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T-Rat Talk: KC Hunt

Former Mississippi State pitcher, Pirates draft pick "really excited" to move forward in Brewers organization
July 1, 2024

K.C. Hunt started the 2024 season with the Carolina Mudcats where he dominated Carolina League competition before he was called up to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on May 14. The only thing he has slowed down for since is to talk with Kyle Lobner for this edition of T-Rat Talk.

K.C. Hunt started the 2024 season with the Carolina Mudcats where he dominated Carolina League competition before he was called up to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on May 14. The only thing he has slowed down for since is to talk with Kyle Lobner for this edition of T-Rat Talk.

Players often follow unusual paths to success in Minor League Baseball, but Timber Rattlers pitcher K.C. Hunt’s road to Wisconsin took a detour that is unusual even by those standards.

In 2022 Hunt had already spent three years pitching primarily out of the bullpen at Mississippi State when he had a breakout summer in the MLB Draft League, posting a 2.65 ERA across four starts for the Trenton Thunder and striking out 26 batters in 17 innings. The Draft League is a showcase for draft-eligible talent and Hunt’s performance there drew exactly the reaction one might expect: The Pirates selected him in the 12th round.

On paper the stars seemed to have aligned for Hunt, whose middle name is “Clemente” after Pirates legend and Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, his father’s favorite player. Hunt, however, opted to bet on himself and return to Mississippi State for his senior season.

“They called me. (Pirates scout Darren Mazeroski) called me and told me they were going to take me here (in the 12th round). And you know, it’s funny, my dad was a Clemente guy growing up, he was his favorite player. So it was hard, but I kind of stuck to my guns a little bit and wanted to go back to school and figure it out from there. It kind of worked out. But that was really cool, getting the experience of being drafted,” Hunt said.

Hunt returned to Mississippi State for his senior season and set career highs in games (23), innings (39) and strikeouts (55), striking out 28% of the batters he faced. He did so against some of the nation’s toughest competition: Every SEC team had at least one player selected in the first eight rounds of the 2023 MLB Draft. The list includes three of the top four selections and 27 of the first 120. It’s an environment that Hunt says prepared him for success at the next level.

You’re facing guys every night that are really good, first rounders and second rounders. A bunch of guys. (#2 overall pick) Dylan Crews. So yeah, it helps you grow in a way and get prepared for pro ball,” Hunt said.

Hunt went undrafted following that season but he didn’t have to wait long to sign his first professional contract. The Brewers got in touch with him quickly, and Hunt said he knew he’d be signing with them by the next day.

“I was at (then Virginia catcher) Kyle Teel’s, the first rounder for the Red Sox, I was at his draft party when I got the call. So that was pretty cool, he was my best friend growing up. That was pretty cool to be able to celebrate each other there,” Hunt said.

While every player dreams of getting to be a MLB Draft pick and the signing bonus and prestige that comes with it, players that aren’t selected do get one advantage: They get to choose where they start their pro career.

“Being with the Brewers is awesome,” Hunt said. “It’s a great organization, they really develop some pitchers. So I’m really excited going forward and I’m looking for a good career here, as anyone would.”

The Brewers have had a great deal of success turning less-heralded pitching prospects into significant contributors by helping them find a pitch, a mechanical adjustment or a velocity increase that unlocks something in their development. In Hunt’s case, however, the difference has more to do with a change in pitch mix than the pitches themselves.

“Coming out of college, I didn’t really know when to throw what and where to throw what,” Hunt said. “So they kind of helped me with that, kind of just gave me a little bit of confidence throwing each pitch and knowing that my stuff is pretty good and it’ll play well in pro ball. They do a really good job, and you trust them with everything.”

As a professional, Hunt experienced near-immediate success to reinforce that trust in the process. He pitched in four regular season games in relief for the Arizona Complex League Brewers during their run to a league championship in 2023, then dominated across eight relief outings for Low-A Carolina to open the 2024 season. Hunt had a 1.42 ERA across 19 innings for the Mudcats and struck out 32 of the 72 batters he faced. Since being promoted to Wisconsin he’s continued that success, carrying a 3.10 ERA across seven outings and striking out 40 of 117 batters.

With that success has come a new challenge, however: Hunt pitched in relief in 50 of his 53 appearances in college and hadn’t been a full-time starting pitcher since his senior year of high school. With Wisconsin, however, after three outings in long relief he started slotting into the rotation.

“I enjoy it. You know when you’re throwing and you know what to do each day, so that kind of helps. You settle in with everything,” Hunt said.

If Hunt needed time to adjust to being a starting pitcher, he didn’t show it. He logged five shutout innings in his first professional start in June 6, then went six shutout innings and allowed just one hit in his second start at West Michigan on June 13. The latter outing earned him Midwest League Pitcher of the Week honors, making him the first Timber Rattler to win that award this season.

“It’s just the fastball execution combined with the good breaking ball,” Timber Rattlers manager Victor Estevez told the Timber Rattlers Review postgame podcast following Thursday’s game, where Hunt allowed one run over five innings. “He isn’t afraid to throw the breaking ball in any counts, and I feel like he had a lot of swings and misses which is really helpful. I feel like today (Thursday) when they got runners on second and third he was able to strike out the guys, and that’s what makes Hunt valuable out there.”

It’s possible one of the most exciting things about Hunt’s early success is the potential for continued growth: As someone who is already experiencing success while pitching regularly as a starter for the first time, there would seem to be more room to improve as he gains experience and gets comfortable in this role. For the same reason, however, it’s not surprising that he described the biggest thing he needs to work on as “a little bit of everything.”

“That’s probably cliché, but definitely a little bit of everything. Getting stronger. Continuing to learn about these hitters, how they’re adapting. I’m really excited, and I love learning about stuff,” Hunt said.