2019 Draft Stock Watch: Carter Stewart Looks Like A Top 10 Pick—Again
Last year, in a much stronger crop of pitching prospects, Eau Gallie (Melbourne, Fla.) High righthander Carter Stewart was selected with the eighth pick in the draft. He was the third pitcher selected, after No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize (Tigers) and No. 7 selection Ryan Weathers (Padres). After failing to sign an agreement with the Braves, Stewart moved just 11 miles up the road to Eastern Florida State JC rather than attend Mississippi State—where he was originally committed.
So far, that move has paid off.
The early reports from Stewart's first two starts in Florida indicate two things: First, and most importantly, Stewart looks healthy. Second, he looks like the same pitcher deemed a top-10 talent a year ago. In two games, Stewart has thrown 10.2 innings, struck out 12 batters, walked four and allowed 11 hits and five earned runs. Most of the damage that Stewart has allowed has come early in both of his outings, with the 6-foot-6 righthander still figuring out his ideal pre-game routine and developing consistent feel for his breaking ball throughout starts.
Scouts in attendance for his games this season note that he's much the same pitcher they saw last year, though he's started to fill out and strengthen his lower half. He sat 92-93 mph during his first game and touched as high as 96 mph, while his now-famous, double-plus curveball looked just as sharp as it always does. He has shown an occasional changeup as well, but hasn't relied on the pitch much to this point.
If he keeps pitching like this throughout the season, it's hard to envision him not being selected among the top 10 picks—for the second time in as many years.
Stewart is currently ranked No. 15 on the BA Top 200 Draft Prospects list, but will likely be higher on the next update.
Baseball America caught up with Stewart's coach, Jason Arnold, to talk about Stewart's progress, his path to Eastern Florida State and his expectations for the righthander this season. Arnold is in his first year coaching Eastern Florida State. He coached against Stewart's Eau Gallie team in high school with Satellite High (Satellite Beach, Fla.) last year and pitched collegiately with Central Florida before a professional career with the Yankees, Athletics and Blue Jays' minor league organizations.
Baseball America: When did you first realize that Carter was going to be coming to East Florida State after his 2018 draft situation, and what was your thought process like knowing you'd be able to have a pitcher of his talent at the program?
Jason Arnold: Well, we reached out to him after things fell through with the Braves, like every other junior college program in the country I imagine, and just told him we were here if this was an option he thought he should take. As the fall wore on, and it seemed more and more likely we would get him, the team was very excited. As a first-year coach at this level, to get a player of his caliber isn’t something I was even considering.
BA: Obviously Carter went to high school close by. How much of a factor was that in his decision and did that allow you to see him pitch when he was in high school? Eau Gallie and Satellite High played a few times, but did he ever pitch against you? If so, what were your thoughts about him at that point?
JA: Our proximity to his home was definitely the main factor in his decision, I am sure. And yes, he did pitch against us last spring in high school. (He threw a) complete game, one hit, 17 strikeouts and topped at 98 mph. We didn’t have much of a chance that night. We had spoken a number of times over his high school years and had somewhat of a relationship already, so I am sure that helped him feel comfortable too. And after watching him that night last spring . . . It was the best high school pitching performance I had ever seen.
BA: Given your own pitching and coaching experience, what sorts of things have you been able to help Carter with so far this season, whether that is mechanical, mental, etc.?
JA: Carter is very advanced when it comes to repeating his delivery and knowing his own stuff. We are just trying to help him develop a routine that works best for him and will help him at the next level—lifting, conditioning, bullpen routine, the timing of his pregame routine, etc.
BA: How has your own professional and college playing experience factored into the conversations you have had to this point?
JA: Yes, we talk daily about different things, and I am able to offer some firsthand experience about how things will likely be when he does sign and start his professional journey.
BA: How have you seen him progress as a pitcher during his brief time with the program to this point?
JA: This is really his first spring experience as a pitcher only, so he’s getting used to being a pitcher all the time. He hadn’t seen a live hitter since May 1 when he started here last month, so it’s really just been about getting him into game shape and back on track.
BA: What has the scouting environment been like on days when Carter is throwing or otherwise? Based on how he was scouted last year I imagine it's pretty crowded. How has Carter and the team handled and dealt with that?
JA: It has been pretty crazy, but definitely a great experience for all of the guys. The other guys love it. It definitely gives everyone a little more focus.
BA: What are your expectations for Carter moving forward this season and for the team?
