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Abbott banking on latest life experience to carry him through FDTC

Posted: July 6, 2017 3:54 p.m.
Updated: July 7, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

FORMER CHS STANDOUT Will Abbott will continue his academic and baseball-playing endeavors at Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Not all the lessons you learn in life are gleamed from a book or, come from within the walls of the classroom. Some must come the hard way.

Even better are those which you learn from and can pass along to others.

When Will Abbott announced his commitment and then signed his national Letter of Intent with The Citadel in 2015, the then-Camden High senior seemed to have the world at his fingertips or, at least, on his strong right pitching arm.  

In his first season with the Bulldogs, Abbott made a quick impression and was rewarded for his effort by being named as the team’s regular Saturday pitcher, following J.P. Sears, an 11th round selection by the Seattle Mariners, in the Citadel’s weekend rotation.

At the conclusion of his rookie season, the true freshman was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman Team. Abbott finished with a 3-10 record for the Bulldogs and made the second-most starts on the team with 12 during his freshman campaign, recording a 4.96 earned run average and 58 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. 

Abbott’s best performance at The Citadel came in a win over Mercer on April 22 in a game in which the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder worked 8.2 innings and fanned nine Bears; both career highs.

His on the field numbers led you to believe that The Citadel had struck gold in signing the former Camden All-State pitcher. Behind the scenes, however, in the classroom, Abbott was struggling to the point to which his being ineligible to play baseball in Charleston led him to search for a new collegiate home and baseball program. He found both in signing with Florence-Darlington Technical College.

The Stingers are coming off an appearance in the Division I National Junior College World Series and their pitching coach is former Lugoff-Elgin standout Will Dorton who, in 2015, was the head coach of the Kershaw County Post 17 American Legion baseball team.

Abbott attended Wednesday’s Post 17 playoff-opening win over Georgetown at American Legion Park in Camden. Well after the game was over, Abbott talked about his switch in schools and programs in a remarkably candid interview in front of the third base dugout.

“My grades at The Citadel weren’t very good this year and I ended up missing being eligible by a credit,” said the now-bearded Abbott. “I took summer classes but it ended up not really mattering for next year so I was left with a decision to either sit out a year at The Citadel and just be a cadet or, go to Florence-Darlington and keep working on the baseball side of it. As a baseball player, I felt it was the best decision for me and my future.”

Once word began to leak that Abbott might be searching for a new school and baseball program, Dorton started doing his due diligence to find out all he could on his fellow Kershaw Countian. Following the proper procedure as to when and how to contact a student-athlete looking to transfer out of a program, Dorton went to work on recruiting Abbott. Dorton was joined by coaches from USC-Lancaster and USC-Sumter in seeking out Abbott’s services.

“We made sure that everything was done that needed to be done before we reached out to Will,” Dorton said. “We wanted to be that first phone call. He’s the kind of player that you can’t wait on.”

Dorton said, as a JuCo coach, he hears rumors about players looking for a new school “every single day. You just don’t know if they are true or not.” Thanks to knowing about Abbott and using his connections in home area, Dorton had an easier time in recruiting the newest addition to the program.

“It gave us a little bit more to talk about,” Dorton said of his recruitment of Abbott. “But I didn’t want Will Abbott to make his decision based on where I come from. We wanted Will to make the decision which is best for him and his career. We’re excited that he thinks his best opportunity is with us at Florence-Darlington Tech.”

Dorton pitched and played for Lugoff-Elgin. He graduated from the school in 2011 before being drafted in the 15th round that June by the Cincinnati Reds. Rather than sign a pro contract, Dorton honored his NLI with the College of Charleston and the Cougars’ then head coach and L-E graduate, Monte Lee. A series of injuries derailed Dorton’s collegiate career as he entered into the coaching profession upon graduation.

If Dorton wants to start feeling old, all he a couple times. I grew up watching him play in high school,” Abbott said.

The beard is not the only physical change which Abbott has undergone since his final game at Camden High and the Post 17 American Legion team in last year’s state tournament. When he last took the mound for Denny Beckley’s Bulldogs at CHS, Abbott weighed in at 240 pounds. By the time The Citadel opened practice for the 2017 campaign, Abbott had shed nearly 35 pounds. He has since added 10 more pounds of muscle to his frame.

