There was one scout at C.D. Pelham’s season-opening pitching performance for Lancaster High School in 2013.
Twenty-five showed up at South Pointe High School for Pelham’s final outing later that same season.
Despite getting selected by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 746th pick in the 25th round of the Major League Baseball Draft on Saturday, Pelham is still getting scouted. The Spartanburg Methodist College freshman, and the Brewers, will make a final decision on his immediate future on or before July 13.
“I don’t think they’ve offered me yet, but I think they’re gonna follow me and see,” said Pelham, who is playing for the Columbia Blowfish of the Coastal Plains League this summer. “If the money is right, I’m probably gonna’ go pro; if it’s not, then I’ll probably go back to SMC.”
If Pelham does that, he’ll be a sophomore at Spartanburg Methodist. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound left-hander went 2-2 in 10 appearances for the Pioneers this past spring, striking out 51 batters in 39 innings. Pelham battled with bouts of intermittent wildness, walking 28, but he put together a stingy 1.85 earned run average and held opposing hitters to a .131 average when he was pitching.
“He pitched well for us, especially the last two weeks,” said Spartanburg Methodist head baseball coach Tim Wallace. “Yeah, he’s a work in progress, but he’s gotten better as the year progressed.”
Pelham was one of 22 pitchers taken by the Brewers. He is a baseball scout’s dream, the unpolished rare discovery blessed with natural arm strength and height, and a tuba-like voice that reenforces his towering dimensions. Pelham‘s fastball kisses 95, spending most of its time in the 90 to 92 mile per hour range. Spartanburg Methodist pitching coach Marc Rape said pro scouts compare him to Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, who regularly fires his fastball over 100 miles per hour. Wallace told Pelham after his first start for the Pioneers during their abbreviated fall season that he had a chance to make a living playing baseball.
“He has all the things you can’t teach,” said the Pioneers coach.
And yet, Pelham seems rather surprised by the recent lift-off of his baseball career. He was also an excellent basketball and football player, and while he played baseball the longest of any of the three, he really only took the sport seriously his senior year at Lancaster. Pelham was planning on accepting an academic scholarship to Coastal Carolina when the Spartanburg Methodist opportunity arose. The Pioneers began recruiting him midway through the 2013 season, just a few months after he had surfaced on recruiting/scouting radars.
“As soon as we saw him he was 90, 91, even 95,” said Rape. “We knew with the pro attention he was getting, it was going to be difficult for us to be able to have him at the college level. And he did turn down some money offers to come to SMC, but we were thrilled to get a chance to work with him, and polish him and get him drafted better.”
Pelham was on his way to Charleston with his girlfriend to put in some work with a pitching trainer last Saturday when his phone started to light up, friends congratulating him via Twitter and text message on being drafted by the Brewers.
“I didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Pelham, who finally got a call from Milwaukee confirming the selection. “I was figuring I would get picked, but I thought it was gonna be later than that. I was driving so I wasn’t really paying attention to it.”
That kind of Pierre-don’t-care-air speaks to Pelham‘s bewilderment at his own rise. He first experienced that self-surprise last year with Lancaster, as scouts quickly multiplied behind Region 3-4A back-stops.
“I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. After that first game the scouts kept coming,” said Pelham, who is 18 years old and hit 96 on the radar gun this season. “I honestly didn’t know why. I’d never been clocked before, didn’t know how fast I was throwing.”
“And still, I don’t think it’s really set in to him about how good he can be,” said Rape. “This year was kind of eye-opening because he got to pitch at the college level but there’s more in the tank for him.”
SMC coaches worked on Pelham’s mechanics, but the biggest focus of their teaching was mentality.
“He knows if he’s throwing strikes, he can’t be beat,” said Rape. “That’s what I try to reenforce in his head. ‘Just have fun; you’ve got the stuff to do it. All the stuff we work on in bullpens during the week, leave that there, and just go out and let it come natural to you and have fun.”
Pelham struck out seven with no walks in four innings of a 2-1 win over Surry Community College on Feb. 8, but allowed five earned runs and walked seven in his next two appearances, which went for a combined 4.2 innings.
In his last five performances, he put together encouraging numbers. Pelham struck out nine and allowed just two hits in a 10-1 win over Rockingham Community College on April 8, before striking out seven and walking one in a one-hit performance against hometown USC-Lancaster. Pelham went eight innings in the district championship win over USC-Sumter, which got the Pioneers to the Junior College World Series, allowing five hits, no runs and striking out eight, while walking three.
Pelham then walked four, but struck out seven and allowed just two hits and an earned run in a 10-2 win over Blinn College at the Junior College World Series late last month, his final outing of the spring.
The key for Pelham going forward, whether in the pros or college, is to add a breaking ball. He readily admits he throws one pitch, a fastball, though he is able to change the speed on it, sometimes unwittingly. Wallace pointed out that Pelham threw exclusively fastballs in his last two starts; the Pioneers coach would like to see him return for a sophomore season at Spartanburg Methodist and enhance his arsenal.
“The thing with him now is just potential and projectability,” said Wallace. “He hasn’t harnessed his command of his fastball, his off-speed stuff is practically non-existent. He’s a young man that has a bright future in front of him, but he has a lot of work to do too.”
Still, this past season was Pelham’s first with a full-time pitching coach and the progress is already evident.
“The sky is the limit,” said Rape. “If he continues to get better this summer, we get him back in the fall and he keeps his high work ethic, this kid could be a first-rounder. That’s extreme, but I’d say the goal is to get him in the top 10 rounds.”
Depending on the Brewers’ offer, Pelham might not be in next year’s draft. He will start Friday for the Blowfish against the Asheboro Copperheads, though. You can bet there will be a scout or two standing behind home, radar gun aimed right at the tall southpaw.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T