Raleigh, NC – Mike Piper is college baseball’s biggest name heading into the 2018 season. The first overall pick last June, he failed to sign with Bowling Green after their GM proved incapable of doing even regular duties.
“I never even received an offer,” Piper tells me. “Some weird stuff going on in Bowling Green last year.”
Piper is widely expected to be the first overall pick again this June. The Mahoning Valley Scrappers hold the first pick this time, and sources insist they will sign him if he’s the choice.
“Even if he tears his UCL, he might go #1,” a scout for a team picking near the bottom of the round tells me. “He’s the best college pitcher I’ve ever seen.”
Piper’s performance through the league’s first month would seem to back up that assertion.
In the season’s opening game at Florida, rain clouds threatened to delay the season by another day. The game began before the rain did, but there was eventually a 52-minute delay in the game’s 3rd inning. Florida fans were overjoyed, expecting the delay to knock superstar Mike Piper off the mound for NC State. Mr. Piper had other ideas.
Yet to allow a hit through 2 2/3 innings, Piper told his manager, former big leaguer Joey Cora, that he was fine. He was going out there for the final out of the 3rd inning when the rain stopped. And that’s exactly what he did. He struck out Florida’s River Barrett looking to end the inning.
When he got back to the dugout, Cora wanted to take him out.
“Great job Mike,” Cora encouraged. “We’re gonna go to the bullpen though. I have to take care of your arm first and foremost.”
“Like hell you are,” Piper replied. “I’m fine. I’ve been waiting for this game all off-season. You can take me out once I give up a hit, fair enough?”
Cora agreed. Piper was his best player, and he wanted to play. As great as he was, he’d surely give up a hit soon. It was an easy compromise, Cora thought.
The bottom of the 4th was a 5 pitch inning for Piper. No hits allowed. He’d get to pitch the 5th.
In the 5th, Piper struck out the side, again not allowing a hit. Cora’s anxiety about Piper’s arm was no longer there, as anyone with half a brain could see the kid’s arm was electric as ever. However, he was still going to pull him once Florida got a hit. It was the best thing to do for the kid.
NC State finally scored some runs in the 6th inning, giving Piper a 2-0 lead as he jogged out to the mound for the bottom half. Piper pitched another 1-2-3 inning, striking out the first batter before getting two ground ball outs. He’d punched his ticket for yet another inning by not allowing a hit. Cora couldn’t help but smile. Piper controlled whatever he wanted to when he was on that mound.
In the bottom of the 7th, Piper continued his dominance. A fly out and 2 strikeouts, and he had now thrown 7 no-hit innings. He also sat for an hour in the middle of the 3rd inning during the rain delay. The performance had gone from great to other-worldly.
Still a 2-0 game as Piper headed out for the 8th inning, Cora began to get the bullpen ready. Piper’s pitch count was growing, and as soon as he gave up that hit, he’d be pulled. After a lead-off strikeout, Piper walked Jim Lord on 4 pitches. Cora immediately stood up and walked out of the dugout.
After a brief 10 second conversation, Cora headed back to the dugout.
“What’d he say?” The team’s bench coach asked. “He told me he didn’t give up a hit yet and to get back to the dugout. So I did,” Cora said, laughing.
Two pitches later, Piper got out of the 8th inning with a ground ball double play. 8 no-hit innings. This kid was something else.
After getting back-to-back flyouts to begin the 9th, Piper was one out away from his second straight no-hitter. He’d thrown a no-no to end his junior season last year, prior to being the first overall selection. Could he really throw another one in his next collegiate start?
The first pitch of the at-bat brushed the outside corner for strike one. Two strikes away. Piper was about to throw his 128th pitch of the game. He’d struck out 12 Florida batters and walked just 2. The 128th pitch, though, got a little too much of the plate, and River Barrett stroked a single up the middle to break up the no-no. Cora came and took him out of the game.
“I wish you could play for me forever,” Cora told Piper as he took the ball. “You are unbelievable.”
Jose Yanez came out of the bullpen to get the game’s final out, and preserve Piper’s win.
Piper has been just as dominant in his other 3 starts thus far. Against LSU for his next start, Cora had him throw just 83 pitches, worried about his pitch count after the season opener. Piper gave up 1 hit in 6 innings, striking out 11 while walking none.
Piper then threw 7 shutout innings against Florida State, allowing just 2 hits while striking out 8 and again walking nobody. Cora again kept his pitch count reasonable, as he threw just 84 pitches. In his most recent start, against Mississippi, Piper again allowed just 2 hits, this time in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out 9 and yet again walked nobody.
For those keeping track, Piper has now thrown 29 shutout innings in his 4 starts, with a ridiculous 40 strikeouts and just 2 walks. He’s allowed 6 hits in those 29 innings. His WHIP is 0.28, and opponents are hitting .065/.085/.076 off of him, good for an OPS of .161. There’s no word in the English language to describe that kind of dominance.
He’s going to be the number one pick. There’s no doubt.
For Mahoning Valley fans, the future looks brighter than the sun. Anthony Molina and Mike Wheeler are already very highly regarded, and Piper might be a better prospect than both of them. That kind of dominant pitching can carry a team, as Vallejo’s amazing pitching staff has won them back-to-back Premier Cup titles. The Scrappers seem to be following that blueprint.