The hype behind Austin DeCarr’s prized arm has been out for a while -- three years now, going back to his sophomore season of 2011 at Xaverian Brothers High School, when scouts clocked his velocity at 91 mph. But it took him putting the ball down for things to finally turn up.
In his final two years at Xaverian, the Foxborough native never was able to pitch a full season because of a combination of precautionary maintenance and some elbow issues. After missing most of his junior season in 2012, he came on late to play an integral part of the Hawks’ Division 1 state championship run out of the bullpen, most significantly earning the save in an epic Eastern Mass. final with top-ranked Lowell.
Last spring, he made seven starts, then watched from the dugout as the defending state champs bowed out in the first round of the MIAA South tournament to Norwood. One month after the season ended, in July, DeCarr gave a commitment to Clemson University after topping out at 93 mph in a series of showcase events with the Scott Patterson-coached North East Baseball club.
And then when he arrived at Salisbury (Conn.) School in the fall for a post-graduate year, he did something he’d never done in his whole life -- he stopped throwing. Aside from the occasional football toss with friend David Maaghul, the school’s quarterback, DeCarr went five months without picking up a ball of any sort.
At Xaverian, when DeCarr wasn’t on the mound, he was on the gridiron, taking snaps under center as the Hawks’ quarterback. In either sport, it doesn’t do any good to constantly throw a ball all year round. This was new to him.
“The first time I threw again was probably the first or second week of December, in the gym [at Salisbury],” DeCarr said. “It felt the same, it wasn’t like I lost feel for throwing or anything, but I felt like I was a lot more confident, being 10-15 pounds stronger and all of that.”
And it showed this spring. Heading into the season, one American League scout said DeCarr was the top high school draft prospect in New England, with a chance to go in the top three rounds. He lived up to the hype, topping out at 97 this spring and hitting the 92-95 range with regularity. His best outing came on May 12, his second-to-last outing of the season, when he struck out 19 batters in a win over Taft (Conn.) and drew the praise of Peter Gammons.
“Basically I’ve always been a shortstop and I was just starting to learn the differences of pitching,” DeCarr said. “I had to develop a lot more as a pitcher, that was really hindering with my mechanics. To go from a 16-year-old kid throwing out of the bullpen to an 18-, 19-year-old throwing high velocity in outings ... Getting ahead of hitters, knowing how to really pitch, my arm felt really good. I needed this extra year as far as extra development as a pitcher.”
A longtime client of the Hudson-based Cressey Performance, a renowned haven for many of the area’s top high school prospects, DeCarr also sharpened his focus on lower-body strength this offseason. Cressey’s tailor-made strength programs are designed to maximize power without sacrificing flexibility; an assortment of squats, deadlifts and reverse lunges had him feeling fresher this year.
“Football guys are always bashing out bench presses and cleaning, which is great for football,” DeCarr said. “If you do that in pitching, the more you bench the tighter you’re going to get, the tighter the chest and shoulders get, throwing a baseball is not going to work. Your legs are what are going to carry you through a game.”
Matt Blake, the pitching coordinator at Cressey and an assistant at Lincoln-Sudbury High, felt the rest during the fall did DeCarr a lot of good.
“The way he came out originally when he was throwing 88-91 as a sophomore, if you said two years later he’d be throwing 93-96 that would make sense to me,” he said. “But the way he had setbacks, and the mental aspects of that making things a little more challenging, if you said last spring that a kid throwing 86 miles an hour was going to throw 96 in a year, I might have said you were crazy.
“The difference was how he continued to work and develop over the summer, with his hand speed starting to show itself again, and then getting a full rest period in the fall -- which is something he never had before -- and the diligence with which he prepared in the offseason, it did make sense to see him hit 95.”
And now, after all of that toiling, comes the waiting game. DeCarr’s draft projection varies from scout to scout; Baseball America ranks him as the No. 68 prospect, but he is not in ESPN MLB Insider Keith Law’s latest top 100. There are some things to clean up with DeCarr going forward, but almost all scouts agree that there is too much raw ability and potential not to take a shot.
“He’s a big, strong kid who’s athletic. He’s above his peers in terms of having some nice stuff instead of pure projection,” one National League scout said. “He hasn’t had many miles on his arm. The fact is that over the span of development of a player, he’s still relatively early, relatively new to it.”
DeCarr is Massachusetts’ highest-profile high school prospect since Lawrence Academy righty Tyler Beede, an Auburn resident with 94-mph velocity and three plus-pitches who turned down $2.3 million from the Toronto Blue Jays after being selected 21st overall in 2011 to play at Vanderbilt. One American League scout said DeCarr’s curve is better than Beede’s was at his age.
“I’d say his breaking ball has become more advanced than Tyler’s was at this point,” the scout said. “I’d say he’s got a bigger breaking ball, maybe not thrown quite as hard at times as Tyler’s, but it’s got a little more depth and shape to it. But Ty pitched off his changeup more in high school, so they’re a little different in that sense.”
Right now, DeCarr says he is “very committed” to Clemson, saying he has the “utmost respect” for head coach Jack Leggett and pitching coach Dan Pepicelli. But being a sandwich-round pick -- or even, dare we say, a late first-round pick -- could change the complexion of things.
“Being drafted that high would obviously be a tremendous honor,” he said. “I’ve really respected the amount of interest from the 30 teams. It would obviously be a big decision to make, one I’d have to sit down and talk about with my parents, my advisor. My gut is my best decision.”