He grew up playing baseball. His older brother played Division II baseball at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, North Carolina. He watched his brother play and grew to love the game. He played some football before high school. He also was a good basketball player. It almost became his sport of choice.
“I never played AAU. I just played school ball. Honestly, I tried to play basketball as my primary sport. Almost gave baseball up. Good thing I didn’t though.”
As Sharpe now has an agreement to sign a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins, I think we can agree that he made the right choice.
In high school, Sharpe played center field and when he wasn’t pitching, he hit .487 as a senior. He was a four-year letter winner. He was named All State three times. He was his conference’s player of the year twice. As a senior, his team won a state championship. He played for the Dirtbags baseball program in North Carolina during his summers throughout high school. He had opportunities to be a two-way player at a couple of schools. It wasn’t until late in his senior year that he made his college choice. He was staying in-state, but headed south, to Wilmington.
“Actually talked to them (UNCW) pretty late in my high school career. It was about two to three weeks before the end of my senior season. They saw video one time, and they texted me and told me they wanted to come watch me throw a bullpen. Then they got me on campus for a visit. When I got here, knowing their reputation for being a good mid-major and all the success they had in regionals and conference championships. And, you can’t go wrong with going to school on the beach.”
As with most freshman in college, it took Sharpe a little bit of time to make some adjustments.
“It was tough at first. The game was a lot faster. Margin of error was a lot smaller. Especially with the fall scrimmages with the offense we had at that time, with (Ryan) Jeffers and others.
However, he ended the season strong by posting six straight wins and ended the season with a 6-1 record.
He was feeling pretty good going into this sophomore season, but after just five games, his season came to an abrupt end.
“I had an avulsion fracture, a build up of stress over time in my shoulder. I had a small, little crack in my bone. It wasn’t big enough to where I needed surgery. I had to just sit out and rest. The recovery time was six to seven months.”
It was disappointing and frustrating for Sharpe who was a key cog in a team that was really good.
“It was definitely frustrating. That year was probably the best team that we’ve had since I’ve been here because of the combination of the pitching staff and the offense that we had. It was definitely frustrating not being able to play with those guys, but also not being there when we won the conference championship. We got put into the East Carolina Region which is in Greeneville and that’s where I live. So that was definitely hard not being able to play there. I had to sit in the stands and watch.”
He was able to get a medical redshirt, so he returned in 2019 as a redshirt sophomore. He returned by pitching out of the bullpen, but it wasn’t long before he was back in the starting rotation.
One year ago, Zarion Sharpe heard his name called in the MLB Draft. In the 19th round, the St. Louis Cardinals selected the lefty. Sharpe had a big decision, but he decided to return to college for another year.
He recalled, “It was tough. At first I thought about taking it, but then listening to some people close to me and my advisor. They were telling me that I had the chance to play summer ball in the Cape and get my name out there. I still had two years of eligibility, so I’d come back as a redshirt junior. I had a chance to come back, and go a little higher and earn a little more money. So those were the deciding factors for me to go back.”
So he headed north to Chatham and played the summer in the Cape Cod League. He pitched well, posting a 1.35 ERA and striking out 24 batters in 20 innings. He loved the experience.
“It was probably the best summer that I’ve ever had playing ball. The people up there just love baseball. The whole town comes out and watches. Everybody knows who you are. People are really nice. The competition was the best I’ve ever played against. So just all those things put together made it. It was everything I thought it would be, but it wasn’t what I thought because I didn’t realize how much people really liked going to the games up there.”
Sharpe continued to pitch well when his 2020 college season started. The southpaw was 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. He has walked eight batters and struck out 20.
And then came another abrupt end to a season, this time due to COVID-19.
Sharpe recalled, “It was honestly kind of surprising. We had a mid-week game against East Carolina, and we won on a walkoff. I remember getting home that night, and we learned that the NBA was suspending its season, and some of the guys were saying it doesn’t mean they’ll cancel our games. We were fine. It was spring break. The next day we got to practice. I was eating lunch in the locker room. We all got the notifications on our phones that our conference was suspending the rest of our season too. It was a surprise obviously.”
With so much uncertainty, Sharpe just tried to keep and stay busy.
