Unlike most of his teammates, Albuquerque Isotopes outfielder Stephen Cardullo, 28, wasn’t a highly coveted talent coming out of high school. In fact, he was hardly coveted at all.
No Division I program offered him a scholarship. Ditto for D-II schools.
But just before Cardullo was about to give up on his dream of advancing his baseball career, he wrangled a tryout for the Florida State baseball team in August 2006. If he flunked the look-see, he was prepared to enter that fall semester merely as a full-time FSU student.
Cardullo, though, impressed the coaching staff enough to make the squad and eventually evolve into an All-American.
These days, Cardullo has established himself as one of the Isotopes’ most productive hitters, with seven homers, 30 RBIs and a .291 average. Included was a homer and RBI single in Friday night’s 3-2 victory over the Fresno Grizzlies at Isotopes Park before an announced crowd of 7,226.
But his journey to Albuquerque was anything but smooth. The rocky road began with the college recruiting process.
“Being from south Florida, there are a lot of great high school players, and I was probably one of those guys who fell through the cracks,” Cardullo said before Friday night’s game. “I was fortunate enough that Florida State gave me an opportunity to play. I had a couple of community college offers, but I had good grades in high school, and my parents and grandparents really didn’t really want me to go to a community college.”
Out of college, he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 24th round of the 2010 amateur draft and sent to their rookie club in Missoula, Mont., in the short-season Pioneer League.
In his first pro season, he batted .172 in 20 games. In 2011, he hit .288, with 10 homers and 38 RBIs, in 61 games.
“It was an adjustment playing professional baseball with guys who are just as talented as you are, but it was a great experience,” he said.
Just when it appeared things were looking up, he was cut after the season and went unclaimed by other MLB organizations.
At age 24, he was back at square one with his career.
“Being released was not a good feeling,” he said, “but I knew I had to work harder to improve my game.”
From 2012-15, in an attempt to keep the baseball embers burning, he played in relative anonymity with the Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders of the independent Canadian-American Association. It was when he earned league MVP honors last season with a .331 batting average and nine homers and 76 RBIs that the Colorado Rockies took notice and invited him to their 2016 spring training camp.
“In the Can-Am League I was playing with guys like myself who got drafted and were in minor league systems but unfortunately got released,” Cardullo said. “Last year, we had about nine guys from the league that moved up and are playing affiliated ball this year.”
He showed enough in spring camp to warrant a roster spot with the Isotopes.
Cardullo said Albuquerque manager Glenallen Hill and coach John Shelby have helped him have a strong showing at the plate in first taste of pro ball above the Pioneer League.
“He plays the game exactly the way it’s supposed to be played,” Hill said after the game. “When he made the team out of spring training, everybody celebrated. He takes advantage of every day he’s on the baseball field.”
Hill said one of his tips was for Cardullo to shorten his swing and not try for home runs:
“I said, ‘Why are you trying to hit home runs? You’re not a power hitter.’ Now he’s barreling up the ball.”