Jake Higginbotham has seen his share of adversity, dealing with elbow and shoulder problems for two years before getting to pitch a full season at Clemson this spring.
The 2015 Buford High graduate made the most of that chance, and on Wednesday, June 6, the Atlanta Braves picked him in the 11th round of the MLB draft. He went No. 322 overall.
“I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, and I’m excited to get going,” the left-hander said in a phone interview with The Times.
The redshirt sophomore will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility with the Tigers. Higginbotham said he was thankful for Clemson as “they never gave up on me.” But his injuries and being 22 years old are part of why he is leaving.
“It just seemed like the right time to take the next step in my career,” Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham was 6-1 with a 3.47 ERA, 63 strikeouts and 32 walks in 2018 as Clemson went 47-16, won the ACC Atlantic Division and hosted an NCAA tournament regional.
Higginbotham’s catcher at Buford, Georgia Tech’s Joey Bart, was taken at No. 2 overall in the draft Monday, June 4.
Tony Wolfe, Higginbotham’s coach at Buford and now the athletic director at the school, was especially excited the Braves selected his former pitcher.
“I’ve already been plotting where he might get sent and how quickly he could get to Rome and eventually Gwinnett,” Wolfe said.
The Rome Braves are the single-A affiliate for the Braves, and the Gwinnett Stripers are the franchise’s triple-A team.
Wolfe particularly enjoyed watching Higginbotham pitch against Vanderbilt in the NCAA regional. At 6 feet and 170 pounds, the lefty isn’t a prototypical pitcher for scouts, Wolfe said, but his intelligence and mechanics are two of his greatest assets.
“When his curveball is right, he’s really hard to hit,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said it’s amazing to look back at the 2015 Buford roster that included Bart, Higginbotham and current minor league players Brandon Marsh (Angels organization) and Connor Bennett (Reds organization), among others.