Carmen Mlodzinski grew up playing shortstop. He always had raw arm strength, but it wasn’t until late in his prep career that he started pitching.
Mlodzinski first took the mound as a junior at Hilton Head High (S.C.) in 2016. The right-hander estimates he pitched five innings his junior season and then about 40 innings as a senior.
Despite his limited track record on the mound, Division I colleges and professional scouts were intrigued by his pitching potential. Major league teams expressed interest in Mlodzinski in preparation for the 2017 MLB draft, but a torn finger nail caused him to miss time his senior season, which impacted his draft stock.
Mlodzinski wasn’t selected in the draft and honored his commitment to the University of South Carolina, joining the program in fall 2017.
“I wasn’t going to be a first-rounder, but I had the arm strength to be a fourth or fifth rounder, at least that’s what I was hearing,” he said. “It wasn’t overwhelming. I was a pretty late bloomer because teams had never seen me as a pitcher before. I came into the picture really a little late, so I had some attention but not too much.”
Mlodzinski didn’t pitch until late in his prep career by design, he said. He wanted to protect his arm and pitch in “meaningful innings,” which he is doing now at South Carolina.
Although Mlodzinski experienced mixed results as a freshman and missed most of last season with a broken left foot, he excelled in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer to position himself as one of the top college pitchers entering this spring.
Nearly three years after going undrafted as a high school senior, Mlodzinski enters his redshirt sophomore season as a projected first-round pick. If he can have a strong spring season, Mlodzinski will be in consideration to be a top-10 pick in June’s draft.
Mlodzinski understands what’s ahead when it comes to the draft attention from major league teams. He knows every time he toes the rubber that scouts will be in attendance, but he is focused on developing his skills and helping South Carolina have a successful season, he said.
“About 85 percent of the scouts played baseball and went through the draft, so they know exactly what the players are going through,” Mlodzinski said. “I feel like they don’t bug you on game days and are really just trying to have a conversation with you. There’s no pressure talking to those guys when they want to talk.”
As a freshman in 2017, Mlodzinski served as a swingman. He recorded a 5.52 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 21 walks allowed in 45 2/3 innings.
Entering last season, Mlodzinski was penciled in as South Carolina’s No. 1 starter. But in his third start of the season, Mlodzinski exited in the third inning against Clemson with a stress fracture in his left foot. He missed the rest of the season recovering from the injury. He posted a 5.91 ERA with 11 strikeouts and 11 walks allowed in 10 2/3 innings as a sophomore last year.
Mlodzinski took three days off after his surgery before starting to long toss from his knees. It wasn’t until about the beginning of May when he started throwing standing up, he said.
In the Cape Cod League, Mlodzinski overwhelmed opposing hitters last summer. He notched an impressive 1.83 ERA with 43 strikeouts and five walks allowed in 34 1/3 innings.
“I just got back to myself and who I am as a person and player,” he said. “I thought I lost that for my sophomore year, and then I got hurt. It was a mental collapse and a physical collapse at the same time. I think last summer is a reflection of who I can be as a player in the future.”
Mlodzinski, a 6-foot-2, 232-pound righty, throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, slider and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot. He’s cleaned up his delivery since joining South Carolina, which has allowed him to repeat his delivery consistently and have better command of his pitches.
His fastballs are his best offerings and tend to sit in the mid-90s. He touched 99 mph in fall practice. He throws his sinker about 60 percent of the time and then mixes in his cutter, especially to left-handed hitters. He started throwing his four-seamer in the fall and plans on incorporating it into his repertoire this spring. He believes he can throw his four-seamer high in the zone and that it will generate swings and misses due to its velocity, he said.
His low-80s slider serves as his strikeout pitch and features power and depth. It tends to look more like a slurve. His changeup also is a solid offering and features sink.
Mlodzinski has a respectable offering of pitches that should allow him to thrive this spring.
“My biggest strength is the mental growth I’ve had in the past year,” Mlodzinski said. “I am very, very comfortable with myself as a pitcher out there. I am very comfortable with my environment. I feel I always had the talent coming out of high school, but the mental side is something I didn’t fully grasp until the last year.”
Besides remaining healthy, Mlodzinski wants to continue to refine his pitches and command this spring. He hopes to duplicate the success he had in the Cape Cod League and show that he’s capable of being a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
South Carolina reached the super regionals in 2018 but regressed slightly last season, failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and finishing with a 28-28 record. This season, South Carolina has higher expectations, and Mlodzinski hopes to lead the Gamecocks deep into postseason play in what might be his final collegiate baseball season.
“I just want to be more polished as a pitcher,” Mlodzinski said. “I missed last spring, so I only have two or three years of pitching under my belt.
“I just want to have as much fun as possible and see where it takes me in life. As a team, I want to win a national championship. That’s the goal every year.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.