He finished his classes online. He is currently 18 hours shy of graduating with a major in Sociology with a minor in Public Health.
“As far as workouts, I’ve been throwing at one of the parks with some of my teammates. A lot of it has been at-home workouts. I bought some dumbbells and a bar, a lot of body weight. A lot of running, just trying to keep myself in some decent shape.”
Nikki Netzer, UNCW
Then came June and the 2020 MLB Draft.
Sharpe noted, “I thought there would be a 50/50 chance that I would get taken in the top five (rounds). I had a call and a chance to actually go, but that didn’t work out.”
He was obviously disappointed, but he didn’t have a lot of time before things got busy again.
“Once the free agent stuff started, things really picked up. Just really busy for three or four days, talking on the phone.” Sharpe continued, “I heard from quite a few (teams), and then it was about reducing it to a certain number of teams where I felt I would be a good fit.”
Sharpe said that he had a few criteria that he went into the process looking for:
“It was really just trying to find somewhere that needed some left-handed pitching, and”
“A place with a reputation for really good player development.”
The Twins fit both categories for Sharpe. “I felt that the Minnesota Twins had both of those. From talking to people that I know in the organization, and from being on the phone with scouts and people in player development, they just made it seem like a really good atmosphere, a place where I could grow and hopefully work my way through the system and get to the Major Leagues some day.”
One of the people that Sharpe knows in the organization is the Twins area scout in North Carolina, Ty Dawson. He is the area scout who most saw Twins first-round draft pick Aaron Sabato. Dawson and Sharpe have known each other for years already.
“Mostly talked to Ty Dawson. He actually recruited me. When I was in high school, he was at North Carolina A&T. So we’ve known each other for a couple of years. We have a really good relationship.”
Another person that he talked to is the Twins top catching prospect and former UNCW star Ryan Jeffers.
“He (Jeffers) was really the only (player) I know. We have a really good relationship. We played together for two years. We built a relationship just from him catching me a lot. I talked to him. He put in a good word. He talked really highly of the organization. So that was one thing that helped me out.”
Sharpe hopes that he will soon be able to get his physical and get officially signed.
“After that, just wait and see and find out what’s going to happen in the minor leagues and when I have to report and see what happens after that.”
Sharpe stands 6-5 and about 210 pounds. He’s long, but he’s pretty strong with room to grow. He throws both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball. He currently tops out around 93-94 mph He’s also got a slider and a changeup. He says that his slider is his best pitch.
Naturally, a baseball fan thinks about those lefty-lefty matchups either as a starter or in late-inning situations out of the bullpen.
For his part, Sharpe is fine with whatever role the Twins choose to put him in. “They haven’t really told me anything. I guess I’ll have to get in and see what they need honestly. I’m willing to do whatever.”
He has experience out of the bullpen and says he is comfortable with that.
“When I came back from my injury, I actually came out of the bullpen in a relief role. When I went and played summer ball, my first two outings were out of the bullpen, so I’m comfortable doing either.”
Sharpe is grateful for the opportunity with the Twins, but also for the opportunities he has had to this point. He said he is thankful for his high school and college coaches, but there is one person he gives a ton of credit to.
“My mom. All the stuff she’s done as far as traveling, and financially. Without her, none of this would be possible”
He is very appreciative of his time at UNCW and playing for coach Randy Hood. It was clear to me how close-knit the team is. When I tweeted news that the Sharpe had agreed to sign with the Twins, many of Sharpe’s teammates and coaches not only liked the tweet, but they sent him heartfelt responses.
“It was great. From the first day I got onto campus my freshman year, it’s been a family atmosphere. We get guys drafted, but not the numbers like we see some of the bigger schools do. So a lot of the guys have been there for four or even five years. We all get to know each other personally. We get to know everything about each other, like a brotherhood. Just seeing some of the things those guys said about me, it was great. I love those guys. I’m definitely going to miss them, but I know the ones that are going back, I know they’ll do great things. The ones that are leaving, I know that they’re also going to do great things outside of baseball as well. It was nice to see that though.”
Here is a recent interview between Sharpe and UNCW Assistant Director Athletic Communications, Tom Riordan.
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