The story of Carter Stewart is an interesting one. Stewart, then a 19-year-old, had agreed to a six-year, $7M deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league. He eschewed a chance at being one of the top draft picks of the 2019 MLB Draft. Something that he had already done the previous year in 2018 after failing to sign with the Atlanta Braves. There have been players, even high-profile names, who had previously not signed with a team after the draft. But never one that decided to take matters into his own hands. We look at his career now and why this decision to go overseas could start a new trend.
Photo Cred: Youtube
Stewart went to Eau Gallie High School in Eau Gallie, Florida. His foray into baseball success started in 2016, as he won a Perfect Game World Series, where he was the Most Valuable Pitcher of the tournament. He made five All-Tournament Teams, two All-Tournament Teams (Pitching), and the 2017 National Showcase Top Prospect Team. Coming out of high school, the Atlanta Braves had drafted him eighth overall in 2018. Contract talks soured, so he declined to sign. The Braves had injury concerns about his wrist, so they offered below his slated slot amount of $4.9M. Stewart wanted a $4.5M signing bonus, while the Braves offered only $2M. He tried to file a grievance with the claim that the Braves had not met the minimum threshold of the slot value to become a free agent. MLB denied the grievance.
Photo Cred: NY Times
Seeing no other way, he decided to take the junior college route to re-enter the draft again in 2019. While he had previously committed to Mississippi State, he went to Eastern Florida State College for the 2018-19 season. When the time came for the 2019 MLB Draft, Stewart had then taken the unconventional route of agreeing to a deal with Fukuoka under the guidance of his agent Scott Boras. Stewart started his Japanese career in the Western League of the NPB’s minor leagues to varying degrees of success (3-7 record, 4.16 ERA, 48 strikeouts, & 1.463 WHIP in 15 games and 67 IP in his first season to 6-3, 3.14 ERA, 91 Ks, & 1.397 WHIP in 23 games and 77.1 IP the next). Due to an improvement in his second season, he earned a promotion in 2021 and made his debut on April 17th. He stayed on the first team since then and is sporting a 1-1 record with a 1.29 ERA, 14 Ks, & 1.286 WHIP in three games and 14.0 IP.
Had Stewart stayed in America, he would have taken years in the minor leagues before an MLB promotion. Now he has the chance to play professional baseball from the get-go. Of course, Stewart did have to play minor league ball in Japan, but he earned quicker major promotion than he may have been in the US.
Photo Cred: Twitter
Three years into his professional career, he is on the rise and constantly improving. He’ll have a chance to go into free agency in three more years at the relatively early age of 25. He still has that opportunity to return to the MLB, only with more professional experience. His decision to go overseas is paying off, and the prospects are paying attention. Recently, another high-profile pitcher Kumar Rocker did not sign with the team that drafted him. He has taken to independent league ball with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League. Rocker looks to come back into the mix of 2022 MLB Draft prospects and will also be lucky to come in with professional experience. Stewart could be a trailblazer for those who could be out of options.