Brian Sharp was four years old when Ryan Stegall was drafted in the seventh round of the 2001 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. Stegall was drafted out of the University of Missouri, where he played shortstop and closed out games for the Tigers. Before his time at Mizzou, Stegall graduated from Liberty High School, which is about 25 minutes from downtown Kansas City. The legend I always heard growing up in Liberty was that Stegall gave up a mammoth home run to Albert Pujols while they were in high school. Pujols played at nearby Fort Osage and blasted a ball off of Stegall onto Liberty’s roof. Despite that, Stegall actually bested Pujols in high school, beating him out for the All-Metro spot in the local newspaper.
So where does Brian Sharp fit into Stegall’s story? Well, seventeen years after Stegall embarked on his professional journey, Sharp was drafted in the 26th round by the New York Mets out of the University of Missouri, where he was also a two-way player. The parallels don’t end there. Stegall was Sharp’s high school baseball coach.
Liberty North High School’s doors opened in 2010, and just two years later, Brian Sharp arrived on campus. His impact was immediately felt on the diamond. “I knew Brian was a special player from the time he stepped foot on the field for us as a freshman,” said Stegall in his email correspondence with me. Sharp hit over .300 as a freshman against pitchers several years older than him and only got better from there. He played third base and contributed on the mound for North throughout his four seasons on varsity. He holds school records for career wins, strikeouts, hits, runs, and doubles. He was selected First Team All-State in 2015 & started every game in his high school career. Stegall told me that Sharp backed up his elite talent with superb work ethic, often coming in early for extra batting practice or more ground balls.
In his high school days, Stegall was a guard on Liberty High School’s 31-0 basketball team in 1998. The Blue Jays defeated Lafayette High School (and future MLB star Ryan Howard) in the State Championship. “I loved being able to compete and was fortunate enough to be able to do so in basketball and baseball,” says Stegall. He also pointed out that young athletes shouldn’t be pigeonholed in one sport and that playing multiple sports contributes to overall athletic development. Brian also played basketball and was a contributor for two State Playoff runs in 2012 and 2013. The next season, he hit a clutch game-winning shot in the district championship, known simply in Liberty North lore as “The Shot.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33VyAqFa0-g) He was also the quarterback of the football team. Over his four years, Sharp earned 11 varsity letters at Liberty North. Stegall points out that Sharp could’ve played either of his other sports in college. He was simply that athletic.
Stegall confirmed to me that he discussed his Mizzou experience with Brian during his recruitment process and “selfishly hoped he would become a Tiger.” However, deciding which college to play at isn’t only about the baseball program. Stegall pointed out three factors for Brian to consider: his happiness, the ability to get a good education, and the ability to get on the field as a freshman. Brian ended up as a Tiger and heeded the advice well, starting 36 games in his first year and hitting a respectable .252 while also notching five saves.
While Sharp solidly held opponents to a .133 batting average when he pitched and notched 41 hits in his sophomore campaign, Stegall was named a third-team All-American by both the NCBWA and ABCA in his second year. Starting all 57 games for MU in the 2000 season, Ryan posted a .357 average along with eight home runs and 57 RBIs. He also earned twelve saves for the Tigers.
Brian’s work ethic that Stegall pointed out came to fruition in between Sharp’s sophomore and junior seasons. He improved his slash line from .246/.358/.395 to .321/.418/.500 and was one of the top two-way players in the SEC. He was named SEC Co-Player of the Week early in 2018 after a monster set of games. From February 21-25, Brian slashed .563/.588/1.125 with 10 RBIs at the plate and tossed 9.2 scoreless innings over two appearances with 14 K’s. When I asked former CBBSN scout Zach Tallevast about Sharp’s breakout season at Mizzou, Tallevast noted his “very controlled bat and smooth approach at the plate” and named Sharp’s arm his best tool. Zach told me that Sharp’s biggest problem at the plate right now occurs when he is behind in the count, especially against high-quality pitching, the kind that he will no doubt face as he moves up the professional ranks.
On June 5, 2001, Ryan Stegall’s life changed forever. That was the day that the Astros drafted him on day one of the MLB Draft. He was drafted three picks in front of LHP Rich Hill, who didn’t end up signing with the Angels and re-entered the draft the next season before becoming a solid MLB pitcher. Stegall immediately began playing for the Pittsfield Astros, the Astros’ short-season affiliate in the New York Penn League, the same league that Brian Sharp is playing in as of this writing. He played a total of four seasons in the minor leagues, advancing through all three levels of A-ball before getting a cup of coffee at the Triple-A level. Stegall played four games for the New Orleans Zephyrs and had numerous teammates who played in the major leagues. While reflecting on his time in the game, he told me something I didn’t know before, that in spring training he played third base behind Roger Clemens. He called it “a huge thrill to be on the field competing with him” and “one of my favorite memories from pro ball.”
Brian Sharp is doing just fine in his inaugural professional season, hitting .271 with a .732 OPS in 30 games as of this writing. He hit a home run in his first start for the Brooklyn Cyclones, which will no doubt be a memory that stays with him forever. As with any young athlete, especially one adjusting to the pros, there will be struggles, and Coach Stegall has some advice for his former player. “There are going to be rough times but being able to bounce back and continue to plug along will be a big factor.” He adds, “Being able to deal with and learn from your failures is huge.” As Brian improves and progresses towards the big leagues, he has a former coach and Tiger that has done it before and can provide guidance along the way.