On the cusp of what is likely to be the start of his professional career, he's starting to watch ballgames through a much different lens.

"It's kind of surreal," Stewart said. "You watch those games as a kid, especially since it wasn't that long ago. I was just thinking, it would be a dream to play on that field. Now, knowing I have a legitimate chance ... it's an incredible feeling."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.