By JAY LeBLANC
A lot of big league clubs had scratched Jack McGeary‘s name off their lists before the 2007 Major League Baseball draft even began. The 6-foot-3 lefty from Roxbury Latin High School in Massachusetts was widely considered a first-round talent, but most thought his strong commitment to Stanford would result in a wasted draft choice for whatever organization ended up calling his name.
The Washington Nationals had other ideas. They selected McGeary with the 190th overall pick and bucked MLB’s slot system by giving him a sixth-round record $1.8 million bonus - the same figure that right-hander Casey Weathers got for being chosen eighth overall by the Colorado Rockies. The Nationals also agreed to allow McGeary to attend classes at Stanford from September through early June for the first three years of his pro career - and to pay for them.
Nearly two years later, it’s a safe bet that the Nats are happy with their investment. McGeary got his first extended action as a pro last summer and more than held his own in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, leading the circuit with 64 strikeouts in 60 innings while issuing just 13 walks and posting a respectable 4.07 ERA. McGeary followed that up by deciding to skip spring classes and put in a full season this year, and it’s unlikely that anyone affiliated with the Nationals has a problem with that.
McGeary, who was ranked by Baseball America as the fifth-best prospect in the Nationals organization this past offseason, was masterful in his debut for the Class A Hagerstown Suns on Friday. The 20-year-old kept the Cleveland Indians-affiliated Lake County Captains off the board during his 5 2/3 innings of work, allowing just three hits and one walk while fanning seven in a no-decision. I had a chance to speak with McGeary after the Suns’ 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Delmarva Shorebirds on Monday night:
Q: What was your mindset heading into the 2007 draft? The perception is that you were set on attending - and playing for - Stanford, and only signed because the Nationals offered such favorable terms.
A: When the draft happened I was pretty much going to Stanford. After being drafted in the sixth round, I didn’t think, really, there was any chance [I would sign]. And then August rolled around and we started talking. We ended up with a good deal, and it was good enough to take me away from Stanford.
Q: Your contract allows you to attend classes in the spring and report once you’re finished, but you chose to skip the spring quarter this year. What drove that decision?
A: A couple things. I was in good standing in school. I had gotten a lot of stuff done; I’m more than halfway to the degree already. And also, just to build on last year. I had a good year, especially towards the end, and to try to get out here and get rolling and get a full year under my belt was a motivating factor.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I throw a fastball, changeup and curveball. I’d say consistently my curveball is probably my best pitch, but I think my change can be my best pitch - last time out, it definitely was. But with that said, I still pitch off my fastball. I try to go inside a lot and establish that, and that helps out my other pitches even more.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: I go for strikeouts. When I get two strikes on a guy, my mindset is to strike him out - no question about it. I had pretty good strikeout numbers last year. I don’t have an overpowering fastball but I can still figure out ways to strike guys out, and I definitely want to strike guys out.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: Yeah. I’d say for a lefty, Mark Buehrle, just the way he pitches - he’s got a great mix of different pitches. I’d say he’s definitely one that I look up to a lot.
Q: You’re often compared to Andy Pettitte. Do you think that’s an apt comparison?
A: Yeah, I do. We’ve got similar stuff. He throws a cutter and I worked on that this past offseason a little bit. Yeah, I definitely look to him as a model to compare myself to.
Q: Your pitching coach, Rich Gale, pitched for the Royals, Giants, Reds and Red Sox during his seven-year big league career. What’s the best piece of advice he’s given you so far?
A: He’s helped me on my curveball a little bit. At times I struggle with my curve and he’s got some mechanical cues, kind of just to keep me in that rhythm. He’s also really good with the preparation of everything. It’s different for me now pitching at night time and little stuff like that - it’s actually really helpful.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first professional season?
A: One is to make it healthy all the way through, for sure. But you know, just to pitch to the best of my ability, whatever that means. I mean, if it means getting moved up, then that. If it means being here and pitching great, then it means that. Just continuing to improve on all my pitches and having solid outings, I guess.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.