DENVER -- Ruled ineligible at the University of North Carolina just before the 2016-17 school year, left-handed pitcher Hunter Williams found his innings in practice sessions with the team at Randolph-Macon College in Richmond, Va.There were no scholarship players at the Division 3 school. The "crowd" was scouts, who learned
DENVER -- Ruled ineligible at the University of North Carolina just before the 2016-17 school year, left-handed pitcher Hunter Williams found his innings in practice sessions with the team at Randolph-Macon College in Richmond, Va.
There were no scholarship players at the Division 3 school. The "crowd" was scouts, who learned Williams' whereabouts and showed up with their radar guns. But the program at Randolph-Macon now has the undying respect of Williams, who was a Rockies 11th-round selection in the 2017 MLB Draft on Wednesday.
"They were able to give me one day a week to come out and throw against their team during practice, when they weren't traveling," said Williams, who was 7-3 with a 2.24 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 49 walks for UNC in 2016. "They had some really good hitters."
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Williams also pitched in the Cape Cod League, a top collegiate wood-bat league, in 2015-16, and went 4-4 with a 2.34 ERA. His fastball was clocked as high as 97 mph, and he put away hitters with a power slider and a changeup.
Williams likely would not have lasted until the 11th round had he pitched this spring with the Tar Heels, one of the nation's top college programs. But at least he had somewhere to throw, thanks to the contacts in the scouting community of his agent, Andrew Lowenthal, and Randolph-Macon head coach Ray Hedrick.
The Giants had drafted Williams in the 32nd round in 2014 out of Cosby High School in Midlothian, Va. But Hedrick recruited some of Williams' teammates to Randolph-Macon and had a relationship with the high school coach. Lowenthal called scouts and word reached Hedrick, who was willing.
"People in the game know each other and take care of people," said Hedrick, who has experience in college wood-bat and pro ball, and at one point coached former Major League pitchers Chris Ray and Jared Burton. "It's my job as a coach to help guys get to the highest level possible, whether they're my guys or not.
"It was a win-win for Hunter and for our program -- to have that type of exposure from scouts for all our players and that kind of energy around our program once a week."
After there were no more practices at Randolph-Macon, Williams threw in three games for the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things of the independent Frontier League.
"Those guys were open and willing to help me on my path forward, and they really knew the strike zone better than college hitters," Williams said.
At 6 foot 3 and 230 pounds, Williams never stopped working during this unique journey. Not having consistent game competition has taken some speed off his fastball, which was around 95 mph at North Carolina, but being back on a regular schedule for the Rockies at Rookie-level Grand Junction should help put him back on track.
"He's a great kid -- fun to be around, sort of the life of the party," Lowenthal said. "He lights up a room. You can tell he really loves being at the baseball field, loves pitching, loves competition. Guys like him tend to be successful."
"God was testing me -- he wanted to see how I was going to react to this," Williams said. "Everybody has to fall at some point in their life. I just tried to do everything possible to get back out there."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and** like his Facebook page**.