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How Cabot native Kyler Carmack, still developing as a pitcher, emerged as Arkansas State’s standout arm

by Mitchell Gladstone | May 9, 2023 at 2:45 a.m.
Cabot native Kyler Carmack pitched his way into the Arkansas State rotation and leads the Red Wolves with a 2.77 earned run average this season. (Carla Wehmeyer/Arkansas State Athletics)

Arkansas State Coach Tommy Raffo hinted at the potential in his preseason press conference nearly three months ago.

"We really like what Kyler brings to the table," Raffo said in mid-February. "We need to get him on the bump. He's one of our better arms."

Kyler Carmack, at that point in time, had not pitched a collegiate inning. In fact, he hadn't even played in a game for the Red Wolves after redshirting last season.

But there was a reason why Raffo was effusive of the Cabot native. He'd been able to see what everyone on the outside hadn't.

"Kyler had to go off and work on his skill and get better," Raffo explained of challenging Carmack during his time with the Paducah (Ky.) Chiefs of the Ohio Valley Summer League. "He accepted it, he embraced it, and you could tell when he came back from the summer, there was a little bit of a maturation process that unfolded for him.

"His consistency and his ability to repeat was becoming a high level for him."

If tonight's game between ASU and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock had been played in late February or early March, perhaps Carmack would've gotten the midweek start.

But his early-season efforts showed the right-hander deserved a bigger role. By the time Sun Belt Conference play began in mid-March, Carmack was part of the Red Wolves' weekend rotation, throwing five innings of one-run ball against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"It just builds confidence," Carmack said. "That's what a lot of baseball is about, having that confidence to make a pitch. You miss one, you've got to get the next one."

Everything since has fallen into place.

Carmack leads ASU with 61 2/3 innings pitched and four wins in 14 appearances -- accounting for a quarter of the Red Wolves' victories as a team.

His 2.77 ERA ranks third in the Sun Belt behind only Southern Mississippi's Tanner Hall -- a consensus Preseason All-American -- and Old Dominion's Sam Armstrong and puts Carmack among the top 50 pitchers in all of Division I.

Yet, this is the first time in Carmack's career that pitching has ever been his main focus.

An All-Arkansas Preps first-team selection in 2021, Carmack hit .437 with a 1.186 OPS for a Cabot team that reached the Class 6A state quarterfinals while manning center field for the Panthers. That was on top of playing wideout for Cabot's football team, a perennial 6A contender as well.

But Ronnie Goodwin, Carmack's high school baseball coach, saw a different future for Carmack and encouraged him to climb on the mound a bit more during that senior campaign.

"I could kind of throw the ball hard and I was athletic," Carmack explained. "Coach Goodwin always said I was going to be a pitcher when I was growing up."

The allure of an in-state prospect with two-way potential made recruiting Carmack a no-brainer for Raffo and ASU. The longtime Red Wolves head coach was an assistant at Mississippi State for Jonathan Papelbon and Mitch Moreland, each of whom started as dual-position players.

Both eventually settled into their respective positions -- the former as a closer and the latter at first base -- before becoming All-Stars and playing more than a decade in the majors.

Athleticism, above all, is something Raffo values. It's enabled Carmack to refine his three-pitch mix this season, headlined by a fastball that can touch 95 or 96 miles per hour.

That, plus a changeup and a slider that's developing into Carmack's out pitch, has established the foundation for this breakout season.

And even though it's come in what will be a sixth straight losing season for the Red Wolves, the redshirt freshman has set a high bar for what may come next.

"I don't think we're asking him to be Justin Verlander, I mean, that's not fair," Raffo said. "Be Kyler Carmack, and that, to me, is the person that is improving each week. ... He wants to win and I love that from him."

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