Carson Whisenhunt had the luxury of learning from East Carolina right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams the last two years. Williams started his college career as a reliever before developing into one of the top starting pitchers in college baseball from 2018-21.
Williams was the ace of the ECU pitching staff and went in the first round of the 2021 MLB draft. Whisenhunt, now a junior lefty at ECU, was a weekend starter for ECU in 2021. This season, Whisenhunt will fill the void left by Williams and take over as the team’s No. 1 starter.
Expectations are high for Whisenhunt this season, as most expect him to perform up to a similar level as Williams did last year.
“Gavin helped me learn what I needed to do to prepare for each game, Whisenhunt said. “He gave me that little extra confidence every weekend because he would talk to me before I would go out and start. He pushed me in a way other guys didn’t do.”
ECU has produced three first-round picks in its history, with right-hander Jeff Hoffman and Williams the most recent top picks. Whisenhunt is in the mix to be ECU’s latest first-round pick this year, as scouts believe he is one of the top college pitchers in this year’s draft class.
Despite the draft attention, Whisenhunt is trying his best not to focus on the interest and pressure associated with performing in front of scouts.
“I talk to scouts and answer their questions,” Whisenhunt said. “But once that is over, I put it in the back of my mind. The more I think about it, the harder I will be on myself and the more pressure I will put on myself. I just need to go out there and do what I need to do each weekend, compete and be that team guy.”
After making one relief appearance as a freshman in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Whisenhunt played an important role in ECU’s starting rotation last year. He posted a 3.77 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 22 walks in 62 innings in 13 starts.
Whisenhunt is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound lefty who throws a four-seam fastball, changeup and spike curveball from a low-effort delivery and three-quarters arm slot.
Whisenhunt’s top pitch is his changeup. It is an above-average offering that scouts believe is the best changeup in this year’s draft class. His changeup sits in the low-80s, features plenty of movement and generates a high percentage of swings and misses.
Whisenhunt’s fastball sits in the low-90s. He uses the same arm slot and arm speed when he throws his fastball. Due to his size and athletic delivery, scouts believe Whisenhunt has room to increase his fastball velocity in the future.
Although he relies heavily on his fastball, changeup combination, he mixes in his curveball. He hopes it will play a more prominent role this spring.
“I was a fastball, changeup guy until I got into high school,” Whisenhunt said. “That is when I started throwing a curveball. Growing up, I always developed my changeup to be my out pitch. I feel like my changeup has been a big separator for me.”
Whisenhunt’s repertoire, delivery and overall skills give him the potential to at least be a middle-of-the-rotation starter in pro ball. While his changeup draws rave reviews, Whisenhunt believes his mentality and competitiveness are his biggest strengths.
“I am going to go out there and attack the zone with whatever I have that day, even if it’s not my best stuff,” Whisenhunt said. “It is a switch that I can flip once I step on the field. It changes from being the team guy to me not caring who is on the other side and having the mindset that no one is going to beat.”
This season, Whisenhunt will play a key role for ECU, which is seeking its first College World Series appearance. Last year, ECU won an NCAA Regional for the second consecutive postseason. ECU lost to Vanderbilt, the eventual tournament runner-up, in the NCAA Super Regional to finish with a 44-17 record.
This season, Whisenhunt believes ECU has the talent to make a deep run in the postseason.
“The biggest thing for us is playing our brand of baseball and sticking together as a team,” Whisenhunt said. “If we do that, we will accomplish our goals.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.