(Photo credit to Keith Allison, Wiki Creative Commons, seen here)
The Atlantic Sun Conference may not be known for too much when it comes to high-profile teams, but the individual players — specifically two American League Cy Young candidates — have something to say about that.
Corey Kluber played for Stetson University in the mid-2000s, while Chris Sale pitched for Florida Gulf Coast in the late-2000s. Both of these tremendous pitchers were honored with the Atlantic Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year award in their junior seasons (Kluber in 2007, Sale in 2010).
Kluber went undrafted in his first try at the MLB Draft in 2004, and followed that up with a slow start to his collegiate career, posting a 7.82 ERA in his freshman season for Stetson. He transitioned into a starter for his sophomore season and turned it around to the tune of a 6-5 record and a 3.61 ERA. He peaked in his third season with a 12-2 record, a 2.05 ERA and 117 strikeouts.
The ace was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 draft to the San Diego Padres. He didn’t perform well for the Padres in their minor league system and wasn’t listed as a top-30 prospect for the club when they shipped him to the Indians in 2010.
Kluber won the 2014 AL Cy Young Award with his combination of his high-90s fastball and a nasty breaking ball that resembles both a slider and a curveball. He mixes in an above-average sinker and a decent cutter to complete a solid arsenal of weapons.
You can’t bring up a pitcher with an insane arsenal of weapons without mentioning Sale’s name. Sale sports a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a low-80s changeup and a slider that is among the best the game has ever seen. His slider, paired with his inverted “W” delivery, has a career whiff rate of 43 percent.
He was originally drafted in the 21st round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies, but decided to attend Florida Gulf Coast University instead. He conquered his counterparts in his junior season en route to an 11-0 record with a 2.01 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 103 innings, taking home Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year honors in the process.
The Chicago White Sox made Sale their first-round selection (13th overall) in the 2010 MLB Draft. He would only make 11 appearances in the minor leagues before being promoted to the Major League level.
After six dominant seasons in Chicago, the White Sox front office traded him to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.
Kluber paced the AL in ERA with a 2.25 mark, in wins with 18 and in WHIP at 0.87, while Sale finished in second in ERA with a 2.90 and in WHIP at 0.97. Sale, who won 17 games, led the AL in strikeouts with 308, as Kluber finished in second with 265.
The National League also sported two astounding pitchers in 2017 in Max Scherzer, and Clayton Kershaw, who led his Los Angeles Dodgers to a National League pennant.
Scherzer played his college ball at the University of Missouri. In his sophomore year in 2005, he was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year after finishing with a 9-4 record, a 1.86 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and 131 strikeouts in 106 ⅓ innings.
He was drafted in the first round (11th overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2006 MLB Draft. After making 37 combined starts for the Diamondbacks in 2008 and 2009, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in a deal that brought Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to the desert. That trade obviously didn’t pan out for Arizona, as Scherzer would go on to win the 2013 AL Cy Young Award.
In 2015, Scherzer signed a gigantic seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals where he has been dominant since day one. He would add his second career Cy Young Award in 2016 following a season with a 20-7 record and 284 strikeouts.
On the mound, Scherzer mixes four pitches into his plan of attack with a four-seam fastball, that tops off in the upper-90s, a mid-80s slider, a mid-80s changeup and an upper-70s curveball that he rarely uses. This mix of pitches allowed him to finish first in the NL in strikeouts with 268 and first in WHIP with a 0.90 mark.
Kershaw’s path to the MLB took a different path than the three pitchers discussed so far. The lefty attended Highland Park High School with Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. In 2006, Kershaw went 13-0 with a 0.77 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 64 innings. He parlayed his efforts into being selected in the first round (seventh overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2006 MLB Draft.
He has made it to seven consecutive All-Star games from 2011-to-2017, has won three NL Cy Young Awards (2011, 2013, 2014) and won the NL MVP in 2014.
This season, Kershaw missed over a month with an injury, but he was his typical self whenever he was healthy, as he still led the National League in wins with 18 and in ERA with a 2.31 mark.
He uses a mid-to-upper-90s fastball that has nasty late movement, a mid-80s slider, and a low-70s 12-6 curveball to keep hitters off balance. His deception on the mound leads to him having one of the best pick-off moves in the game as well. He is one of the best pitchers we will ever see, and what he does on the mound is truly beautiful.
All four of these pitchers are more than deserving of taking home some hardware to put on their mantles, but only two of them will be able to be honored as the best pitchers of the 2017 MLB season.