On a path to the pros?

Widell likely to be selected in MLB draft, but could opt to play at North Carolina first

Ryley Widell had an 8-2 record and a 1.98 ERA for Central Arizona Junior College this year, striking out 115 batters in 95-2/3 innings. • BLADE ROBINSON photo

Over the last year, things have developed for Ryley Widell at a speed that rivals one of his fastballs.

After a freshman season at Washington State that didn’t go as planned, Widell found success at Central Arizona Junior College, and the 6-foot-4 King Kekaulike High School graduate is now a top-200 prospect with the Major League Baseball draft starting today.

Widell is coming off a season with Central Arizona during which he went 8-2 with a 1.98 ERA. In 17 appearances — all but one of them starts — the left-hander had 115 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings while allowing 59 hits and 39 walks.

That has made him MLBpipeline.com’s 190th-ranked prospect a year after going 1-2 with an 8.85 ERA at Washington State, which led to a mutual parting of the ways between Widell and the Cougars.

The draft’s first two rounds, and two “competitive balance rounds,” will take place today. The third through 10th rounds are scheduled for Tuesday, and things conclude with rounds 11-40 on Wednesday.

“Just trying to stick to the plan. It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional baseball,” Widell said.

Even if his name is called, though, Wi­dell isn’t certain to go pro. He has accepted a scholarship to play at North Carolina.

“I’ve been getting phone calls, texts from Chapel Hill trying to make sure that I go to Chapel Hill,” Widell said.

“It’s a win-win situation: (Play for) one of the best teams in the country or the draft. I would say it’s stressful, but it’s good stress.”

Widell’s turnaround began in a college summer league last year — we went 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings for the Corvallis (Ore.) Knights, and signed with the Tar Heels in November. First came a year with Central Arizona — meaning he was in the middle of Major League Baseball spring training territory for the 2017 season.

“Even though it’s a junior college, there’s a lot of good talent that comes out of Arizona and that conference,” Widell said. “Every game was really tough. It was really fun, really nasty. I found myself and became the pitcher that I always thought I could be.”

Widell will likely have teammates drafted this week. The Vaqueros finished the year 42-23, reaching the Western District tournament championship round before falling one win short of the junior college World Series.

“We had 17 sophomores and 14 of them were committed to (Division I college teams) and every single one of them was committed to a really good D-II or a good four-year university, so we had some really good talent,” Widell said. “We had me going to Chapel Hill, a couple guys going to Tulane, a couple guys going to the University of Missouri, Grand Canyon University. We had all sorts. It was really kind of cool.”

His video on MLB.com says: “He’ll throw his fastball in the 87-92 (mph) range, typically sitting around 89-90 and maintaining that throughout a start. His best secondary pitch is his changeup and he’s not afraid to throw it back-to-back. Widell will throw two different breaking balls, a slurvy slider-type pitch and a harder curveball.”

King Kekaulike coach Mark Makimoto said Widell is the first player from the school to play NCAA Division I baseball on scholarship, and would be the first to play professional baseball.

“He’s just a guy who made the most of his opportunities, worked hard to get where he is,” Makimoto said. “A lot of stuff he did on his own. I mean offseason throwing programs, just him getting stuff done.

“When he comes home he will always get out on the field and try to talk to the guys, throw around a little bit. It’s great for those kids to see him and know that he doesn’t forget where he came from.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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