Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next up is Sam Carlson, a right-handed pitcher out of Burnsville High School in Minnesota. Standing 6-foot-4, Carlson is committed the University of Florida and may be the first ever high school pitcher from Minnesota selected in the first round. Carlson was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota for 2017.
Carlson is a likely first-round pick in Monday’s draft, with Baseball America and MLB.com projecting to him to be selected by the Cubs with the 30th overall pick. Be sure to check out Carlson’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you really get into baseball at first and realize you had a future in the game?
“I started playing T-ball when I was really little. When I really started loving the game was probably when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, when everything started to click and I realized I could play collegiate baseball and earn a scholarship doing something I love. Everything just took off I love.”
Growing up, which MLB team was your favorite? Favorite player?
“Growing up in Minnesota, I was a Twins fan. Joe Mauer was my favorite player. Justin Morneau is also one of my favorites, and then Torii Hunter. But Joe Mauer’s the dude in my opinion; I really liked him. I went to a clinic with him when I was younger, and have bobbleheads in my room and jerseys of his. But yeah, always the Twins, even back when they were at the Metrodome, then they got Target Field.”
A lot of the top picks every year are from warm-weather places like California and Florida. Being from Minnesota, what would you say are some of the challenges playing there instead of a place where you would get to play year-round?
“I’d say the biggest challenge is just that the baseball world’s coverage doesn’t travel to Minnesota very well. You’re already at a disadvantage being from Minnesota where there’s snow on the ground for half the year, but you’re playing less games so the competition all around as slower. Players aren’t as polished from the north. It’s harder to get your name out there as a prospect, even for college recruiting. If you’re good in Minnesota, you’re probably end up getting recruited by the University of Minnesota and some local schools. It’s not often where kids go out of state to play baseball.”
What led to your decision to commit to Florida?
“I had a connection. Logan Shore played on the same summer travel team I played on, the Minnesota Blizzard. He went to Florida and was their Friday night starter for three years, and he put in a good word for me so I got [Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan] to come out and watch me throw. It’s always been my dream, like ever since I was 8 years old, I had a rug in my room with a big gator. Who would’ve known that would’ve happened? It was pretty sweet. I went down to campus and I took other visits too, but it just felt like it was a school where I felt like I could develop as a baseball player the best and do well academically. Obviously, it was very intriguing weather for a kid from Minnesota to be down there. Super warm and sunny and there are palm trees and stuff. It was the school of my dreams and everything worked out.”
You mentioned Logan Shore, a Minnesota native who went to UF and was drafted by the Athletics with the 47th pick last season. Has he helped you out throughout this process or provided any advice?
“Yeah, I talk to him quite frequently. He’s a great guy. He’s one of the best people I know. He’s a great pitcher but even better when it comes to giving advice or teaching new things. I spoke with him when I was down in Arizona for our spring trip, he’s throwing for the A’s right now. He’s helped me out quite a bit.”
Specifically, what kind of advice has Logan given you on the draft process?
“Just whatever happens, keep your head straight. Don’t change the person you are, no matter what happens. It’s good advice, sometimes generic stuff that you hear often. But it’s hearing it from a guy who went through the process and a character that I strive to be.”
For you, what was the turning point when you realized you could have a pro baseball career and potentially be a first-round pick?
“There wasn’t a pivotal moment, but more throughout the winter. I went down to Jupiter with the Evoshield Canes. I’d been playing all around the country during the summer, but after that [during the winter], seeing tons of golf carts there and having to select an advisor and all that stuff, I kind of realized there’s gonna be a decision that I’ll have to make. I just wanted to work hard, play hard and have fun and let it all take care of itself.”
What’s your biggest strength as a pitcher?
“Probably my ability to throw off-speed pitches. I think that my changeup and slider really separate me as a pitcher. There are a lot of guys that throw hard. With people from Minnesota, you don’t see really hard pitchers very often, but there are guys all over throwing low-90s and mid-90s. I think my off-speed really separates me at the next level.”
On the other side of that, what is the part of your game moving forward that you want to work on and polish the most?
“Just my consistency with my command of all my pitches. I think that will really benefit me at the next level, wherever I end up. It’s something that I can’t really just fix. You can’t go in the weight room and just fix your command. It’s something that will get better just from playing over time. It’s something just from focusing and bearing down during every start, nitpicking things you can improve on. ”
Over the last couple of years, you’ve seen an uptick in velocity. What led to that?
“I grew a little bit and I put on a lot of strength. I went to the weight room and I worked on my mobility a ton. I’ve done yoga three times a week. I couldn’t even touch my toes last summer but doing yoga three times a week, I think that’s helped a lot, even as silly as it sounds. I’m 210 pounds now, and I was 195 last summer. 15 pounds doesn’t seem like a whole ton but I feel like it’s really helping.”
Your hometown Twins have the first overall pick this year, which creates an interesting situation for you. With your knowledge of everyone else in this draft class, if you were running the Twins, who would you select with that pick?
“That’s a tough one. Seeing Brendan McKay hit four home runs in a game, seeing Hunter Greene come out and throw 102 mph. Even seeing guys like Kyle Wright... I remember his freshman year at Vanderbilt I was watching him throw, I was like ‘geez, this dude’s gonna be special’ and that was two years ago. Now he’s even more special. I can’t even imagine making a decision like that. They are all such great talents. The Twins are doing really hot this year and I think they’ll make the right decision. They’ve got a whole new bunch of people running things and I think their decision will positively impact the team, whoever they take. I honestly couldn’t tell you.”
Personally, do you have expectations for where you’ll get picked?
“I don’t have any expectations. I just try to enjoy it. Looking at it a couple months ago, I couldn’t have had my expectations be in the situation I’m in now. I was just committed to Florida, and a year or two ago I was just upper 80s. My [sophomore] season I was probably 87-89, topping out at 90. You just can’t really put expectations on yourself, you’ve just gotta want it. Just go get it and go work hard. Let everything happen, and everything has gone great to this point. I’m very thankful for it.”
If you were picked in the first round, you’d be the first high school pitcher ever from Minnesota picked in the first round. What would that mean to you?
“It would be very special. I just hope that I can leave a mark on Minnesota baseball and hope that in the future, people can understand that these kids from Minnesota can play baseball too. I think that moving forward, more kids from Minnesota are gonna start emerging as high-profile players. Whether it’s at the collegiate or professional level, I just hope I can open some eyes. Whatever happens in a couple weeks, just hoping to leave a mark on Minnesota and make the state proud.”
Time for the comp question. If you had to pick a major-leaguer, either current or former, who reminds you of yourself the most, who would it be and why?
“I don’t know if I could pick out a comp for me. I’ve changed so much in the last year. Six months from now, who knows? I could change up something. I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’ve got a changeup that I like to use, and people have compared my ability to pitch to Logan [Shore]. He has such great pitchability. I’m a little taller than he is, but he knows how to get people out and how to attack people. My slider, I have no idea. Frame-wise, hopefully I can put on a little more weight and be more of a physical presence on the mound. Whoever analysts want to compare me to, they can. I have no idea. I haven’t heard anything.”