JUPITER, Fla.—Konnor Pilkington was somewhat of an afterthought.
As head coach of the Marlins Scout Team, James Byers, was rounding out the roster for his squad’s summer tour and heading into USA Baseball’s 17U National Team East championships, he had never heard of Pilkington.
Byers was calling around about a few other players when the 6-foot-2, 205-pound southpaw was introduced to him.
“I called for (three other players), talked to their local coach and he said, ‘There’s another kid you might want to see,’” the head coach of the Marlins Scout Team said. “So I called a scout, he gave me good feedback, I talked with (Pilkington) and he seemed like a really good kid, has good grades, and we like lefties.
“So we offered him a spot sight unseen, really. We saw some video and that was it. We talked to his dad and he said he wasn’t doing anything else so we thought it would be a good chance for him to get out here and travel a little bit.”
A big lefty, Pilkington quickly impressed on the mound during the tournament in Jupiter, an event in which his squad eventually took home the gold medal, but it didn’t take long for the 16-year-old to help out at the plate as well.
“He came to us as a pitcher but we weren’t exactly swinging the sticks very well to begin with and we knew he did swing it,” Byers said. “We gave him an (at-bat) and he got a hit the first time up.”
The native of Mississippi enjoys his time on the hill and at the plate, and believes he has much more work to do as a hurler. Throwing a four-seam fastball, a curveball, a cutter and a changeup, Pilkington does a variety of drills to work on his command and control.
“I believe he’s around 84-86 and he can touch an 88,” Byers said. “I’m not sure if he did here and we didn’t ask him to—we told him just to get in some work because he hadn’t pitched in a bit, so that’s why we threw him in the first game.”
Byers also had Pilkington on the mound in that first matchup so that the lefty could showcase his skills for a few colleges who were looking for a young man with his profile. That was, of course, before the Marlins Scout Team found out that the pitcher committed to Mississippi State just a couple of weeks ago.
“We heard that he had good pitchability,” Byers said. “He’s got more there, he’s got a great body, he can take innings and he’s getting looks … there were probably three or four schools here to watch him but once we found out he was committed they backed off obviously.”
Pilkington’s commitment was a very exciting time for him, hearing from the school that he’d had his eyes on for some time.
“That’s been my dream school to go to,” he said. “They’re in my state and it’s a place I’ve always liked.”
Though he’s not completely sure, Pilkington believes he is heading to Mississippi State as a two-way player. He’s definitely looking forward to continuing his progress on the mound.
“I like doing both and one is just as important as the other,” Pilkington said. “Probably hitting is what (I do best) but pitching is what I like most. I like pitching a lot. The game revolves around the pitcher really, and you’ve got to have a confidence and a humbleness to get out there and do your thing.”
The young strike-thrower also has a confidence and humbleness off the field. While Pilkington doesn’t want to make a big deal out of his dugout presence, trying to shrug off praise that his coach handed, he does acknowledge that his experience can lend a hand to his teammates.
“I don’t try to tell them what to do or anything like that,” he said. “I just try to help them out with little things that I’ve had (problems) with or things that people have helped me out with in the past.”
In just a short time, Pilkington has already left a big impression on Byers, on and off the field.
“His makeup is through the charts,” Byers said. “He’s a great kid, respectful, yes sir, no sir, thank you—he’s raised really well. He’s a great kid, great in the dugout, everybody on the team respects him, (and) not only did he (make a quick impact), he didn’t know a single kid when he got here. He made quick friends and he’s done a really good job.”