Nick Lodolo could have started a professional career after graduating high school in 2016.
The left-handed pitcher was one of the top prep hurlers in the 2016 MLB draft class, and the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him with the 41st overall selection.
They offered him a $1.75 million signing bonus, but it wasn’t enough to convince Lodolo to bypass college. He declined the offer and honored his commitment to Texas Christian University.
Lodolo has refined his skills in his first two years at TCU but hasn’t dominated opposing college batters like professional scouts expected. Despite mixed results, he doesn’t regret his decision to attend TCU.
“It’s been great here with not only developing on the field but also off the field,” Lodolo said. “Obviously continuing my education was a huge part of the reason why I did that. I think that’s the biggest part of growing up and living on my own but still having structure to it was also part of it.”
Lodolo, a junior at TCU, is once again a well-regarded draft prospect. He’s considered one of the top college pitchers in June’s draft class and has the potential to go early in the first round.
He said going through the draft process a second time is “less of a time commitment,” as teams are focusing on a player’s skills and potential rather than their signability.
“I already know what to expect, which helps,” Lodolo said. “I’ve been through it all. I’m not searching for answers or questions. As long as I pitch good and my team wins, it’ll take care of itself. That’s what it did in high school, and it will do it again if the chance comes.”
As a freshman at TCU, Lodolo posted a 4.35 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 28 walks allowed in 78 2/3 innings. He tallied slightly better numbers last season, recording a 4.32 ERA, 93 strikeouts and 28 walks allowed in 77 innings.
He said he’s learned how to developed a better feel for pitching and how to attack opposing batters wisely and efficiently compared to when he started at TCU.
Lodolo, a 6-foot-6, 185-pound hurler, throws a low-90s fastball, a sharp breaking curveball and a changeup from a three-quarter arm slot. His lively fastball sits 90-94 mph and occasionally reaches 96 mph.
His fastball is his best offering while his changeup has been his most reliable secondary pitch his first two years. His curveball features depth and generates swings and misses.
“My overall competitiveness and fastball command are my two biggest strengths,” he said. “My fastball command when I got here was not nearly as good as it is now. That’s something I rely on now.”
In his first two years at TCU, Lodolo has walked 56 batters and hit 24 batters. Refining his command and having consistency with his secondary pitches are his top priorities this season.
“I just want to limit free bases and hitting batters,” Lodolo said. “Allowing free bases is something that’s gotten me in the past. That’s the biggest thing I am trying to limit and make the batters earn it.”
Lodolo has had a strong start to his junior season. In three games, he’s recorded a 2.37 ERA with 25 strikeouts and two walks allowed in 19 innings. His best start came against Houston on Friday when he went seven innings, struck out 13 batters and walked one.
TCU failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season, snapping a string of four consecutive years qualify for the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Besides his personal development, Lodolo wants to lead TCU deep into postseason play in what might be his final college baseball season.
“I just want to give ourselves a chance to win every time I go out,” Lodolo said. “Obviously, the most important stat for a pitcher is getting wins. If I can get as many wins as possible, it only helps the team.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 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.