Campbell University has consistently produced talent for the professional ranks in recent years, including two first-round picks in last year’s MLB draft. This season, right-handed pitcher Cade Kuehler is the latest high-profile prospect at Campbell.
Kuehler received two college offers while in high school. The North Carolina native committed to Campbell over East Tennessee State University. Kuehler’s decision has paid off as he enters his junior season as a top pitcher in college baseball and a potential first-round pick in the 2023 draft.
“It’s crazy because I don’t see the big changes,” Kuehler said. “I just know I have put in the work day in and day out. Seeing this all come up is surreal to me.
“Seeing the rankings come out, and hearing the guys talk about it and joke with me about it, it’s weird because I don’t feel like that. I feel like the same guy. It’s weird to see all the notoriety that comes with the position I am in.”
Campbell has a history of developing lightly recruited pitchers into potential first-rounders. Thomas Harrington went from a walk-on player to the program’s highest-drafted pitcher as the 36th overall pick in last year’s draft. Seth Johnson transferred to Campbell from a small junior-college program and was the 40th overall pick in 2019.
If Kuehler can build off his first two years at Campbell and dominate college hitters in the spring, he could become the highest drafted pitcher in program history.
“We have produced a ton of talent for pro ball,” Kuehler said. “We have a bunch of talent on the roster too. Being surrounded by that talent day in and day out motivates me to be my best, whether that’s being drafted or here.”
Kuehler is a 6-foot-1, 218-pound right-hander that throws a four-seam fastball, cutter/slider, curveball, changeup and splitter from a quick arm action and deceptive delivery. His mid-90s fastball, which has touched 98 mph, is his best pitch. It features a bit of run and vertical break.
Last year, he developed his cutter/slider, which served as a quality off-speed pitch for him during his sophomore season. It sits in the high-80s and features depth and sweeping action. It breaks more than a cutter but is harder than a traditional slider.
Kuehler’s 12-to-6 curveball is an evolving pitch. He has worked on it throughout the offseason in hopes of having it come directly out of his hand, so it tunnels well off his fastball.
“I like to attack the zone,” Kuehler said. “I have power stuff with a hard fastball, hard breaking curveball, hard slider. Everything is power stuff. If I can fill up the zone with three or four or even pitches, it will allow me to dominate and mix up guys so they can’t sit on pitches.”
Kuehler split time between the bullpen and rotation as a freshman in 2021 before working as a starter last season. He has a 4.01 ERA with 152 strikeouts and 60 walks allowed in 128 innings at Campbell.
In the offseason, Kuehler has fine-tuned his mechanics and pitches in hopes of taking the next step in his development this season. He will play a major role in Campbell’s starting rotation and the team’s success in the spring.
Campbell qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last four postseasons, excluding 2020 when the tournament didn’t occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fighting Camels have never advanced out of the regional in six tries in program history. Kuehler hopes they can elevate the program to another level this season.
“We just want to show people that even though we are from a small town and call ourselves, ‘The nobodies from nowhere,’ that we can punch through to a super regional and then hopefully Omaha after that,” Kuehler said. “I just want to be a part of it, be a leader and perform at my highest level to help the guys around me.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for eight years. He has interviewed 433 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.