USM baseball’s Braley, McCarty going pro

USM baseball’s Braley, McCarty going pro
Kirk McCarty pitching during Hattiesburg Regional
Kirk McCarty pitching during Hattiesburg Regional

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi pitching rotation definitely will have a different look for the 2018 season.

Junior right-handed pitcher/third baseman Taylor Braley and junior left-hander Kirk McCarty, two of the top starters in the Golden Eagles' 2017 record-setting season, have agreed to terms with the teams that selected them in last week's Major League Draft.

Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said Wednesday afternoon that in addition to Braley and McCarty, junior right-hander Hayden Roberts and junior college right-handed pitching signee Kyle Keith had signed contracts with the Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers, respectively.

"Certainly, we would have liked to have had them back, but we understand that part of college baseball," Berry said. "No other sport has to go through this kind of thing, but we feel good about the club that we've assembled for next year.

"We hope they all make the major leagues. (Braley, McCarty and Roberts) certainly left our program better than they found it."

Braley, a junior third baseman/right-handed pitcher, was taken on the second day of the MLB draft, with the Miami Marlins tapping him as a pitcher in the sixth round as the 179th overall pick.

McCarty, a junior left-handed pitcher, went one round later, going to the Cleveland Indians in the seventh round as the 222nd overall selection.

Both Braley and McCarty have agreed to terms, but have not signed contracts. Braley will report to Jupiter, Fla., and McCarty to Cleveland on Friday for physicals before signing.

"It was a tough," Braley said. "It was a hard decision, but it all worked out."

Braley and McCarty, both first-team All-Conference USA selections, were two of three starting pitchers in Southern Miss' weekend rotation by season's end and likely would have anchored the 2018 staff had they returned for their senior seasons.

But the former Oak Grove High School teammates and long-time friends were the highest Southern Miss selections in the MLB draft since B.A. Vollmuth was taken in the third round in 2011 by the Oakland Athletics.

The duo became the first pair of Golden Eagles selected in the first 10 rounds since Jarrett Hoffpauir (sixth round) and Matt Shepherd (eighth round) were both selected by the St. Louis Cardinals as part of USM's five-man draft class in 2004.

The 5-foot-11, 240-pound Braley, was a double-threat who earned All-America honors from three organizations (Division I Baseball.com, Baseball America, second team; Perfect Game/Rawlins, third team).

He hit .312 with 12 doubles, 17 home runs and 61 RBIs, while setting a USM single-season record with 63 walks. He posted a .461 on-base percentage and .587 slugging percentage.

But the Marlins have Braley projected as a pitcher. In 2017, Braley made 14 appearances, including 13 starts, finishing with a 7-2 record and a 3.40 earned run average. He struck out 78 in 82 innings, while walking only 22.

The 5-10, 185-pound McCarty, had been in USM's starting rotation the past three seasons, collecting 18 wins over the past two years.

In 2017, McCarty went 10-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 17 starts. He became the first Golden Eagle since Shea Douglas in 2002 to reach the 100-strikeout mark with 103 strikeouts against just 22 walks. As a sophomore, McCarty was 8-1 with a 3.15 ERA. His 22 career wins are tied for fifth on Southern Miss' career list.

Roberts, who started the 2017 season as USM's opening-day pitcher, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 34th round.

Roberts returned from Tommy John surgery as a sophomore to start the 2016 Conference USA championship game and a NCAA Regional game for the Golden Eagles in 2016.

This spring, the 6-foot, 187-pound Irvington, Ala., native began his junior season as the Golden Eagles' Friday night starting pitcher, but after consecutive rough outings against Rice University and Old Dominion University, his last 10 appearances came out of the bullpen.

Roberts finished 5-2 with a 4.30 ERA and a save in 20 appearances. He struck out 86 in 73 1/3 innings with 27 walks.

The 6-2, 180-pound Keith of Lane County Community College in Eugene, Ore., was taken in the 22nd round by the Texas Rangers, and Roberts went in the 34th round to the Colorado Rockies.

Keith, who migrated to Oregon from Casper, Wyo., went 5-4 with a 2.86 ERA this spring at Lane College, striking out 66 in 66 innings.

The Golden Eagles' 2017 draft class also included senior first baseman Dylan Burdeaux, Conference USA's 2017 Player of the Year who signed with the Detroit.

Burdeaux, who led the nation with 102 hits, was taken in the 20th round by the Tigers. The 6-2, 230-pound West Monroe, La., native hit .337 with 12 home runs and team-high 69 RBIs this past spring.