At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Jon Edwards passes the eye test. He looks like a ballplayer.
That’s why the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the 14th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of Keller High School. Back then, Edwards had established himself as a slugger with big-league power potential.
It never developed, though, and Edwards found himself roaming the outfields in independent ball five years later. But it didn’t take long for Edwards to wow another big-league team.
This time, it happened on the mound. Edwards landed an off-season tryout with his hometown team, the Texas Rangers, and showed enough potential that the organization was more than willing to take a chance on him before the 2012 season.
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“You hear a guy is throwing 96 mph … you set it up to go work him out,” said Bobby Crook, the Rangers’ area scout who signed Edwards on the same day the Rangers won the posting bid for the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish.
“He’s big, the arm really works and you want to take a chance on him. The other part is Jon is such a good guy and such a good story. He hasn’t given up, and you want to root for a guy like that.”
The 26-year-old right-hander has experienced a series of highs and lows. But this season might be his most pivotal to truly determine whether his big-league dreams are still realistic.
Edwards had a successful first season, compiling a 1.80 ERA over 19 appearances between four of the Rangers’ affiliates. Last season he posted a combined 4.04 ERA between High A Myrtle Beach and Frisco, but has gotten off to a shaky start this season.
Edwards has a 9.75 ERA over eight appearances with the RoughRiders, allowing multiple runs in five of his outings. But he still shows flashes of putting it together, as he also strung together three consecutive scoreless outings.
“Any converted guy, they either come quick or they don’t come at all,” said Danny Clark, the Rangers’ minor league pitching coordinator.
“Jon has a feel to throw a fastball, but the problem is he has to be consistent with it and his secondary pitches. We like his ceiling, but it is coming in small increments, and it’s a little bit slower than what I’m wanting and what he’s wanting.
“It’s still a work in progress.”
Even so, it’s a credit to Edwards that he has remained in the system and done enough to keep his dreams alive. They flamed out only three years prior when he was released by the Cardinals after never even reaching the Double A level.
The low point
Edwards had his most promising season in 2008 when he batted .289 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in stints at the Cardinals’ Class A affiliates. But he faded off the map after that, batting .205 in 2009 and .180 in 2010.
That marked the low point for Edwards, who knew his playing days appeared to be numbered.
“I had a time when I rededicated my life to the Lord and was like, ‘Is baseball where I’m supposed to go?’ ” said Edwards, who still resides in Keller.
Edwards decided he still had the passion to play the game and was put in touch with former Cleveland Indians manager Doc Edwards, who was managing the San Angelo Colts of the now defunct North American Baseball League.
“I called Doc and said, ‘Hey man, I love baseball. I want to play still,’ ” Edwards said. “I’d play first. I’d play outfield. I’d pitch. I’d do whatever, and I had just gotten prepared for anything.”
Edwards threw a bullpen session for the Colts’ coaches, but they were more impressed with his home run power during batting practice. So he started the season in the outfield, but struggles at the plate led him back to the mound.
Edwards ended up making his pitching debut for the Alpine Cowboys of the Pecos League later that season, throwing scoreless innings in his first two appearances. A groin injury ended his season prematurely, though, but he had found his new path in the game.
“It’s different, but it’s fun,” Edwards said. “I definitely think I could play as a position player still, but I just had peace in the fact that I needed to go pitch. I saw some doors open there and knew it was the direction that I needed to go and I wanted to go.”
It’s been a crash course in pitching ever since. Besides relying on his fastball and refining his secondary pitches, Edwards is also learning how a pitcher approaches a game and makes adjustments on the fly.
“He’s making those adjustments way quicker than he used to,” Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. “He’ll make an adjustment in a pitch or two, where it used to take him six to eight pitches. Now it’s just about him gaining experience and trusting his stuff out on the mound.”
Said Frisco starter Alec Asher: “I’ve been with Jonny every year he’s been with the Rangers and it’s just been fun to watch him learn pitching. He’ll sometimes ask me about pitching mechanics and you can see him soaking everything in because he’s still new to it. But I think he has a lot of potential to do it for a long time.”
The Rangers certainly hope so. Edwards has endured his fair share of struggles early this season, but it’s hard not to look and talk with Edwards and think he won’t eventually figure it out.
“From a physical standpoint, from a weapons standpoint, he has the stuff you’re looking for,” said Mike Daly, the Rangers’ director of minor league operations.
“Jon has a chance. He just has to continue to develop.”