- - Tuesday, May 1, 2018

HAGERSTOWN, MD | Nick Raquet grew up near State College, Pennsylvania, the son of parents who valued education.

He was not only a good student, but a standout pitcher — and his dream of attending a baseball powerhouse in the Atlantic Coast Conference came true when he enrolled at North Carolina.

But after one year, Raquet decided to leave UNC and transfer to William & Mary, an elite academic institution and a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. And that one year with the Tribe helped jumpstart a pro career, which began last June when he was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the third round.

“I didn’t think it was the best fit for me,” he said of leaving UNC, where he pitched in just 12 games out of the bullpen as a freshman in 2015. “I thought my career was better served elsewhere. It just felt like the best decision for me to get where I wanted to go.”

Where he wanted to be was in professional baseball. Now ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the Washington minor league system by MLB.com, he’s the first pitcher from the 2017 draft to advance to full-season Hagerstown.



Never mind the long bus rides and meager monthly pay — Raquet is following his dream.

“Obviously this is the best job in the world, in my opinion,” said Raquet, 22, standing outside the Hagerstown clubhouse following a recent day game. “It is great to be at the park every day.”

Most Division I college starting pitchers throw once a week, normally on the weekend in conference play during a standard three-game series.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the competitive fire for the six-footer.

“I just felt like in college you feel like you are waiting, waiting (to pitch). It is more fun to get out there. If you have a bad outing (in the minors) you have three or four more days to work on your stuff,” he said. “I love the fast pace. You have to come every single day and you have to be able to bring the energy level every single day.”

Fortunately for the Nationals, he has a pitching repertoire that matches his desire to excel, though it may be a few years before he shows up at Nationals Park.

He has a fastball in the mid-90s to go with along with a solid change-up, curve and slider.

In his first five starts this season, he was 2-2 with a 2.28 ERA with the Suns and held opposing batters to an average of .210 while giving up just 21 hits (and only one homer) in 27 and two-thirds innings. He threw six scoreless innings April 28 in a win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves.

Paul Menhart, the minor league pitching coordinator for the Nationals, said the academic and cerebral background of Raquet aids his approach to dissecting minor league batters.

“He is a student galore. He is almost analytical to a fault. He is a perfectionist. He wants to get better in everything he does,” said Menhart, who pitched in the big leagues from 1995-97 with Toronto, Seattle and San Diego.

“He is a full-energy type of kid with plus (above average) pitches. He is very interesting in knowing what he wants to do on the mound,” Menhart said.

Raquet made his minor league debut last year for Auburn in the short-season New-York Penn League, posting an ERA of 2.45 in 11 starts. That led to a promotion to Hagerstown.

“He made a very nice impression on us,” said Mark Scialabba, the director of player development for the Nationals. “He is a power arm from the left side. We like what we see so far.”

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