Bucs get righty with 99-mph heat with 2nd pick

June 11th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Carmen Mlodzinski doesn’t tweet. He doesn’t have any social media accounts, actually. He doesn’t play video games, and he intends to stick with his iPhone 5 until it gives him a reason not to.

So how does the 21-year-old, who described himself as “just kind of an old-timer,” pass the time? He plays the guitar and piano. He golfs on Hilton Head Island. And he pitches with the kind of competitive nature that turned washing the dishes -- yes, washing the dishes -- into a kind of sport in his house.

Impressed by his intensity and his feel for pitching, the Pirates made Mlodzinski (pronounced “ma-JINSK-ee”) the 31st overall pick in the MLB Draft on Wednesday night.

“I’ve definitely learned to harness that the past couple years and have the right moments for it and how to control it,” Mlodzinski said during a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon. “That’s something that’s always helped me be successful.”

Mlodzinski didn’t follow the most traditional path to becoming a Day 1 Draft pick. He was a shortstop during his first two high school seasons, although South Carolina’s coaches recognized his arm strength and told him he’d wind up pitching for the Gamecocks when he committed to play there. He figured he’d pitched fewer than 10 innings before his senior season, but when he reported to Columbia, S.C., South Carolina’s staff told him: “Hey, we just want you to be a pitcher.”

Unpolished on the mound, Mlodzinski called his freshman season an “experiment year.” He learned a slider, which turned into more of a cutter, and ditched his four-seam fastball in favor of a power sinker. He knew he’d have a chance to be South Carolina’s No. 1 starter as a sophomore, but that opportunity wasn’t necessarily good for him mentally or physically.

Mlodzinski felt like his self-centered efforts to improve “probably burned some relationships that I had.” In his third start as a sophomore, he fractured his foot. Always one to work as hard as possible -- again, his siblings used to set kitchen timers and compete to see who could wash dishes the fastest -- he had to take a step back due to the injury.

“That was one of those moments when I had to look back on what I was doing at the time and really try to better it from there,” Mlodzinski said. “I want to have that downtime where I can get away a little bit, I’m not consistently putting pressure on myself to compete. I can get away from the game a little bit.”

Like seventh overall pick Nick Gonzales, who sought to prove himself in the Cape Cod League, Mlodzinski boosted his stock last summer. The Pirates wanted to see Gonzales hit with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League. They just wanted to see Mlodzinski pitch, period.

“Carmen had missed some time, so we just started seeing him get a chance to get on the field and get a chance to do the things we had thought before he missed some time with a foot the previous spring,” Pirates amateur scouting director Joe DelliCarri said. “So the Cape was a nice platform to see him compete coming off of the downtime, then we got a chance to see him early this spring.

“In both cases, the Cape actually was an important part of the process.”

Mlodzinski’s performance last summer helped solidify his status as a Day 1 MLB Draft pick. The 6-foot-2 right-hander, MLB Pipeline’s No. 21 Draft prospect, emerged as the best pitching prospect in the Cape Cod League as he went 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings over six starts.

“That was obviously the best I had pitched yet in my career,” Mlodzinski said. “It was one of those things where I felt it was coming.”

Mlodzinski returned to the mound for South Carolina this spring and showed more of the same stuff, going 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings over four starts, before his redshirt sophomore season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mlodzinski has a power sinker that touched 99 mph last fall and sat around 92-96 mph in the Cape Cod League, and he can mix in a four-seam fastball. He’s working on making his cutter/slider more of a power slider. He throws a curveball and a changeup, and he believes he can carry a starter’s four-pitch mix. DelliCarri noted that Mlodzinski’s vast arsenal proves his ability to manipulate the ball, an intriguing trait when combined with his competitive nature.

“Very strong competitor. We really like the way, simply put, he can make the ball move,” DelliCarri said. “He throws different pitches. He’s worked on different pitches. He has a variety of pitches that can move in different directions.”

DelliCarri described Mlodzinski’s mound presence as “fierce” and noted that “with fierce comes intensity.” But Pirates scouts and executives were impressed with the way Mlodzinski said he’s been able to harness that energy.

The excitement he felt Wednesday night? That’s been a little harder to control.

“It still doesn’t feel real to me yet, with how excited me and my family were,” Mlodzinski said. “We’re getting there, slowly.”