Asked during a conversation the other day at The Star if he thought this were a “make or break year” for him in his professional baseball career, Kyle McGowin, who turned 25 on Nov. 27, said that while it would definitely be a big year for him, he would rather think of it as “a new opportunity.”
The former Los Angeles Angels draftee and Salt Lake City Bees’ pitcher, who was recently traded, along with a teammate, Austin Adams, also a right-handed pitcher, to the Washington Nationals for a middle infielder, Danny Espinosa, said he was going to the Nats’ spring training camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., this February with the intent of making the major league team.
McGowin, who is 6-foot-4 and 197 pounds, and who grew up in Sag Harbor (and once wrestled for East Hampton High School at 135 pounds), and Adams have taken their lumps in web posts concerning the deal, as has Espinosa.
“There are always doubters,” McGowin said, adding that Tim Lincecum, who had been his boyhood hero, and Kyle Kendrick, the former Phillies pitcher, mound mates of his at Salt Lake last summer, had told him he had what it took. Otherwise, they said, he wouldn’t have made it to triple-A ball.
The Sag Harborite, who has been working out regularly at the All Pro complex in Bellport since September, and Adams were described as “organizational fodder” in a couple of the aforementioned posts, but “Phillies2017” had this to say:
“McGowin and Adams are actually both solid pieces. Seen McGowin’s slider? Put that and his 95 fb (likely playing up) in the pen and you have a potentially dominant set-up man. . . . Disclaimer: I’m a Phillies fan who hates Washington with every ounce of my body and soul, but my non-biased opinion favors them in this trade.”
News of the trade had come as “a surprise” to him, said McGowin, who had a good time at Salt Lake and had been prepared to go back there.
When asked about his high earned run average, he said, “I had a lot of good games and a couple of bad ones. Salt Lake’s elevation didn’t help . . . over all, I was young.”
“I had some hiccups mentally,” he continued. “I wasn’t as confident as I should have been when I got up to Salt Lake, but then, as my confidence increased, my season turned around. . . . The mental part is most of the game.”
He struck out 98 batters last season — 32 with the Arkansas Travelers and 66 with the Bees. “I love striking people out,” he said with a smile.
A mean slider that breaks into the dirt is by and large his strikeout pitch. He also throws a changeup, and his fastball (he throws a two-seamer and a four-seamer) topped out at 96 miles per hour this summer.
Those three pitches form his repertoire. “I used to have a good curve, but in my freshman year in college [Savannah State] I lost the feeling for it, and then realized I didn’t need it.”
Even without a curve, he said, he felt as if he had “all the tools . . . at least, I’d like to think so.”
Meanwhile, he has been “trying to build up my muscle weight. . . . I’ve got a personal trainer, Russ Tavares, at Infiniti Performance at All Pro. I work out with him and a couple of other professional players three days a week, and a couple days a week I’ll work out on my own in Sag Harbor.”
As a pitcher, he said, “you want to be strong, in the core and shoulders and legs especially, but you want to stay flexible.”
“You don’t want to be able not to move. . . . I do yoga and Pilates too. I’ve done yoga all along.”
Rich Decker of Studio 89, with whom McGowin has worked out in the past, said that optimally the young pitcher should weigh in at 210, the additional weight being muscle, of course.
Two years ago, McGowin was considering Tommy John surgery, given a partial tear of his ulnar lateral ligament that had occurred in his first double-A start. “But it wasn’t significant enough — I rehabbed it.”
At the moment, his fastball is “mostly in the low 90s.” In high school, “it was in the low to mid-80s.” He’s still growing into his body, he added.
As to what he’s been addressing lately, “I’ve been working on refining my mechanics and on my changeup . . . it could be a strikeout pitch, depending on the situation. . . .”
Should he not make the Nats’ major league roster, he’s assuming he’ll begin the season with the Syracuse Chiefs, the Nationals’ triple-A affiliate that plays in the International League, along with such teams as the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Durham Bulls, and the Toledo Mud Hens.
He’d have to hit now, he said, with a smile, something he hasn’t done since college intrasquad games.
As for the dream, McGowin, who has two years left on his minor league contract, continues to live it. When he’s not pitching, he said, he’s “trying to see the world.” Recently, he vacationed in Hawaii and in the Caribbean. He had started to surf in Hawaii, he said in answer to a question. “I loved it, but I’m still a work in progress.”
It would be awesome, he said, in reply to another question, to pitch in the major leagues. It’s something he’s wanted to do ever since he was a kid.
Asked about the progress he’s made over the years, the interviewee, a former collegiate all-American who was a finalist in the Golden Spikes Award balloting, said, “I would say that it was in my sophomore year in college when everything started to come together. . . . I’ll go until I think I can’t play anymore. The Nationals have a great organization. They have a great pitching staff to learn from. I’ll try to stay humble and keep working.”