Trent Fennell was a great high school pitcher. With his fastball sitting around 85-87 mph and some good offspeed pitches, the 6-foot-5 righty dominated opposing hitters his senior year at Triton. Fennell posted a 7-3 record with a 1.81 ERA and led the Hawks to the 2014 Two Rivers Conference Championship. But the offers from big schools never came coming, simply because he wasn’t throwing 90 mph.
It all worked out perfectly for Fennell. He ended up playing four years at Barton College, just an hour-long trip down I-95 North to Wilson.
“It was the best offer money-wise,” Fennell said. “Dad and I looked at the roster and there were a lot of upperclassmen, so I knew I’d get a chance to learn a lot under them and still get an opportunity to pitch early in my career. They threw me right into the fire my freshman year and I got a few weekday starts.”
Fennell did a lot of learning in his first two seasons at Barton. The success didn’t come immediately. But in the summer before his junior season, he made a big jump while working out at the K-Zone Academy in Raleigh. He went through the Driveline Baseball development program, which uses cutting edge technology and data to improve things like spin rate, spin efficiency, throwing with intent, increasing flexibility and mobility, and most importantly for Fennell: velocity. Fennell’s fastball stayed about the same as it was in high school his first two years at Barton, but that summer he ticked it up to 88-89 mph, with the ability to top out around 91-92. That’s when scouts started to take notice.
In Fennell’s junior season, he posted a 7-2 record with an 4.01 ERA and a program-record 98 strikeouts over 85.1 innings pitched, and was selected as a member of the Conference Carolinas All-Conference First Team. The next season as the Bulldgos’ ace, he topped his own strikeout record with 99 and repeated all-conference honors. Now he sits as Barton’s all-time Division II Era leader in strikeouts with 252.
“As a pitcher, you try not to show it, but you have to know that you’re better than whoever steps in that batter’s box,” Fennell said. “Knowing that you’re going to get the guy out at the plate before you even do it is crucial to success. You have to have that kind of mentality.”
On Fennell’s senior day workout, his fast sat around 90-93 mph, with his fastest pitches coming in around 94-95. That was enough to garner interest from most of the Major League teams, including the Colorado Rockies, who selected him in the 24th round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
“It’s an unwritten dream for all baseball players to try to go as far as you can,” Fennell said. “Most people probably never would have expected that I’d be here today, but I’ve made the most of the opportunities I’ve been given.”
Fennell played for the Grand Junction Rockies this past season in Rookie Ball, and now he’s focused on trying to make it to the next level. He’s currently in Scottsdale, Ariz., for spring training, working with hopes that he’ll move up to Class A, where he’d be playing for the Asheville Tourists. If not, he’d stay for extended spring training and either return to rookie ball in Grand Junction, or he’d play for the short-season Boise Hawks.
“Coming back to North Carolina would obviously be great,” Fennell said. “I’m really hoping I can make that next step up. But even if I don’t, I’m going to continue working ... . I’m happy with the way things have gone so far. It’s been a good year, probably the best year of my life as far as my baseball career.”
Fennell said that wherever he ends up this season, he’s thankful for all of the opportunities he received, especially at Triton.
“Playing with those guys I played with my entire life, it was so much fun,” Fennell said. “Triton definitely helped me get to the next level, big thanks to coach Miriello for giving me the opportunity to throw week in and week out, and also to coach Penny and coach Reese for helping me so much with my pitching. I’ll always be proud to have played for Triton.”