Run down the list of most popular athletes, and many would say they want to be like Mike, or some other name on that level.
This week, folks in South Carolina could make the case for Nick Ciuffo, the Mount Pleasant native who made his MLB debut Monday with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 23-year-old catcher is the latest from the Palmetto State to realize his childhood dream after years of propelling through the farm system.
It won’t be long before a few familiar names join Ciuffo in the majors. With the minor league regular season in the books, here’s a look at how some of those guys performed.
Tyler Johnson: A University of South Carolina product, Johnson has not slowed down since he was first picked up by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.
The right-handed reliever appeared in 41 games this season for the Chicago’s low-level Class A and Class A-Advanced affiliates. He didn’t lose a single game.
Quite the contrary, Johnson posted a 9-0 record this year, with 1.40 ERA, easily one of the best clips in the league. His 89 strikeouts through 58 innings of work is easily impressive.
If Johnson continues producing at this rate, he may find himself in the Windy City sooner than later.
Weston Wilson: A former first baseman for Clemson, Wilson was drafted in 2016 by the Milwaukee Brewers and was called up a couple of weeks ago to help close out the season for the Biloxi Shuckers, the franchise’s double-A affiliate.
He belted 14 homers and 65 RBIs this season, while batting .270. Looking ahead, a full season in double-A could really boost Wilson’s stock.
Bailey Ober: Another name familiar to the Lowcountry, Ober played ball at the College of Charleston before he was picked up last year by the Minnesota Twins. He’s been sidelined since late July, but the starting pitcher was putting together a strong campaign before he went down. His stat line in Class A ball includes a 7-1 record with a 3.84 ERA and 88 punchouts.
Kevin Woodall: He’s only been playing professional ball since June. But Woodall, a Georgetown native who just wrapped up his tenure at Coastal Carolina, is already showing why the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up in this year’s draft.
Through 40 games of rookie ball and the Class A-Short season, Woodall has hammered nine homers and driven in 33 RBIs. His power seems to have carried over from Conway, where he’s finished top two in homers in back-to-back seasons.
It will be fun to see what next season has in store for these guys. As they train through the winter, they can all learn a lesson from Ciuffo, who played at Wando and Lexington high schools.
Consistency and hard work punched Ciuffo’s ticket to Tropicana Field. As cliché as that is, it worked.
So who’s next from the Palmetto State to make the leap? Like a season-finale cliffhanger, we’ll have to wait 'til next year to find out.