Tuesday night, Marvin Ridge High pitcher Max Wotell was cruising along in Game 1 of the N.C. 3A Western Regional baseball championship series.
He was doing to Crest’s Chargers what he had done to most of the teams he faced this season.
A left-hander at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Wotell turned to his 94 mph fastball to fluster Crest’s batters. Marvin Ridge led 4-1 and was three outs from what Marvin Ridge coach Mark Mennitt describes as “another routine win for our ace.”
But Crest loaded the bases with none out and Mennitt sent pitching coach Trey Putman to the mound.
“Son,” Putman told Wotell, “just do your thing.”
Standing on the mound, with the game on the line, Wotell said he was fuming.
“I needed to strike the side out,” he said. “I got myself in a little jam. I was onerous. But I was confident in what I had to do. Coach said, ‘Go get ’em.’ ”
Wotell proceeded to strike out the top of Crest’s batting order. The final two hitters – Bradley Keller and Max Bridges – are college recruits who will play at Western Carolina and East Carolina, respectively. Wotell’s record improved to 13-0. He allowed five hits and one run.
Marvin Ridge can qualify for next week’s state championship series with a win at Crest Thursday night. Wotell – who has a 0.57 earned run average, 136 strikeouts, 24 walks and allowed 28 hits in 72 innings – isn’t expected to pitch. He’ll take the field and play in the outfield. He’s hitting 0.417 this season and has 21 RBIs.
But it is his pitching that leaves opposing coaches shaking their heads.
“He is the most dominant pitcher I’ve seen in a lot of years,” said Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell. “He just makes it look so easy, and when the game’s over, you look up and he’s struck out 12 or 13 guys and given up one or two hits and no runs. It’s almost like you get a player at that level and it’s like a man playing with boys.”
Bagwell said it’s rare for a high school pitcher to throw a baseball faster than 90 mph, which Wotell regularly does, and adds that the Marvin Ridge senior is a “freak athlete.”
Wotell, a member of the U18 USA national team and ranked No. 56 among the nation’s top 100 high school prospects by MLB Draft Countdown, said Marvin Ridge coaches have asked him to play quarterback in football and play in the backcourt in basketball, but he chooses to stick with baseball.
“He’s the total package,” Bagwell said of Wotell, who is projected to be selected in next month’s Major League Baseball draft. “He goes right after guys. He’s a heckuva talent, man, truly.”
For college, Wotell chose Arizona over a list of schools that included North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Georgia Tech. He said he loves the weather in Tuscon and fell in love with the area immediately.
“It felt like home,” he said.
But he’s open about his long-term desire to play professionally and said he’ll turn pro if the “right opportunity” presents itself.
In March, he was one of more than a dozen players invited to visit with Atlanta Braves officials in Turner Field. He’s met with 16 teams in his home, including the Orioles, Mets, Indians, Twins and Red Sox.
“You know,” he said, “it’s an unbelievable feeling. My lifelong dream is to be a pro baseball player and it’s kind of surreal when they come into your house and start talking to you. It’s been a blessing.”
Mennitt, who formerly coached at Independence High, said he first saw his pitcher’s potential when Wotell was in middle school.
“I think the first pitch I saw him throw in our bullpen was 84 (mph) and with a lot of movement on it,” Mennitt said. “I was like, ‘OK.’ I’m like, ‘This guy is going to be a freak.’ He ended up being a closer for us in ninth grade and he continues to get better. I think that’s why his draft status is growing because they see his potential to get better, too.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Marvin Ridge left-hander Max Wotell is expected to be selected in next month’s Major League Baseball draft. Following are four former Observer-area high school pitchers who’ve enjoyed recent success in professional baseball:
DANIEL BARD, CHARLOTTE CHRISTIAN: North Carolina star was drafted in the first round (28th overall pick) by the Boston Red Sox in 2006. He made his big-league debut May 2009 against the Angels. He played five seasons (2009-13) with the Red Sox. Bard signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in January.
MADISON BUMGARNER, SOUTH CALDWELL: Former Spartans star was picked 10th overall by the Giants in the 2007 draft out of high school. In 2014, he won 18 games during regular season, was named MVP of the World Series and was Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
HUNTER HARVEYS, BANDYS: Catawba native was chosen No. 22 overall in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Baltimore Orioles. Currently nursing a sore elbow, he has played on three minor-league teams and is considered one of the Orioles’ brightest prospects.
ALEX WOOD, ARDREY KELL: Played in college at Georgia and was chosen in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Atlanta Braves. He played one season in the minors and was promoted in 2013. Wood is 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA in 47 innings this season with the Braves.
Langston Wertz Jr.