SPOKANE, WA - The story of the String Bean Slinger is the stuff of legends. Born and raised in the rural community of Prosperity (population 1,000) Carl "C.J." Edwards honed his craft in the backwoods baseball leagues of South Carolina. Edwards grew up playing with his dad - Carl Senior to his Carl Junior- and uncle in what was known as either the "Bush League" or the "Sandlot League". Despite competing as a teenager against grown men in their 30's and 40's, C.J. dominated the league. Still, due to his slender frame and remote location, he continued to fly under the radar of all but one baseball scout.
That scout was Chris Kemp, who spent two seasons playing in the Rangers farm system including a 36-game stint with Spokane in 2006, before being hired by Texas to scour for talent in South Carolina, North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Kemp was able to look past Edwards' size - he was 6'2" and about 140 pounds at the time - to see a potential diamond in the rough.
"He was this really skinny but athletic kid going up against these adults," Kemp said. "I didn't have my [radar] gun with me, but I could tell he had the chance to throw hard. It wasn't extremely strong stuff, though. His breaking ball had spin, but it was still up in the zone. But you knew because he'd grown up and played against older guys - you could see what kind of heart he had. It kind of felt like holding a winning lottery ticket"
The Rangers took a chance on that lottery ticket, selecting Edwards in the 48th round of the 2011 draft. He didn't pitch at all that year but burst onto the scene in 2012 with a strong showing between the AZL and Spokane where he finished the year with a 2.11 ERA and 60 strikeouts in just 47 innings. Edwards was a fan favorite with the Indians and earned his nickname the "String Bean Slinger" as despite growing another inch to 6'3", C.J. still weighed just 150 pounds. Although it seemed like Edwards disappeared when he turned sideways, his performance that year made sure he wouldn't go unnoticed.
"When I first saw him get on a mound in instructs, I was sitting next to Danny Clark, I think, and I just said, 'What round did we draft this guy in?'" said Storm Davis, then pitching coach for the Rangers' Class A affiliate in Hickory, N.C. "I'm from the South, too, so I have an idea where he grew up and where he's from. But I don't know how someone didn't catch him. That's not 48th-round stuff. I've seen first-rounders that didn't have stuff as good as him."
CJ's season with Spokane earned him national recognition with Baseball America naming him the No. 8 prospect in the Northwest League and MLB.com placing him at No. 20 in the Rangers organization. He backed up that acclaim with a stellar 2013 season for the Hickory Crawdads before being traded to the Chicago Cubs as part of the Rangers' deadline deal for Matt Garza.
He didn't skip a beat once he joined the Cubs' organization, striking out seven consecutive batters in his first start with their High-A affiliate. Edwards helped his new team reach the playoffs where he delivered ten scoreless innings over two starts to help Daytona clinch the Florida State League Championship.
The young right-hander battled through injuries the next two years before making a cameo appearance with the Cubs at the end of 2015. He struggled in his initial taste of big league action but has been lights out for Chicago this year as the Northsiders look for their World Series title since 1908.
"Confidence. Major-league confidence," said Chicago manager Joe Maddon when discussing the difference between Edwards in 2015 and this year. "He's a confident, young major-league pitcher right now that I think finally believes he belongs here."
Edwards has 3.38 ERA this season with 33 strikeouts in 24 innings. He's shined brightest in big moment including on August 10 when he was called in to protect a 2-0 Cubs lead over the Angels. Edwards retired LA's 3-4-5 hitters in order highlighted by a strikeout of two-time MVP Mike Trout and a weak groundout from future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols. Although Carl has firmly established himself as a key part of the Cubs future, he's not content to just rest on his laurels.
"I know what I have right now and I know I've got more inside of me," he said. "That's what keeps me driven all the way. Hard work is paying off, but it's not done. It won't pay off completely until I've been in this league for 15 years or so."
Carl recently took time out from a National League Pennant chase to catch up with the Spokane Indians.
Spokane Indians (SI): What is your best memory from your time in Spokane?
Carl Edwards (CE): My best memory with the Indians was that time when Joey Gallo hit the ball to the McDonalds [laughs].
SI: What do you miss most?
CE: The fireworks on Friday nights and the great fans.
SI: Favorite mascot - OTTO, Doris, Recycle Man?
SI: What's it like playing on the Cubs with All-Stars like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant?
CE: It feels awesome to be on a team like this with such great players.
SI: Toughest big league hitter you've faced?
CE: LOL. All of them!
SI: Is this the year the Cubs win the World Series?
CE: Yes, I feel like this is the year.
SI: Goals for the rest of this season and beyond?
CE: Finish strong.
SI: Anything else you'd like to tell the Spokane fans?
CE: I really enjoyed my time there. Thanks for everything!
About the Indians
The Indians are the Short Season Class "A" affiliate for the Texas Rangers. For more information, please visit www.spokaneindians.com or call (509) 343-6886 (OTTO).