Eau Gallie (Melbourne, Fla.) right-handed pitcher Carter Stewart already has the perfect off-day activity if he ever becomes a starter in the majors.
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Mississippi State commit is an all-conference golfer and says the focus he brings to the links is similar to his mentality on the mound.
“On my home course, I’ve gotten a few 65 and 66’s that I’m proud of,” Stewart said. “I won’t be bored on my off day. You have to have a good mindset when you’re pitching and on the golf course. You have to be able to repeat your swing and delivery every time to be good.”
Stewart has played his way into ALL-USA contention this season, going 6-3 for the Commodores with 115 strikeouts and an 0.39 earned run average in 53.1 innings, with only 14 walks. He already had a phenomenal curve ball coming into the season but he’s boosted his stock by improving his fastball.
“He’s turned into a pretty complete package,” Eau Gallie coach Bob Collins said. “He made a huge jump velocity-wise on his fastball and he has a good change-up as well and everyone is talking about the spin ration of his breaking ball. He has worked hard to get himself in better shape. He’s using his legs a lot better this year. He stays 95-96 mph and has run up to 98 on several occasions this year and it’s not straight.”
Still, it’s his curve ball that generates the most interest. His spin rate of 3,286 RPM is higher than anyone currently in the major leagues. His grip for the pitch is unique, almost like a two-seam fastball and he’s thrown the curve since he was 10 or 11.
“I just held it in a way that was really comfortable to me,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t trying to be traditional and do what everyone else did. I felt this grip wouldn’t hurt anything and it really broke well. It’s kind of my style of pitch. It’s not all about the grip. I have big hands and a good body, but it’s a mix of me developing and me having a little bit of luck.”
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing for Stewart this season has been his work at the plate. He’s hitting .313 with seven homers and 22 RBI in 64 at-bats, including this grand slam last week:
“I may not get to hit much after high school, but when you’re hitting well, it makes everything a blast everyday to do your thing,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be hitting much more this season. The other day, I swung too hard and had a little bit of a wrist issue.”
His father Scott played college basketball. His mother Pat ran track in high school and his older sister Rachel played tennis and other sports. His older brother Hyde, who committed suicide when he was 19, around the time of Carter’s 16th birthday, was also an athlete.
“(Hyde’s death) has been a big part of my life that a lot of people know about me to understand my past and how I got good at the game,” Stewart said. “Baseball was kind of an out for me in a way and it was something I could turn to and take my mind off of things and put my focus into.”
Stewart has had plenty of local competition. One of Eau Gallie’s rivals is Merritt Island, which features pitcher Mason Denaburg, another player considered a top draft prospect. In addition, Eau Gallie right-hander Nick Pogue, a Florida signee, has been a standout this season.
“Every time I’m on the mound I have to go out and compete because I might be pitching against someone who is better than me,” Stewart said. “I need to prove to myself that I’m better.”
In his lone head-to-head meeting against Denaburg in a preseason game, 100 pro and college scouts showed up for the game. Even in a typical game that Stewart pitches in, there may be as many as 40 scouts, Collins said.
“The pressure doesn’t matter to him,” Collins said. “He just considers it playing the game of baseball. He thrives under it.”
Stewart said he pays more attention to his family is in the stands than to the scouts. His father makes sure that Carter doesn’t get big-headed.
“I always want to impress them every time they’re out there,” Stewart said. “My dad loves to critique me on everything. If I do one thing little wrong, he makes sure to get a rise out of me, telling me what I did wrong. Anything from not fielding my position well to throwing a bad pitch. I could throw a perfect game and he would say, ‘You threw a few bad pitches.’ ”
Stewart has thrown two no-hitters, but he said his father still saw room for improvement.
“In my first no-hitter we had two or three errors and my dad said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have let them put the ball into play.’ After the second one, I had 17 strikeouts and he said, ‘Maybe you should have struck everyone out.’ He loves to do that but it does keep my head level.”