Sam Carlson is knocking at history’s door.
The Burnsville senior could be the first Minnesota high school pitcher taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft, which started in 1965.
“It would mean a lot to me to be able to pave the road for future Minnesota pitchers,” said Carlson, who is rated the 15th-best prospect in Monday’s draft by MLB.com. “It’s everybody’s dream to play with and against the best.”
Since the draft started in 1965, there have been three Minnesota high school position players taken in the first round — Joe Mauer (2001) and Chris Schwab (1993) of Cretin-Derham Hall, and Tom Nevers (1990) of Edina.
In those 52 years of the draft, only four Minnesota high school pitchers have gone as high as the second round — most recently Mitch Brown of Rochester Century to Cleveland in 2012.
“I don’t think his stock has risen per se but … he started his season late,” said Keith Law, a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and ESPN Scouts. “He could slip out of the first round but get first-round money in the sandwich [compensatory] round.”
One mock draft has Carlson going as high as No. 16 to the New York Yankees. The Sporting News has him at No. 21 to Baltimore, while Baseball America pencils him in at No. 30 to the World Series champion Cubs. Other projections have Carlson being selected by the Texas Rangers with one of their two first-round picks (No. 26 or 29).
Carlson has met with every team.
“He definitely goes in top 40 picks,” Law said.
If he doesn’t sign, Carlson will follow the path of another standout Minnesota pitcher, Coon Rapids’ Logan Shore, and play at the University of Florida. Shore was taken in the second round (47th overall) by Oakland following his junior season last year with the Gators, and is now in Class A in the Athletics system.
The assigned bonus money for the 15th overall pick is $3,588,200; for the 20th pick, it would be $2,994,500; for 30th, the last pick of the first round, it would be $2,184,300.
If Carlson decides to pass up the money at age 18 and head to college, he wouldn’t be eligible for the draft again until after his junior season.
Twins scouting director Sean Johnson has seen Carlson pitch a few times this spring. After their No. 1 overall pick, the Twins have the 35th selection in the supplemental round (between the first and second round) and the first pick in the second round, No. 37.
“Sam is an impressive kid,” said Johnson, who is in his 16th year of scouting and has been with the Twins since 2002. “He’s a player who has grown into his body, and really matured.”
The 6-4, 210-pound Carlson has added 15 pounds over the past year. Carlson is 5-1 with one save, a 0.69 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 52 innings for state tournament-bound Burnsville (21-6). He has allowed only 31 hits. At the plate, Carlson has hit seven home runs and is batting over .500.
“It’s a long road from high school to professional baseball, but I think he will be able to handle it both mentally and physically,” Johnson said. “You can see the signs now. He will be a good pro.”
If there’s one thing that moves Carlson past other Minnesota prep stars of the past into the first round, it’s probably his polish on the mound. He has three dominant pitches — fastball, slider and changeup.
“Sam has all the desirable traits, body, size and command of all of his pitches,” Johnson said. “He’s got the right makeup.”
Carlson’s fastball is consistently clocked in the low to mid-90s. It has topped out at 96 miles per hour.
When hitters sit on his fastball, Carlson isn’t afraid to make them look foolish with an off-speed pitch.
“He has a good feel for the changeup, and good velocity on his slider,” Johnson said. “The spin on his slider is also better. That’s what you’re looking for in a young pitcher.”
“All of my pitches are ‘out’ pitches,” Carlson said with a smile.
That is exactly why he’s considered a first-rounder.
“I’ve worked really hard to put myself in this position,” Carlson said. “Two years ago, I would have never imagined this happening.”