Baseball

Three MLB debuts in 22 days highlight incredible run for St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) baseball

Stephen Cardullo is one of three former Aquinas players to make their MLB debut in the past three weeks. (Photo: Gregory Bull, Associated Press)

Stephen Cardullo is one of three former Aquinas players to make their MLB debut in the past three weeks. (Photo: Gregory Bull, Associated Press)

Robert Lawson is a very proud Economics teacher.

Lawson is no longer a high school coach, but three of his former baseball players at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) have made their major-league debut in an astonishing span of 22 days.

Second baseman Carlos Asuaje became the third one of the trio to make the leap, striking out as a pinch hitter on Wednesday night as his San Diego Padres lost 3-2 to the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.

Asuaje has been told he will get his first major-league start on Thursday night against the San Francisco Giants.

This incredible stretch of Aquinas-MLB debuts began on August 31, when outfielder/first baseman Stephen Cardullo finally got his first at-bat – on his 29th birthday no less – and launched a home run as a pinch-hitter.

In the second game of that doubleheader, Cardullo provided quite an encore – a grand slam.

On Sept. 2, left-hander Robby Scott, 27, made his major-league debut as a Boston Red Sox reliever, pitching a scoreless inning against the Oakland A’s, striking out two. In five innings this season, he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA.

Robby Scott. Photo: Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports)

Robby Scott. Photo: Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports)

Asuaje, 24, hasn’t done anything of note in the majors quite yet, but he was the 2016 Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year after leading his Triple-A El Paso team to the PCL title, batting .321 with 98 runs scored.

“It’s exciting,” Lawson, who left coaching in 2012 but remains at Aquinas as a teacher, said of the trio. “But it’s not surprising to me. All three were and are good people, and they worked hard.

“Robby, for example – I would see him working out in our gym at 5:30 in the morning in the offseason. … It’s great to see their hard work come to fruition.”

Few people have worked harder – or longer – to make it to the majors than Cardullo, who spent seven long years in the minors.

The story has yet to be confirmed, but the legend of Cardullo is that he was so lightly regarded coming out of Aquinas that he had to sneak into a Florida State University tryout. He made that Seminoles ballclub and worked his way into becoming a 24th-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2010.

But Arizona released him after two years, and Cardullo had to play independent ball for four seasons, meaning that no major-league organization wanted him.

Before this season started, things changed. He convinced Colorado to sign him for Triple-A ball before earning his promotion. He has a solid .792 OPS in his first 35 major-league at-bats.

Scott, who also played for FSU, has a similarly crazy story. Scott was undrafted, and he, too, had to go the independent league route.

But while Cardullo languished for years in an independent league, Scott was there for just three weeks before he was signed by the Red Sox.

Scott was on the mound for the Yuma Scorpions – managed by former MLB slugger Jose Canseco – when he got the news that Boston wanted him.

“I was warming up to start the second inning when I saw – out of the corner of my eye – Canseco coming out to the mound,” Scott said. “I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is he doing?’

“But when I found out what happened, I was happy to hand him the ball and walk off the field.”
Scott said independent league is a “disaster” in terms of organization. But Scott said Canseco was “awesome”.

“After I had pitched a couple of times for him, he told me, ‘You don’t belong in independent league’,” Scott said.

Asuaje never had to play independent league, but he didn’t go Division I in college, either.

Instead, he landed at Nova Southeastern University, a strong Division II program in Davie, Florida.

The native of Venezuela isn’t big – 5-9 and 160 pounds – but the lefty hitter has put up impressive numbers everywhere he has gone.

The Red Sox drafted him in the 11th round in 2013, but Boston sent him and other top prospects to the Padres last November in a trade for closer Craig Kimbrel.

Now Asuaje is in the majors, and Troy Cameron, the current Aquinas baseball coach, is thrilled to see his Raiders program getting attention.

After all, it’s easy to get lost in the shadow of the Aquinas football program, which has won nine state titles and has sent a long list of players to the NFL, including Michael Irvin, Joey Bosa, Gio Bernard, Phillip Dorsett, Geno Atkins, Leonard Hankerson, Lamarcus Joyner and many more.

Cameron wants people to know that the Raiders have also won two state titles in baseball, in 1995 and 2003.

“I always tell people that baseball was ranked nationally before football was,” Cameron said. “I want people to know we have baseball at STA, too.”

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