Cubs Minor League

Cubs Prospect Profile: LHP Burl Carraway

4 years agoLance Brozdowski

The average velocity of a four-seam fastball has increased one-half mile per hour since 2014. Nowhere is this more apparent than in major league bullpens, where a pitcher who can’t hit 94 mph or higher on a routine basis raises more eyebrows than one who touches 97.

In the most recent MLB draft, major league organizations acknowledged that velocity matters – perhaps more than it ever has – by placing a premium on live arms. 

The Cubs selected two pitchers with their first four picks, each with confirmed max velocity of 100 mph or greater. One of those pitchers was left-handed, a true anomaly given the average four-seam fastball thrown by a right-handed pitcher exceeded those from left-handers by over 1.5 mph in 2019.

Burl Carraway is the 6-foot southpaw from Dallas Baptist University (DBU) who earned the Cubs’ attention in the second round, 51st overall. With his recent addition to the Cubs player pool practicing in South Bend, Indiana, his path to the major leagues is already within sight.

Carraway was not always a hard-throwing left-hander. During his freshman year at DBU in 2018, he sat between 89 and 92 mph. But in his pull-downs – a popular method of training where multiple gathering steps are allowed before throwing a ball with maximum effort – Carraway hit over 100 mph.

As he returned from the Coastal Plains League heading into the fall of 2018, his exit meeting with his coaches circled back to his goal of transferring his pull-down velocity to his performance on the mound. His time back home that winter in College Station, Texas, included devotion to the weight room and “home cooking” as he put it in an interview with Marquee Sports Network. The next season, his fastball velocity jumped up and his stock as a prospect soared.

Carraway pitched in only two games during his 2018 freshman season, giving up four runs and recording only one out. The next season after his velocity spike, he carved through the Missouri Valley Conference. Over 41.2 innings, he struck out 72 batters and saved 6 games for DBU. At the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 canceled the college baseball season, Carraway looked unhittable, posting a sub-1.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts in only 9.1 innings. 

The importance of fastball velocity cannot be understated. According to a study done by Driveline Baseball, an athlete who outperforms his fastball velocity projection by more than 1 mph sees a drop in common pitcher effectiveness measures like ERA and FIP of more than two-tenths of a run (source). Last season at the major league level, that big of a swing separated the league average qualified pitcher (around 4.05 FIP) from a Top 25 arm in the game. For a reliever to possess this advantage with their velocity in vital spots late in games can perhaps be one of the single most important factors on the road to success.

Apart from Carraway’s fastball, his primary offspeed pitch is a curveball. A goal of his during his time with other Cubs minor leaguers in South Bend has been commanding the pitch for strikes, an important piece to surviving against major league hitters. His mix profiles similarly to two relievers that have broken out this season with high-velocity fastballs and knee-buckling curveballs: the Indians’ James Karinchak and the Royals’ Josh Staumont. But because Carraway is left-handed he compares himself to hurlers Josh Hader and Aroldis Chapman.

DBU gave Carraway the foundation to prosper as the league embraces technology and velocity. Now the Cubs, with their notable offseason investment in technology and progressive coaching – Craig Breslow and Justin Stone – have the ability to make Carraway into a household name at the back end of a core of relievers that has been inside the Top 7 in the league in lowest ERA for the past three seasons.

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