Navy baseball pitcher Charlie Connolly throws the type of fastball that makes professional scouts sit up and take notice.
Connolly has consistently clocked 94 to 96 MPH on the radar gun and has above-average breaking pitches to complement the heater. A large contingent of scouts were behind the backstop at Max Bishop Stadium whenever the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander started over the last two seasons.
One veteran area scout said Connolly more than likely would have been selected in this year’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, being held July 11-13 and lasting 20 rounds. The scout, who works full-time for a major league organization, said Connolly projected as a reliever and had proven his fastball velocity was repeatable.
That assessment squares with the opinion of Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos, who has spoken with dozens of MLB scouts about Connolly. The Midshipmen have produced multiple professional pitching prospects during the 16-year tenure of Kostacopoulos with two of them — Oliver Drake and Mitch Harris — making the majors.
“My own eyes tell me that Charlie is a next-level talent,” Kostacopoulos said. “Also, based off the volume of phone calls and emails I received from scouts as well as the large number of them who were out to evaluate Charlie tells me he was under consideration to be drafted.”
Connolly’s dream of becoming the latest Navy pitcher to pursue pro baseball has been derailed indefinitely. The Wayne, Pennsylvania, native was informed two days before Naval Academy graduation that his request to delay commissioning had been denied.
Connolly learned the news at the same time as former Navy football player Cameron Kinley during a meeting with Colonel James “J.P.” McDonough III, Commandant of Midshipmen. Both athletes were told that Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker ordered them to be commissioned as ensigns.
“I was definitely frustrated and upset,” Connolly told The Capital on Monday afternoon. “At the same time, I understood it was a request and not a guaranteed opportunity.”
Capt. Jereal Dorsey, a spokesperson for Harker, issued the following statement:
“Admission to the Naval Academy is an extensive and competitive process. The mission of the Naval Academy is to develop young men and women to commission as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. When students accept admission and continue their education in this program, there is an understanding and acknowledgement that they will upon graduation be commissioned. Every Midshipman attends on the same terms and each has the same responsibility to serve. Exceptions to that commitment to serve have been rightfully rare.
“Following discussions with senior Department of Navy leadership and in accordance with existing Department of Defense policy, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker, declined to forward requests from recent Naval Academy graduates to the Secretary of Defense, seeking to delay their commissions.”
Connolly and Kinley had both submitted packets to the Naval Academy leadership asking to delay commissioning as an officer until completion of their respective professional sports careers. Kinley, a cornerback, signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Connolly’s request would have been contingent on him being selected during the MLB Draft.
“I definitely think I had a decent chance of getting drafted if my request had been approved,” the second team All-Patriot League selection said.
Instead, Connolly’s advisor was forced to send a letter to all major league teams stating the former Navy pitcher would not be eligible to play if drafted.
Connolly commissioned as a surface warfare officer during the graduation ceremony on May 28 and will serve on temporary assignment duty at the academy until late October. He is scheduled to report to the USS Russell, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer based in San Diego, at some point in November.
“The way it was framed to Cameron and I was there’s no process for an appeal, so I guess my baseball career is over for the foreseeable future,” Connolly said.
According to sources, Harker’s new directive only applies to the most recent Naval Academy graduates and does not retroactively affect previous graduates such as Malcolm Perry, who is a wide receiver with the Miami Dolphins in the NFL.
Sources also said the overarching Department of Defense policy pertaining to service academy graduates seeking to participate in pro sports, outlined in “Directive-type Memorandum 19-011,” has not changed.
The Secretary of the Navy considers each request independently and decisions are made on a year-by-year and case-by-case basis. Because Connolly and Kinley had their requests to delay commissioning denied does not necessarily mean future Naval Academy graduates will not be approved for the pro sports option.