Editor’s note: The Miami Marlins selected RHP Karson Milbrandt with the 85th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2022 MLB Draft on July 18.
LIBERTY, Mo. (BVM) – Karson Milbrandt has long been one of the best high school baseball players in Missouri. Over the last few years, he has also emerged as one of the best in the country. That fact has many thinking that Milbrandt could hear his name early during July’s MLB Draft.
Four years ago, being selected in the MLB Draft may have seemed like a pipe dream for the Liberty High School standout. Milbrandt’s favorite sport growing up had always been basketball, but as he played baseball in his freshman year, he realized he may have the talent to take things to the next level.
“My favorite sport until my freshman year was probably basketball,” Milbrandt said. “I really liked basketball more than baseball … When freshman year hit, I started realizing I was pretty good at this baseball stuff.”
Milbrandt continued to play basketball throughout high school, helping the Blue Jays to a runner-up finish at state in his junior season. However, during that same time, baseball started becoming more and more of a priority.
During the summers, Milbrandt began playing with Prodigy Baseball Academy. Excelling against some of the high level competition he was facing, his great potential was realized even further.
While playing at Liberty, Milbrandt also showed flashes of potential as early as his freshman year where he got to take the mound for the Blue Jays’ varsity team. It was a good learning season for him, getting to watch a strong group of upperclassmen that included the likes of current Nebraska pitcher Braxton Bragg.
“I wanted to be like them whenever I was a senior,” Milbrandt said. “That’s just kind of what I looked up to, to build on what they already had.”
Sadly, Milbrandt had to wait to build on the foundation those upperclassmen had laid. Finding out the 2020 spring season was canceled was not only heartbreaking to Milbrandt, but even more so to many of his older teammates.
“It was really tough,” Milbrandt said. “We were supposed to be really good … Whenever we heard it got canceled, your heart just kind of sank into your body. It was really emotional for everyone.”
However, the Blue Jays came back prepared and with a vengeance, and would end up writing a tremendous comeback story. Despite a bit of a rough patch towards the middle of the 2021 season, Liberty rallied, making it all the way to state and winning an MSHSAA Class 6 title once there with a victory over Fort Zumwalt West. It was the program’s first title since 2002.
“You’re really motivated because you didn’t get to show everyone what Liberty baseball is about your sophomore year,” Milbrandt said. “It was really fun competing out there and winning it all was really fun … Once we got hot, there was no stopping us, and that atmosphere was insane … Whenever we turned that double play to end the game, it was something else. I cried a lot because it was the last baseball game I was going to play with a lot of my buddies, but it was awesome.”
Coming into his senior season, Milbrandt and the Blue Jays were looking to repeat with one of the best pitching rotations in Missouri. The senior certainly did his part, going 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 91 strikeouts as the conference pitcher of the year, while also batting .400 with 15 RBIs at the plate.
However, this time the Blue Jays would fall short of another storybook run. Although it was a tough way to end his Liberty career, Milbrandt knows it’s hard to beat the four-year ride he had there.
“You can’t win them all,” Milbrandt said. “That kind of sucked, but you have to look back on your four years at Liberty High School. All of us seniors left our mark there and we brought a state title to Liberty. You couldn’t ask for much more.
“I hope I motivated all the guys that are coming into the Liberty baseball program, that are already on the Liberty baseball program, that you just keep your head down and work your tail off because your time is going to come and whenever your time comes you have to be ready to perform.”
Receiving accolades throughout his high school tenure like all-conference, all-state, and most recently Gatorade Missouri Baseball Player of the Year, have only furthered that legacy. While they’re big honors for the dominant pitcher, ultimately, they have further proven that his hard work has been worth it.
“It’s awesome to be named all that stuff but it’s nicer to see all that hard work pay off that I put in,” Milbrandt said. “That’s my favorite part about it, I put my head down, I got to work and now it’s all starting to pay off.”
Also benefitting Milbrandt over the last few years is that he has gotten to learn from a former MLB pitcher in Liberty assistant coach Shaun Marcum, who played nine seasons in the MLB.
“It’s awesome having Marcum just a phone call away and in the same dugout,” Milbrandt said. “It’s really nice to pick his brain and hear all the stuff. He helps a lot, it was really nice to have him on the squad.”
Meanwhile, last summer, Milbrandt also had the chance to compete in the Prospect Development Pipeline put on by MLB and USA Baseball. There, he worked with another former MLB pitcher: Brad Penny.
“You’d pitch two innings and then you sit around for three days, and during those three days I’d just talk to him the entire time,” Milbrandt said. “We still text sometimes. It’s awesome to have, he’s a really nice guy.”
Not only did the 6-foot-1 righty get to meet Penny, but also many of the top prospects in the nation. Competing against and alongside them was invaluable for Milbrandt’s future.
“It was pretty cool to become friends with all those guys and it was really fun competing against them,” Milbrandt said. “Obviously, it’s the best of the best and there’s a bunch of people watching. That really helped with the exposure.”
With his continued emergence in the game, the athletic pitcher quickly gained college notice throughout his high school career. He got his first phone call in-state from Saint Louis, and soon after his first offer from Missouri State. However, by the time he committed, Milbrandt had decided on the state’s SEC power: Mizzou.
“Mizzou was probably the best fit being the home state and everything, a two-hour drive away,” Milbrandt said. “I felt really comfortable so I decided to commit there.”
However, as Milbrandt led the Blue Jays to a state championship as a junior and increased his pitching velocity significantly into the lower 90s, he began receiving additional interest from some fellow SEC schools like Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt.
With Mizzou also firing its pitching coach, Milbrandt decommitted, visited his new options, and made a final decision to join the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
“I felt with Vanderbilt, obviously the track record that they have, and their coaches are awesome,” Milbrandt explained. “I felt very comfortable with their coaches. I just felt very at home with them, I felt like it was the place I wanted to be. Obviously they’re very good at baseball and it just felt like a place that I could call home for however many years.”
If Milbrandt and others in his recruiting class do indeed suit up for the Commodores next year, they have high hopes of what they can accomplish, with Milbrandt just looking to earn a role with the team any way he can.
“They bring in the best talent,” Milbrandt said. “Going there, I’ll put my head down and work, compete against the guys and hopefully get a spot.”
However, there’s a real possibility that Milbrandt has an opportunity to go straight to the MLB this summer. Scouts continue to see a bright future for the pitcher after he hit 96 mph with his fastball last summer, and there’s a potential his velocity could reach triple digits down the road.
It’s a surreal scenario to go pro this young, one that may have first set in once he began pitching in front of MLB scouts with regularity last summer.
“The summer was my first time seeing a bunch of people behind home plate with radar guns,” Milbrandt said. “The first few times it was a little nerve-wracking … But with scouts there, without scouts there, you obviously have your goals to do, and you just have to focus on the game.”
Milbrandt, like most others in his position, isn’t sure yet on whether he’d choose Vanderbilt or the MLB. Ultimately, the decision will come down to what’s best for both he and his family.
However, there is no doubt Milbrandt is a special prospect who has what it takes to someday make the pros. No matter when that time comes, the pitcher will continue to put in the work to make his dream come true.
“Your end goal is to get to the MLB so that’s going to be an unreal experience and moment,” Milbrandt said. “It’s what I’ve been dreaming of ever since I was a little kid. You just have to keep on working hard and hopefully that time will come.”