Eric Cerantola grew up in Oakville, Ontario, with a passion for hockey.
He was a skilled forward and even heard his name called in the eighth round of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), a premier junior hockey league, in 2016. Cerantola’s hockey career never materialized like he initially anticipated, however.
One reason he didn’t chase a hockey career is because he developed into a well-regarded high school baseball prospect. His evolution as a right-handed pitcher resulted in the Tampa Bay Rays selecting him in the 30th round of the 2018 MLB draft.
Cerantola decided to attend Mississippi State University instead of starting a pro career. Over the last 2½ that decision has worked out well for Cerantola, who’s one of the top prospects in July’s draft.
Professional scouts project Cerantola as a potential early-round pick in this year’s draft.
“You know a little more what to expect,” Cerantola said. “You had the meetings in high school. Even though this year is a little different with the Zoom calls because of the COVID situation, you just have a better understanding of how the process goes. It’s something you can’t control and something you realize after going through it once.”
As a freshman at Mississippi State in 2019, Cerantola posted a 4.30 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 11 walks allowed in 14 2/3 innings in 11 appearances. After pitching primarily out of the bullpen his first season, Cerantola moved into a starting role last spring. He recorded a 3.18 ERA with 22 strikeouts and 11 walks allowed in 17 innings (four starts).
Cerantola is a 6-foot-5, 222-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a fastball, curveball and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot.
His fastball touches 98 mph and sits in the mid-90s. It also features some arm side run. Cerantola’s top off-speed pitch is his 12-6 curveball. It is a nasty putaway pitch that reaches the mid-80s and features notable spin at around 3,000 rpms.
Cerantola doesn’t throw his changeup as much as his other two pitches but has displayed some feel for the pitch while at Mississippi State. He needs to show consistency with the pitch this spring.
Besides refining his changeup, Cerantola also has to tighten up his control and command. If he can display a quality third offering and cut down on his walks while pitching a full season as a starting pitcher, his draft stock will rise.
“I feel like all three years I’ve been here, the stuff has been there,” Cerantola said. “It has just been a matter of putting together and just having a solid approach when I go up there and pitch and not getting too caught up in the velocity.
“Something that has stuck with me is winning the first three pitches of an at-bat. If I do that, I will be ahead in the count and cause weak contact or finish them. I think the mental side is where I have developed the most since my freshman year.”
Cerantola will be part of one of the best starting pitching rotations in the country this season. Besides Cerantola, right-hander Will Bednar and left-hander Christian MacLeod also are potential early-round pick in July’s draft.
The starting staff will allow Mississippi State to compete in a difficult Southeastern Conference. It also should help them make a deep run in postseason play.
Mississippi State has advanced to the College World Series in each of the last two postseasons. The Bulldogs are in search of their first-ever national championship.
“I really think we can match up against anyone in the country when you talk about the entire rotation,” Cerantola said. “I think we just have a good mix of power and pitchability. For a three-game series, I think it’s going to be tough facing us if we do our job, get ahead of batters and fill up the zone.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com 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.