COLUMBIA – The wait was worth it.
Summerville native and South Carolina outfielder T.J. Hopkins is on his way to professional baseball after being drafted in the ninth round by Cincinnati Tuesday with the No. 264 overall pick. Seniors often don’t get the guaranteed signing bonus of high-school players or college juniors since they don’t have any bargaining power, but scouts saw enough of Hopkins’ five-tool talent to give him his due.
“It’s really exciting, man, it was a stressful day,” Hopkins said from Summerville. “I was on the phone with 20 different scouts every other hour and I’m glad it’s over with. I wouldn’t change a thing about how my career went and I’m just excited to get started.”
Hopkins wasn't the only player with local ties to be selected on the second day of the Major League Baseball Draft. College of Charleston's pitcher Griffin McLarty was selected in the eighth round by the Baltimore Orioles.
The listed bonus money for that slot for Hopkins is $156,100. Hopkins, who suffered through numerous injuries as a sophomore and junior and started every game for a 28-28 non-postseason team as a senior, turned down similar money last year despite going undrafted for one more season with the Gamecocks.
“His thought process was, if he had to room with four people and make it work, playing ball was all he cared about,” said his father, Timmy Hopkins. “He knew he could come home in the offseason and work camps and do some lessons. And if he wanted to drive the dump trucks with me in my business, he can do that, too. But life is good, man.”
Hopkins fielded calls from the Cardinals, Phillies, Braves and Yankees saying they were interested, and then the Reds saying if he was still on the board in the ninth round, they’d take him. That call came around 5:30 p.m. as part of quite a day for Cincinnati and USC draft connections – the Reds took Hopkins plus USC commitments Tyler Callihan and Ivan Johnson on Tuesday.
Hopkins started 56 games and batted .285 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs this year. He stole 18 bases in 22 tries and won the Tom Price Award for his MVP showing in the rivalry series against Clemson, where he belted three home runs and drove in nine.
“It’s overwhelming,” Hopkins said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Hopkins is set to report to the Reds’ spring training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., on Sunday for his physical. The team will decide where to place him after that, with the Reds’ lower minor-league teams stationed in Billings, Mon.; Dayton, Ohio; and Daytona, Fla.
Meanwhile, when McLarty first stepped onto campus at the College of Charleston in the fall of 2016, the thought of playing professional baseball was the furthest thing on his mind.
Three years later, McLarty became the Cougars’ ace and was taken with the No. 228 pick by the Orioles.
“When I was a freshman, I was only thinking short term,” McLarty said. “I’d worked so hard to get to college, the only thing I was thinking about was getting through that first semester in the classroom and how to survive college and my freshman year. I was just hoping I would get to pitch that spring. I think about all those worries I had back then and how irrelevant they are right now and how much I’ve worked to get to this point.”
McLarty is the first Cougar to be drafted in the opening 10 rounds since the Blue Jays selected third baseman Carl Wise in the fourth round of the 2015 draft.
“Over the last week or so I’ve been getting calls and texts from a bunch of different clubs, but it’s so hard to predict where I’d go,” McLarty said. “I was told that I was a solid second day pick, so this is kind of where I expected to go. I’m super excited to be a part of Orioles organization.”
McLarty delivered a superb junior season as the Cougars’ Friday night starter compiling an 8-4 record with a 1.87 earned run average to earn All-CAA First Team honors. He struck out 116 batters in 101 innings pitched to lead the CAA and rank among the top 20 in the nation. McLarty tossed a pair of complete games this season and allowed more than two earned runs on only four occasions.
“I couldn’t be happier for Griffin, who has come such a long way since the first time I saw him pitch in the fall of 2017,” said College of Charleston head coach Chad Holbrook. “Griffin is the total package. He takes a lot of pride in his craft. He’s as polished a pitcher as I’ve been around in a long, long time. His work ethic, his compete level, his command of the strike zone, his durability are off the charts. He’ll have a long career that I believe will end up in the big leagues.”
McLarty said he plans on signing with Orioles in the next few weeks. His signing bonus is projected to be $186,000.
“This is 100 percent sweet, there is no bittersweet for me in this case,” Holbrook said. “Griffin gets a chance to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball. He is ready for this next step in his life. We want players in our program that have the opportunity as juniors to play professionally. This is a great day for Griffin McLarty and the College of Charleston baseball program. We’re so proud of what Griffin has accomplished.”
McLarty owns a lifetime record of 15-9 with a career ERA of 3.03 in 207.2 innings over 48 appearances. He is fourth all-time in strikeouts per nine innings (10.14), fifth in strikeouts (234), eighth in WHIP (1.13) and ninth in ERA. In his final appearance for the Cougars, McLarty scattered five hits and struck out eight in eight and one-third shutout innings against William & Mary in the CAA Championship.
“Even though you get the call and they said they might take you, I still had that feeling of uncertainty in my stomach,” McLarty said. “Seeing my family’s reaction when my name flashed up there was a dream come true for me. The stressful day was over and I’d finally get a chance to celebrate with everyone that helped me get to where I am today.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina probably lost two of its top signees in their 2019 recruiting class to the draft.
Gamecocks signee Tyler Callihan, a second baseman from Providence School in Jacksonville, Fla., was taken in the top of the third round by Cincinnati. Callihan’s slot value is expected to be $710,000. The Reds then took another South Carolina signee, Ivan Johnson, in the fourth round with the No. 114 selection. His slot money is listed as $507,000.
The Los Angeles Angels selected Winthrop pitcher Zach Peek in the sixth round with the 181st overall pick. Kansas City selected Costal Carolina pitcher Anthony Veneziano in the 10th round with the 290th overall pick and Winthrop’s Nate Pawelczyk was taken by the Chicago White Sox a pick later in the 10th round. The New York Yankees picked USC Aiken pitcher Mitch Spence late in the 10th round.
The deadline for players to sign with a Major League club is July 15 at 5 p.m.