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Published: Thursday, 6/7/2007

Pitchers' stock up at right time

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Three years ago Chris Carpenter and Connor Graham each took a gamble.

Today both will find out if those gambles paid off as both are eligible for Major League Baseball's amateur draft.

The 50-round draft, which begins at 2 p.m. today, gives each of the 30 teams its pick among the top amateur players in the country. Both Carpenter, a product of Bryan, and Graham, a Bowling Green native who pitched at St. John's Jesuit, should hear their names called in the early rounds of the draft.

For Carpenter, this year's draft is the final stage in a long, tortuous journey that began when he was selected by the Tigers' in the seventh round of the 2004 draft. Instead of signing with Detroit, Carpenter went to pitch at Kent State.

"I thought I was a top 10-round talent, but I didn't think anyone would draft me that high," Carpenter admitted. "I knew I was going to college. I knew I wasn't mature enough, and I wasn't strong enough.

"I think I made a great decision."

The decision didn't look so great when Carpenter was injured late in his freshman season, and eventually had Tommy John surgery in July of 2005.

But that didn't solve Carpenter's arm problems, and eventually he saw Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Cincinnati Reds' team physician, and had another surgery in June of last year to remove scar tissue.

"I had worked hard [in rehab], and for a little bit I did question myself," Carpenter admitted.

But this season he proved his arm strength had returned. The 6-4, 215-pound right-hander steadily built up his innings and finished with a 4-1 record and 4.50 ERA while pitching the Golden Flashes to a berth in the NCAA tournament.

What's more, Carpenter said the arm injury may have been a blessing.

"In high school I relied on arm strength and natural talent," he said. "I did the things people asked of me, but I didn't go out of my way to work out.

"When I had my arm taken away from me, I thought, now what? I changed my work ethic, and that changed my life. I might not have done that three or four years ago."

While Graham's story isn't as dramatic, it included similar themes. The first was Graham's insistence on attending college at Miami of Ohio.

"[Before the 2004 draft] I made it clear I was going to college," Graham said. "After going to college I'm more mentally prepared for pro ball. If the money is fair, I'm ready to go."

Graham was the RedHawks' closer as a freshman, a move that he said aided his development.

"I got put into a lot of situations that really helped me," Graham said. "If I pitched well, we won. If I pitched poorly, we lost. I learned how to deal with adversity, and that helped me grow up a lot."

After starting as a sophomore, Graham played in the Cape Cod League last summer, another move that helped him improve.

"Going into my junior year my confidence was a lot higher after pitching in the Cape," he said. "I knew every time I stepped on to the field, I could get out anyone I could face. It helped me mature as a pitcher."

This season Graham, a 6-7, 240-pound right-hander, posted a 5-4 record and 4.24 ERA while helping to pitch the RedHawks to a berth in the MAC tournament.

Both Graham and Carpenter say teams have been vague about their intentions leading up to the draft, but Baseball America said both are among the top 100 talents in the draft.

Among the other draftable local players are high school right-handers A.J. Achter of Clay and Tyler Burgoon of Defiance, third baseman Scott Boley and outfielder Drew Hoisington from the University of Toledo, and BGSU right-hander Tyler Johnson.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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