Alex Troop saw his career — or, more accurately, careers, plural, collegiate and professional — flash before his eyes.
It was March 11, 2016, and he was playing first base, which he often did when he wasn’t pitching, as the rare, quality two-way player.
In a nonleague game against Butler, he set up to take a throw, but it was out of his reach, so he went diving for it.
Using, instinctually, his left hand to brace for impact, he came down awkwardly, and just like that, his sophomore season at Michigan State was over. He had a fractured wrist. His hand was crunched, and Troop was crushed.
“I knew it was something right away, but I thought it was a sprain at first. It turned out to be broken,” Troop said over the phone the other day.
“It was my throwing hand. That’s what made it so terrifying.”
Troop didn’t pick a ball for the next three months, until June 2016.
Now, in June 2017, he’s bracing for impact again — but in a much better way. He’s likely to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft. Troop, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound pitcher, is the top Michigan prospect listed in Baseball America’s top-500 rankings, at No. 180, putting him in position to be taken between rounds five and seven in next week’s draft.
Another left-handed pitcher, Michigan’s Oliver Jaskie, is ranked just behind Troop, at No. 185. Eight players from Michigan colleges and high schools are in Baseball America’s top 500.
The first two rounds are Monday, rounds three-10 Tuesday, and rounds 11-40 Wednesday.
What’s interesting is, in the end, the injury might’ve actually helped Troop and his professional prospects. Because he’s only pitched two full seasons, his arm is among the freshest among college players in this year’s draft, which, combined with the fact he throws left-handed, will make him a coveted commodity who could even claw his way into higher rounds.
“It saved him a year of throwing,” Michigan State coach Jake Boss said. “I still maintain, you only have so many bullets in there before something’s gonna happen.
“His arm was fresh this year.”
Troop, 21, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors following this, his redshirt sophomore season. He could have been first-team, but his team’s overall struggles could’ve contributed to that ultimate decision.
As the Spartans’ Friday night starter, he made 14 starts, and finished 8-3 with a 2.47 ERA. He allowed 68 hits and struck out 83 in 832/3 innings.
His fastball sits high 80s to low 90s, nothing out of this world. But where he’s ahead of so many prospects is with his out pitch, the change-up, which often even takes professionals several years to master. He also throws a slider.
Many major-league scouts so him early in the season, when he was pitching his best. He saved his best performance, though, for last, when he went eight innings, allowing two hits while striking out 10 in a victory over NCAA Tournament-bound Michigan.
“He was everything a Friday-night guy should be in the Big Ten,” Boss said.
That’s not the end of the story, however, with Troop, from Batavia, Ill., west of Chicago.
In this athletics era where everything seems to be so specialized from a very young age — you either pitch or hit — Troop excelled at both at Michigan State, making him one of five finalists for this year’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award. The winner will be announced this summer.
We’re about to hear a whole lot more about two-way players in baseball, given the probable top pick in this year’s draft, Hunter Greene from Sherman Oaks, Calif., excels as both a right-handed pitcher and a shortstop. There’s also a kid in Japan preparing to come to the United States, Shohei Otani, who wants to play both at the major league level.
In 12 games before he was hurt last season, Troop batting .372 with a homer and 13 RBIs. This season, he batted .321 with three homers and 12 RBIs. He’s also an excellent defender at first base, where, in a game at Comerica Park last month, he made an exceptional, running, over-the-shoulder catch, just like Norm Cash used to do so well at old Tiger Stadium.
All together, Boss considers Troop one of the best athletes he’s ever coached, and it’s tough to lose him early — but he’s certainly planning on it.
“You prepare for your better juniors to go out and have a good opportunity in pro ball,” Boss said. “I would certainly love to have him back. At the same time, with the nature of our game and how the rules are set up, you kind of expect to lose your best juniors.”
In fact, Boss is pretty tickled to have gotten even two-plus years out of Troop, who was doing so well as a senior at Marmion Academy, the Michigan State coach was nervous he might get drafted and sign out of high school.
He didn’t, and he came to Michigan State — turning down scholarship offers from the likes of Cincinnati, Duke, Illinois State and Central Michigan, among others.
Troop is projected to be drafted as a pitcher, and given how baseball has gone, the expectation is he’ll have to shelve hitting, which will be a tough proposition but probably the right one. Early this past season, Troop would bat in games he pitched, but found himself too distracted; so the coaches started having a designated hitter for him on day he pitched.
“I hate sitting around,” Troop said. “That’ll definitely be a tough takeaway for me.
“Most of the teams see my future as a pitcher.”
That said, Troop plans to keep hitting as least an option — because, as he said, if one thing doesn’t work out, he could always try the other. Think Anthony Gose, of the Tigers, who began his career as a hitter, hit a wall, and now is trying to make it as a reliever — and he’s certainly got a shot, with a high-90s fastball.
While Baseball American ranks him No. 180, baseball scouting is all over the map. One team could see Troop as a third-rounder, and another as a 10th-rounder. There’s an outside chance he could be the highest Michigan State player drafted since another left-handed pitcher, Mark Mulder, went No. 2 overall to the Oakland A’s in 1998
Troop’s not spending much time thinking about that, or paying attention to his exact stock, though he acknowledged friends often will tag him on Twitter when they see relevant analysis.
As such, there are no plans for a party next week — Tuesday is his likely draft day — nor will he be glued to his laptop. He has better plans, in mind.
“It’s going to be 94 degrees here in Chicago, so I’ll just lay by the pool, relax and enjoy the day,” Troop said, with a laugh. “What happens, happens.
“Everyone says, don't sit in front of the screen and watch pick by pick.
“You’ll freak yourself out.”
On the board
A look at Michigan players listed in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects:
■180. Alex Troop, LHP, Michigan State
■185. Oliver Jaskie, LHP, Michigan
■241. Brandon Hughes, OF, Michigan State
■264. Jeff Criswell, RHP, Portage Central HS
■351. Sam Weatherly, LHP, Howell HS
■379. Drew Lugbauer, C/3B, Michigan
■455. Steve Mann, OF, Detroit Country Day HS
■460. Michael Hendrickson, LHP, Michigan