Carl Edwards Jr has been an essential part of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen so far this season. He currently has a 3.43 ERA this season through 21 innings, striking out 28 in the process. All at the tender age of 24 years old.
These are the kind of feel-good stories that make you love baseball. Carl Edwards Jr, also known as “CJ”, is one of the top relievers in the Cubs bullpen so far this year. He was acquired by the Cubs back in July of 2013 from the Texas Rangers. A deal that involved Matt Garza, Justin Grimm, and third baseman Mike Olt.
Edwards grew up in the small town of Prosperity, South Carolina. A small town about 40 miles from Columbia, the home of the 2010 and 2011 College World Series champions- The University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
Prosperity has a population of about 1,000 people, but baseball and football are huge down there. A local baseball league called the bush league, or the sandlot league consisted of men who played into their 40’s trying to still play the game they love. It was one day where Edward’s uncle brought him in to pitch for the Pirates in a blowout.
Standing in at 6’2 and weighing in at about 140 pounds, Edwards entered the game and took the mound. He fanned 13 hitters in that outing, and people were starting to take notice of this scrawny kid who was clearly throwing heat.
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What happened next has a vital part in where Edwards is today.
A man by the name of Chris Kemp, a former minor leaguer who spent two years in the Rangers system, was now a scout for Texas and a coach at local juco powerhouse Spartanburg Methodist College. About an hour away from Prosperity.
“He was this really skinny but athletic kid going up against these adults,” Kemp said. “I didn’t have my [radar] gun with me, but I could tell he had the chance to throw hard.”, said Kemp to MiLB.com.
Kemp wanted to see more of Edwards and his athletic ability. So he watched him play basketball, where he could throw down dunks and drain three-pointers. He was convinced.
According to Kemp, he was only sitting at about 87-89, touching 90mph, which isn’t overpowering stuff. But looking at the body type, you could see he would grow into it and eventually throw much harder.
“He didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he grew up playing against adults, you could see what kind of heart he had”, Kemp told MiLB.com.
Not a lot of scouts got a chance to get a look at Edwards. But Kemp was the one who was set on taking a chance on him in the 2011 Draft.
Back in one of the last years where there were 50 rounds in the draft, Edwards had to wait until the 48th round to get his name called.
This was also back when there was no slot value, so a late rounder could still get some decent money as a signing bonus. He got $50,000, but signed just before the August 15th deadline, so he wouldn’t start his minor league career till 2012.
In fall instructional’s in 2011, he already saw his fastball top out at 92. In 2013, Edwards earned MiLB.com’s staff choice of Pitcher of the Year in the Minors. Posting a 1.86 ERA while striking out an astounding 155 hitters in just 116 and 1/3 innings, seeing his fastball consistently top out in the mid 90’s.
Being a guy who was drafted in almost the last few rounds of the draft, and to actually ever make it to the big leagues, is pretty much a miracle. Only seven percent of late round picks make the majors. Even first round picks aren’t guaranteed anything. As only 66 percent of them make it to the big leagues. Sometimes guys slip through the cracks and don’t get selected till later.
Look at recent Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza. One of the best catchers to ever play the game. Hwas selected in the 62nd round in 1988 because his dad knew a scout. A lot of the time guys get drafted late because scouts see the potential, but they haven’t quite grown into it yet. Then once they do, they light it up and look like guys who were first round picks.
It’s clearly the hardest sport to make it all the way to the top thanks to all the different levels you must go through. But Edwards never gave up. He could have easily opted to go to junior college and not sign with the Rangers. That means the Cubs would have never acquired him and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Who knows where he would have ended up.
A story like this just shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from. Or where you were drafted. Anyone can make it if you have the passion and determination to do so. 48th round pick? So what. He’s now one of the up and coming young pitchers in the National League, and will be a vital part of the Cubs’ bullpen coming into October baseball.