Curiosity got the best of North Hall graduate Jared Oliver as he stopped at a red light on the way home last week.
Hoping for any updates on whether he had been taken in Saturday’s final round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Oliver came to a stop and refreshed the draft tracker app on his phone. When the app reloaded, the Truett-McConnell pitcher was in for a shock.
“My name popped up, and it said ‘Boston Red Sox,’” said Oliver on Tuesday. “About that time that I saw it, I get a friend texting me, saying ‘The Red Sox, what the crap?’ And then a scout calls me … I answered the phone and the first thing they say is ‘Congratulations,’ and I said ‘I didn’t even know you all were involved.’ For two hours, I didn’t know what to think. I thought it was a joke.”
Oliver, who was taken by the Red Sox organization with the 778th pick in the 26th round, will sign his professional contract later this week once he’s on the ground in Fort Myers, Fla. Once he leaves Hall County on Thursday, he’ll begin his career playing rookie baseball with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox.
It will represent the end of a long, unorthodox road for Oliver, who took an entire year off baseball heading into college and only began playing on North Hall’s varsity team as a sophomore catcher.
The 23-year-old right-hander only recently finished up his college career as a fifth-year senior at Truett-McConnell University, where he improved his velocity by leaps and bounds en route to earning the attention of several MLB scouts.
Today, Truett-McConnell coach Mike Croley says Oliver has a fastball that touches between 94-96 miles per hour.
“I can’t imagine anyone outworking him,” said Croley. “He works hard in the weight room and in the field. Everything he does is at an A-plus effort. God blessed him with a tremendous arm.”
Unable to make the cut two years prior, Oliver finally joined the North Hall High varsity team under coach Trent Mongero as a high school sophomore. It was a victory in itself to even be a part of the squad.
“(In 8th grade), he was 5-foot-3, 120 pounds soaking wet,” said Mongero, who said he congratulated Oliver with tears in his eyes. “It was persistent determination. He put on size and really turned himself into a player. He never had bitterness, he never had animosity. He was a determined young man, and he’s one of the single best team players I’ve ever coached.”
After two years of catching for the Trojans, Mongero tapped Oliver to become the team’s reliever. In his first game for North Hall, Oliver said he threw four innings against perennial power Buford. His first two batters faced were Division-I commits.
Mongero said it’s likely that he’ll be used in a similar role in Fort Myers. Oliver, who hasn’t thrown in a game since early May, said his coaches will be taking things slowly as he gets back into game fitness.
“They like the looseness of my arm and the aggressiveness with which I pitch,” said Oliver. “They want me to work on being more controlled, so I learn how to command my pitches better.”
Oliver took his first year in college to focus on his studies at the University of North Georgia after graduating from North Hall. However, he was convinced to take a workout when a friend who played for Truett-McConnell let him know the Bears were in need of pitchers.
Croley saw Oliver throw around 83-85 MPH at the most, but was impressed by his arm action and an “above average” breaking ball. Oliver was offered a scholarship to the NAIA school, which he quickly accepted.
Two years into his time at Truett-McConnell, Oliver was reaching 94 MPH with his fastballs during a fall intra-squad scrimmage, and Croley said he knew his pitcher could be something special. By the time Oliver graduated earlier this spring, he was listed as 6-foot-1, 190.
“I thought the velocity would jump,” said Croley. “I thought he was throwing hard, but I didn’t know it was 94. Right there, I knew I had to let people know.”
While Oliver said it initially felt “weird” to perform at workouts, scrimmages or games with MLB scouts in attendance, the pitcher eventually learned to block out the noise and focus on his work.
The concentration has paid off: Oliver is the first Trojan to be drafted under Mongero, a 10-year veteran at North Hall.
He’s also the first to be drafted from Truett-McConnell since the school became a four-year institution in 2002, according to Croley.
“Jared’s story is one I love so much,” said Mongero. “He’s stayed hungry and focused, and been able to rise to the top of every level he’s gotten to. After getting cut in eighth and ninth grade, most kids probably would have hung it up, but he stayed with it.”