Linked by Lincoln: Cornhusker teammates duel in MLB as top prospects

First time in school history two Nebraska alumni start against each other in the Majors

June 13th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- recently learned he’d be making his third big league start when the Braves traveled to Camden Yards this week. Around the same time, was informed by the Orioles that his second big league start would come during the three-game series vs. Atlanta.

What were the chances the former University of Nebraska teammates would face off as opposing starting pitchers on the same night?

“Last week, when I was told I was pitching, and then about roughly when he was told he was going to pitch next, it seemed like it was a possibility that it might line up," Povich said. "And it has."

On Wednesday night, two former Cornhuskers took the mound, with Povich (the O’s No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline) making his home debut and Schwellenbach (Braves’ No. 3 prospect) starting for the opponents. Many Nebraska fans across the nation -- especially those in Lincoln, where the campus is located -- likely tuned in from afar, and they surely enjoyed what they watched.

Povich dazzled for six scoreless innings and racked up six strikeouts in Baltimore’s 4-2 win. Meanwhile, Schwellenbach turned in his first career quality start, allowing only two runs in six innings while striking out three.

Cornhuskers head coach Will Bolt wouldn’t have been satisfied with watching on TV. He already planned to travel to see both Povich and Schwellenbach -- two of his former hurlers -- pitch at some point this summer. It made the most sense to cross them off his to-do list at once.

“To be able to come to one spot and see them both -- and [for the] first time in school history for that to happen -- pretty special and what a cool thing,” Bolt said. “They were playing for us three years ago, and now, they’re in the big leagues.”

After the game, Povich and Schwellenbach -- who previously chatted and caught up during batting practice on Tuesday -- met on the field and swapped signed jerseys. They also took pictures with Bolt and other members of Nebraska’s staff who were in attendance.

“When he's on the mound, you know what you're going to get,” Schwellenbach said of Povich. “Tonight, he threw really well, as he always does. I played with him two years at Nebraska. Every Friday, when he came out, you knew you were getting zero or one run."

“It was just awesome,” Povich said of Wednesday’s Cornhuskers reunion. “A special moment.”

Neither Povich nor Schwellenbach had the most orthodox path to the Majors.

Povich was undersized for much of his early baseball career, including as a 5-foot-6 junior at Bellevue (Neb.) West High School who couldn’t throw hard. He later went to South Mountain Community College in Phoenix and remained on the radar of Bolt, who was an assistant coach at Texas A&M University at that time in 2019.

When Bolt became the head coach at Nebraska prior to the 2020 season, he brought in Povich, a hometown kid who now stands 6-foot-3.

Meanwhile, Schwellenbach went straight from Heritage High School in Saginaw, Mich., to the Cornhuskers. But he started his career as a shortstop, not throwing a pitch off the mound until he was a lights-out closer as a junior in 2021, which was Povich’s second season on Nebraska’s staff.

“It kind of looked like it was trending that way, that he was going to be a pitcher,” Bolt said of Schwellenbach. “And there were some [MLB] clubs that liked him as both, honestly. But his upside on the mound ... it was pretty impressive what he could do.”

Schwellenbach and Povich were taken early in the 2021 MLB Draft -- the former by Atlanta with the No. 59 pick in the second round, and the latter by Minnesota at No. 98 in the third. Povich was later traded from the Twins to the O’s in August 2022.

Now, both are in the big leagues, with their paths crossing again earlier than most could have anticipated.

“Big day for Lincoln, Nebraska,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said.

Schwellenbach underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted -- which the Braves knew would be the case -- and then threw only 110 innings over 24 Minor League starts (including none above Double-A Mississippi) before being called up to the big leagues in late May. The 24-year-old right-hander recorded an 8.38 ERA over his first two starts.

Povich, also 24, logged 307 1/3 innings in the Minors, with 102 of those coming for Triple-A Norfolk over the past two seasons. The left-hander was called up by the Orioles last week in Toronto, where he allowed six runs in 5 1/3 innings in his debut vs. the Blue Jays.

It didn’t take long, though, for both former Cornhuskers to put up better numbers with an enjoyable all-Nebraska pitching duel.

“Incredibly proud, and not surprised. I think they’ve both got what it takes to stick at this level,” Bolt said. “Both those guys have immense talent, but they have got the right mentality and the right work habits that they work like pros.”