“It helped a lot with me being more athletic on the mound,” Abbott said of the changes to his body. “I don’t know if losing weight contributed to my velocity but it helped with me being athletic.”

In high school, Abbott was reported to have touched 90 miles per hour with his fastball. This past season at The Citadel, he reached 97 miles per hour. Working under pitching coach Britt Reames, his second pitch underwent a complete overhaul, as well.

“My mechanics changed. I’ve been working on a bunch of different things,” he said. “In high school, I threw a slider which was more of a sweeping slider. This year, I worked on a slider that doesn’t move as much but it has more velocity on it. I’m throwing that at about 81 to 83 (miles per hour.)”

Under the tutelage of Reames, a former major league pitcher, Abbott said he learned to become a complete pitcher rather than someone who tried to blow the fastball by high school hitters.

“You’re not going to throw it by many people in college,” he said. “(College baseball) helped me to learn how to set pitches up, throw fastball for strikes and throw my slider in there. I learned to become a pitcher last year and I think it will help me a lot at Florence-Darlington next year because I will be able to pitch instead of just throwing the ball.”

Dorton said he was impressed with how much Abbott improved in college.

“He made some strides. He really made some positive strides,” Dorton said of Abbott’s stay in Charleston. “I didn’t see Will pitch much in high school; it was pretty much hearsay. I saw some videos of him from The Citadel and once I heard that he was a guy who we might have a chance at getting, I went back and watched as much film on him as I could.

“Coach Reames really did a great job with him down there. He made strides that a lot of good college pitchers don’t make until their sophomore or junior year.”

When push came to shove as to his next stop, Abbott leaned on his former pitching coach in Conway, who worked with Abbott through his high school career. That coached urged Abbott to go to FDTC and work with Dorton, who is quickly establishing himself in collegiate pitching coaches’ circles. 

One source of pride, Dorton said of his staff was that in 2017, the Stingers did not suffer an arm injury to any pitcher; a rarity in this day and age of wear and tear on a pitcher’s throwing arm.

In his first season at FDTC, Dorton worked with Chester native Trent Autry. The hard-throwing right-hander spent a season at USC-Lancaster before transferring to FDTC in time for the 2017 campaign. Last month, Autry was selected in the 17th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Both Dorton and Abbott said the former Camden High standout could follow a similar path as that blazed by Autry.

“Stuff-wise, they’re very, very similar,” Dorton said in comparing the two. “They both have that fastball in the lows 90s that they can get it up into the mid 90s and they both have a good swing-and-miss slider. Autry had a lot of success with those two pitches and I think Will can, too.”

Abbott said he would like nothing better than to follow in Autry’s footsteps and get drafted by a major league franchise. He will be draft-eligible next spring, a fact which played a large role in his decision to go the JuCo route.

“It factored in, a lot,” he said. “Obviously, that’s been my dream for the longest time and it may become a reality, maybe, next year depending on how I continue to progress. I have to be able to throw my fastball for strikes and get ahead in counts if I can do that, it might land me with an MLB team. We’ll just see what happens.”

After having carried a heavy work load at The Citadel, Abbott spent the first part of the summer pitching for the Grand River (Mich.) Loggers of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League before returning home this past weekend. Abbott left his calling card with the circuit in the form a complete game no-hitter which he threw on Saturday in an 8-0 Loggers’ win over the Green Giants. For his efforts, he was named as the GLSCL’s pitcher of the week.

In four appearances with the Loggers, Abbott threw 22.1 innings. Add that to his numbers at The Citadel and both Abbott and Dorton thought it best to shut things down for the summer.

“I felt my arm getting tired,” Abbott said. “I called my dad first and asked him what he thought I should do and he said that I just needed to shut it down. I haven’t had a break from throwing since the winter of my senior year in high school, which has been awhile.”

Abbott said he will stay in shape in Camden throughout the summer and may throw the ball around once in a while but will not get to serious throwing until later in the summer as he prepares to re-start his collegiate career at FDTC.

While he would like to be a role model on the mound and take his pitching talents to the next level, for now, Will Abbott said he hopes young people can learn from his experience and mistakes at The Citadel.

“Not making the grades is a learning experience for everyone, not just me,” he said. “No matter how good you are, if you don’t have the grades, you will not play.”

With that statement, it sounds as if the mound was from from the only place which a 19-year-old Will Abbott matured over the past year.

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