The right-handed pitcher had struggled mightily for the first three years of his college career, finishing his junior season with an 8.31 ERA. Volpe’s playing days seemed destined to end after graduation, but he refused to accept that fate.
“It was a long shot, but I still felt like I had something left,” Volpe said. “I always had that in the back of my mind: ‘One shot left; can’t hold back now. Hopefully, someone sees you.’ And that’s what happened.”
That someone was Gene Kerns, a regional scout in the Atlanta Braves organization.
“I really keyed on him in the Valley League, and he followed through this year at Towson,” Kerns said. “Some guys get better, and that’s what he did between his junior and senior year at Towson. It’s that simple.”
The Valley League is an NCAA-sanctioned summer league that uses wood bats and attracts hordes of Major League scouts. Volpe’s decision to pitch in the league last summer proved to be the turning point in his career.
“I got back to the stuff that allowed me to play at Towson,” Volpe said. “In high school, I would throw two different curveballs. Sometimes a 12-to-6 that would finish in the dirt, and the other one I have is a slurve. It dies down with late breaking movement. I also found a good changeup and started throwing that a lot, so I felt like I had four different pitches that I could throw at anytime.”
After having an undefined role as a junior, Volpe emerged as Towson’s ace this past spring. He led the team with 1022?3 innings pitched — nearly 25 innings more than any of his teammates — and finished 10-3 with a 3.59 ERA.
He put the team on his back in the Colonial Athletic Association playoffs, throwing 139 pitches for the first complete game of his career in the championship game to bring Towson its first conference title since 1991. Volpe was pitching on two days’ rest and had thrown 133 pitches in his previous start.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always knew that this is what I want to do,” Volpe said. “It took awhile, but I always knew that this was a possibility. I went out with a bang.”
Volpe didn’t bother filling out any paperwork for the Major League draft and began preparing to play independent ball, but that all changed when Kerns came calling.
“There are always guys that are missed in the draft,” Kerns said. “I’ve signed four or five in the last few years that weren’t drafted. I wouldn’t say that it happens with a lot of regularity, but it happens.”
Despite going undrafted, Volpe was inked to a minor league deal with the Braves. He is currently rehabbing a dead arm at the Braves’ training facility in Disney, Fla. — an ailment he says is “probably from overuse” — and may have to allow his arm to rest until next season.
He certainly will have a more difficult road than most highly-touted prospects, but Volpe has already defied the odds by simply making it to this point.
“He’s not a guy that you would say is a shoo-in prospect, but he’s certainly a guy that you have to give a chance to,” Kerns said. “Tim Hudson is a guy in the big leagues who only throws in the high 80s, and he’s been pretty good.”
Photos courtesy of Towson Athletics