Braden Webb saw his future as a baseball player headed down one of two paths as he pitched as a senior at Owasso High School in Oklahoma.
Rated as one of the top high school pitchers in the country in 2014, Webb was set to be a high draft pick in the MLB draft. Hewould either begin his professional baseball career, or play for South Carolina, a program he fell in love with while watching the Gamecocks on television.
But one pitch left Webb questioning if his once promising career would end without ever getting started.
Webb began his senior season 2-0 with two no-hitters, looking to lead Owasso to a second straight state title. But during his third start he delivered a pitch and immediately knew something was wrong.
“I felt my arm pop. I was like, ‘This isn’t right,’ ” Webb recalled. “A lot of emotions were going through my head. I was thinking to myself like there goes my chance at playing at the next level. There goes my chance at the draft.”
He had suffered a severe arm injury that would require Tommy John surgery. Webb’s high school career was over, and his chance of getting drafted in 2014 was gone as well. His next step was to tell USC coach Chad Holbrook, and he received some encouraging news.
“I just really respected the fact that when I called the coaches and told them. they were like, ‘We’re going to honor you and your scholarship,’ ” Webb said.
He then got to work to prove to USC’s coaches they had made the right decision.
Webb took the 2015 season off from school and underwent a grueling rehab process before training in Maryland with a former coach from his AAU team. He was drafted in the 38th round of the 2015 MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians but honored his commitment to South Carolina.
He finally arrived at USC last fall, eager to prove that he was healthy and ready to perform.
Webb was sensational during fall scrimmages and preseason scrimmages and earned a spot in USC’s weekend rotation as a freshman. His first time pitching in a game since 2014 came last Saturday against Albany, and he earned the win, allowing one hit and two earned runs in five innings.
“The stuff was outstanding. He probably was just a little bit too amped up and that probably affected the command of his off-speed pitches,” Holbrook said. “He’s probably got to go back to the drawing board a little bit and say, ‘I had a learning experience against college hitters. I have to get my curve ball and changeup over the plate and work ahead in the count a little bit better.’ He’s got all the tools to be a special one for us.”
Webb’s time at South Carolina could be short-lived because he will be eligible for the draft following his freshman season. He will be 21 in April and joked recently, “I’m probably the oldest freshman in America.”
He isn’t thinking about his future yet, though. Instead, he’s focused on helping the Gamecocks bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season.
Webb’s next chance comes Saturday as the Gamecocks begin a three-game series with Penn State Friday at 4 p.m.
“Taking a year off makes me feel like I’m still pretty young mentally. Physically I’m a little bit older than everybody else. It’s been good working with guys and younger freshmen to keep me healthy and keep me pushed,” Webb said. “I’m a lot better mentally and I feel better physically than I was in high school… I feel ready.”