Just two weeks ahead of the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft, a top prospect has shocked the baseball world. Carter Stewart, who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves with the eighth overall pick last June but didn’t sign, has agreed to a deal with a Japanese professional team, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Stewart possessed arguably the best curveball in the 2018 draft and saw his velocity spike to the mid-90s in his senior season, raising his draft stock from the summer. A commitment to Mississippi State was not enough to scare scouts away, and the Atlanta Braves chose Stewart with their first-round pick. However, a post-draft physical showed a wrist issue, leading to a disagreement in signing bonus figures between Stewart and Atlanta. Stewart enrolled in Eastern Florida State College, a junior college in his home state, making him eligible for the 2019 draft.
Stewart opened the season with a chance to be a top-10 pick again, but an inconsistent season slipped him out of top-10 consideration. Still, Baseball America ranked Stewart as the 38th-best prospect in their latest update.
Now, Stewart will begin an unconventional path to the big leagues, as he can be posted for MLB teams at any time. Stewart is subject to the international free agent rules, capping his transfer fee at $20 million.
Rather than spend his developmental stage in the minor leagues, with a low salary and little fanfare, Stewart will mimic the path of a few amateur basketball players and earn more money overseas.
Stewart’s curveball had the highest spin rate ever recorded on Trackman prior to the 2018 draft at 3000 RPM, earning a 70-grade from scouts. This spring Stewart struggled with the consistency of his breaking ball, earning 55 and 60 grades according to MLB.com. In addition, Stewart’s fastball velocity dipped to 91-92 mph, rather than the mid-90s he flashed as a prep. Stewart has been viewed as more of a middle to backend of the rotation pitcher this year, as opposed to a potential front-line pitcher.