Pitcher of the year: East Rowan’s Padgett taking thinking man’s approach, talents to UNC

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 19, 2022

By David Shaw

For the Salisbury Post

GRANITE QUARRY — There is no formula to quantify what Cameron Padgett meant to the East Rowan baseball team this spring.

There’s no linear equation, no mind-twisting quadratic or standard deviation to measure what the Houdini-like right-handed pitcher routinely delivered from 60 feet, 6 inches. There is simply a trove of gushing testimony from those who witnessed a season braided with both joy and despair, culminating with his second consecutive Patrick Snider Memorial Award as Rowan County’s pitcher of the year.

“In my book, it’s a big deal,” Padgett said during a mid-week interview at Staton Field. “It’s good to know your work is being recognized. It means I was the best pitcher in the county. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t the goal we were looking for. The cards have to fall your way and this year, they just didn’t.”

Indeed. While the 25-5 Mustangs fell five victories short of winning a 3A state title, Padgett’s contribution was immense. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound craftsman won his first 10 decisions before suffering a season-ending, third-round loss to eventual champion South Rowan on May 17. Six times he hurled complete-game shutouts. And in 75.1 innings pitched, he struck out 115 batters, walked 22 and yielded only six earned runs. That’s an ERA of 0.56, not some random call on Bingo night.

“He was a great high school pitcher for four years,” said East coach Brett Hatley. “He always had this determination, this grit. He was a bulldog on the mound.”

What Padgett had in abundance was command and control of the strike zone. Using a four-pitch arsenal that resembled the Pebble Beach Golf Links — beautiful to look at, difficult to conquer — he toiled with visible confidence, serving up a buffet of unhittable pitches and manipulating opposing lineups the way Dizzy Gillespie could work a trumpet. His fastball was more polish than power, topping out in the low 90s. His curve, changeup and newly minted slider baffled hitters, forcing them to play at his pace. In 12 starts, including two in the playoffs, Padgett held opponents to a paltry .165 average.

“All of his pitches are money pitches,” noted East catcher Tristan Miller, a .292 hitter in ’22. “It seemed like each of them had a different purpose and moved in a different direction. His changeup looked like his fastball. If there’s one word to describe his pitching, it’s effortless. He’s very fluid, very focused, very confident. When he’s out there, the mound is the only place he wants to be.”

“I’m not the most overpowering pitcher,” Padgett acknowledged. “But I get a lot of strikeouts from keeping hitters off-balance, getting them mixed up in their own heads. My mindset wasn’t to strike everybody out. I just wanted them to hit it where my fielders were.”

Padgett has always been a thinking man’s pitcher. This year, his knack for artful deception made him a swing-and-a-miss specialist.

“Watching him pitch is different from watching anyone else pitch,” offered Hatley. “I would have to call it swagger. He was always in rhythm with the game.”

The lone exception came in his final varsity appearance at South Rowan, where an overflow crowd watched the Raiders score seven fourth-inning runs en route to an 8-3 victory. Padgett exhausted his pitch count after 4 2/3 innings, surrendered eight hits and walked four.

“It was the biggest game in Rowan County history,” he said. “There were 2,200 tickets sold, but that doesn’t include the other thousand who snuck behind the fence for free. Then they put up seven on me in one inning. I felt just as good as I had for any other game. It was one bad inning. Of course, South had some fast kids, the best 1-2-3 hitters in the state and they all battled really well with two strikes. Guys like that, you do all you can to get them out or pitch around them. But at some point, you’ve got to hope they get themselves out.”

Now it’s on to UNC-Chapel Hill, the school he fell in love with as a youngster and signed with in November.

He reports today  and begins summer tutoring, weight lifting and agility training on Monday. Hatley says he spoke with UNC pitching coach Bryant Gaines and was told Padgett will not be red-shirted.

“They have high expectations for him,” Hatley reported. “They’re going to put some weight on him and he’ll turn a few heads. You can compare it to (West Rowan graduate) Austin Love, who went up there. He was probably throwing 85-86 (mph) in high school and by his fourth year he was throwing 97. Now he’s playing in the Cardinals organization.”

Padgett would love to follow a similar path, though he drew lukewarm interest from Oakland’s scouting staff this spring. The MLB draft is scheduled July 17-19 in Los Angeles. “I might get drafted low, but for me to get swayed out of school it would have to be in the first three rounds. It doesn’t look like that’ll happen.”

For now he’ll bide his time, bulk up and prepare for a future draft.

“The end goal is to get drafted, but we’ll see what happens,” he said. “Feels like college is the way to go for me. I’ll put on some weight and break down everything about pitching with some smart coaches, one-on-one. That’s something I’ve never really had. The people at Carolina were very encouraging. They made me feel like I have something other people don’t.”

He does — and it’s something you can’t quantify.

Stories on the coach and player of the year, as well as the all-county baseball team, will be upcoming in the Post.