JA: I expect Carter will get better every week. He’ll just go out and compete once a week. He’s very competitive. At no point in this process has he looked at being here just like a stop on the way back to the draft. He has been a great teammate. He begs to go back out for another inning every start when I tell him he’s reached his pitch count. He really is one of the guys. And as for our team, I want us to compete every single night and just play hard every time we suit up.
BA: Finally, how does Carter stack up with other players you've coached, seen in person or played with back when you were playing in college and professionally?
JA: I had the good fortune to play and see a lot of great players. At his age, Carter is as good or better than any of them. His stuff is obvious, but his ability to make adjustments and repeat are what make him truly unique at this age. I would be shocked if he doesn’t have a very long and successful big league career.
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JuCo Stock Watch
- RHP Jackson Rutledge, San Jacinto (Texas) JC
Rutledge, the second-highest ranked JuCo prospect after Stewart, impressed during his first start this season. The huge, 6-foot-8, 260-pound righthander got up to 98 mph consistently in his five-inning outing and also showed a plus slider. That two-pitch combination could be enough to push Rutledge into Day One consideration this June if he continues to pitch with the effectiveness and ease he showed on this outing. He struck out nine batters, walked none and allowed just two hits over five full innings during his debut. Rutledge is currently No. 95 on the BA Top 200 list.
- SS Ivan Johnson, Chipola (Fla.) JC
The top-rated JuCo hitter in the country has started his season off strong and is leading Chipola hitters in all triple-slash categories with a .533/.667/.733 line after five games. The Georgia transfer has eight hits, including a home run and six walks to just two strikeouts. Johnson is currently ranked No. 150 on the Top 200 list, which would put him in the fifth-round range of the draft, but he could play his way into early Day Two consideration. Johnson has an intriguing toolset that includes power from both sides of the plate, above-average running ability and solid infield actions, though he could become a center fielder at the next level as well. Johnson is a South Carolina commit.
- RHP Thomas Farr, Northwest Florida State JC
Farr ranks as the No. 152 prospect on the BA Top 200 list and has pitched solidly during his first two abbreviated starts this season. He threw three shutout innings during a Jan. 25 matchup against Seminole State (Fla.) JC righthander Haden Erbe—who will also be worth paying attention to this season—and extended to four shutout frames in his second start on Feb. 1 against West Georgia JC. In total, Farr has struck out five batters, walked two and allowed just two hits and zero runs in his seven innings to start the season.
- RHP Chad Bryant, Pensacola State (Fla.) JC
Bryant has struggled in both of his first two appearances this season, first in a Jan. 26 start against Bryant & Stratton (Va.) JC and then again in his most recent start against Central Alabama JC. In the former, Bryant threw 3.2 innings and allowed four earned runs on four hits, with just one strikeout and four walks. In the latter, Bryant lasted just two innings, surrendered four hits and three earned runs with two strikeouts and one walk. Bryant currently ranks No. 181 on the Top 200 list.
- RHP Donovan Benoit, Santa Fe (Fla.) JC
Benoit has been impressive out of the gate for Santa Fe JC after transferring into the program late from Tennessee. As a freshman in the SEC last year, Benoit threw 21 innings in 15 relief appearances but struggled to the tune of a 6.86 ERA with modest strikeout and walk rates. Through two starts so far this season as Santa Fe's No. 1 arm, Benoit has posted a 1.64 ERA over 11 innings with 10 strikeouts and four walks. He's mostly thrown in the low 90s but has gotten in to the mid-90s at his best, with a solid changeup and a fringe-average slider. His pedestrian numbers in the SEC will keep teams skeptical of his numbers against lesser competition, but his stuff has looked good to this point, and he could further elevate his draft stock with sustained success.
- RHP Dane Acker, San Jacinto (Texas) JC
A kickback from Rice, Acker has also performed well in his early outings with San Jac this season. The Oklahoma signee has fanned 15 batters in 10 innings across two starts, issuing just three walks and one earned run. Having plenty of eyes on Rutledge throughout the season should only benefit Acker if he performs, and up to this point he's been up to the challenge.
- SS Trent Brown, Angelina (Texas) JC
A redshirt freshman at Angelina, Brown is lauded for his athleticism and skill defensively, but he has struggled with the bat in his first eight games this season. Brown, whose father played minor league baseball with the Indians' organization, has hit .167/.355/.250 through 24 at-bats with 10 strikeouts and six walks. Brown could draw interest in the draft given his defensive ability if he improves with the bat, but if not he is committed to Oklahoma.