KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Originally drafted out of high school in the 19th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel decided instead to enroll at the University of North Carolina (UNC).
The late-round pick was not due to a lack of skill but a stated desire to teams that he wanted to attend university. Pittsburgh was unable to use their wallets to sway Emanuel.
“The way I looked at it was that pro ball was always going to be there, and I knew college ball wouldn’t”, Emanuel said Monday at the Houston Astros spring training facility in Kissimmee, Fla.
“It was pretty easy. After I got drafted the Pirates were like, ‘If we can get you what you want we will let you know’. It never happened and next thing I knew I was in college.”
The time at UNC proved to be valuable for Emanuel in terms of his development. He matured physically during his three years, and he gained self-confidence that allowed him to dominate in college.
“The Number One thing I learned in my first start was that it is still baseball, I can be myself and still be successful,” he said.
The Houston Astros ultimately drafted the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Emanuel in the third round in 2013. He reported to their Gulf Coast minor league team late last year.
Due to a heavy workload in college, Emanuel appeared in just four games going nine innings, striking out eight batters, and giving up six hits and two walks.
Another benefit of his three years with the Tar Heels, he said, was the relationships he developed with his teammates, some of who have moved on to the pros at the same time as Emanuel. One is even a member of the Houston Astros organization.
“Even if I didn’t have a Carolina teammate I still think I was ready to handle this,” he said. “But it’s similar to getting drafted together. You have someone to share the process with. Holby (Brian Holberton) and I are roommates here so it makes it that much better.”
Alex White, who was finished at UNC before Emanuel got there, is also in the Houston Astros organization. White and Emanuel share the honour of winning the Atlantic Coastal Conference pitcher of the year award, in 2008 and 2013 respectively.
They were able to spend time together last summer while White was rehabbing an injury, an opportunity Emanuel said he took advantage of to gain some insight.
“I talked to him a bunch last summer,” Emanuel said. “It’s cool to know we are in the same organization, hopefully sooner than later we will be in the same rotation.”
The former three time All-American has high expectations for himself but understands there is a lot of work to be done before he can be called up to the big club.
“Baseball is baseball,” Emanuel said. “I’m going to treat it all the same. I am going to try and give the best impression I can and move up as quickly as I can.”