05/26/12 9:45 AM ET
McCullers has big arm, big league bloodline
Hard-throwing prospect is son of former Major League pitcher
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
There was the time he received a tee-ball set as a gift from his aunt and uncle. His parents heard a thumping coming from his room, walked in and found little 1-year-old, lefty-hitting Lance slapping balls off the tee and into the wall.
There was the time 3-year-old Lance and his father went to Forest Hills Park to sign up for Little League, only to find out he was too young to play. There were other times as a kid when he'd play catch with boys several years older than him and easily throw the ball about 40 or 50 yards farther than any of them.
There was the time Jesuit High School coach Richie Warren first heard about McCullers, who had offers from Notre Dame and Vanderbilt before he stepped foot on campus and committed to the University of Florida as a sophomore.
As a star pitcher and shortstop in high school, McCullers would often embarrass opposing hitters. There was the time he finished a game with a 100 mph fastball, the time he started a game with a 96 mph heater and then finished at 98 mph, and the time he was still throwing 95 mph in the sixth inning of a 136-pitch outing after throwing 110 pitches through five frames.
Soon, there will be another story. There will be the time McCullers followed in his father's footsteps and got drafted by a Major League team. Whether he will accept that offer or honor his commitment to Florida remains to be seen, but the 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander is MLB.com's No. 18 Draft prospect and should come off the board in the first round.
The Draft will take place on June 4-6, beginning with the first round and Compensation Round A on Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. ET. The first night of the event will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.
MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, will include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
"He's always possessed a great arm," said Lance McCullers Sr. "He's always been that type of kid that you knew was going to be something special."
Part of that is a Major League bloodline. McCullers Sr. was primarily a relief pitcher in his seven Major League seasons, a career he finished with a 3.25 ERA before his hard-throwing son was born. Senior's influence remains important, to the point that Warren asked him in a regional championship if he would allow his son to stay on the mound after 110 pitches. Father gave it his blessing, and son reported back three days later feeling nothing more than normal soreness.
"He's why I'm talking to you about the MLB Draft. He's why I'm committed to the University of Florida," McCullers said of his father. "He's been there for me as a mentor. He's been there for me as a friend. He's been there for me as a father. Without him, I don't think I'd be half of what I am."
McCullers puts in the work on his end as well. He goes through intense offseason workouts with Orlando Chinea, a former Cuban National Team pitching coach who has worked with big leaguers like Livan Hernandez and Rolando Arrojo, as well as Jose Fernandez, who was the 14th overall pick in 2011.
Those workouts have helped McCullers develop his outstanding velocity and durability, and he complements his high-90s fastball with a hard slider, curveball and changeup.
But the question heading into the Draft is whether McCullers has the command, delivery and offspeed pitches to be a Major League starter. Warren said McCullers worked during his senior year to answer that question, and those close to him certainly agree.
"Everyone's a starter until they tell you you're not a starter anymore," said McCullers Sr., a starter for much of his Minor League career until a spot opened up in the Padres' bullpen. "I think he can start. He maintains velocity, gets stronger as the game goes on, worked on his changeup a lot and he's really throwing it well. He's got three plus pitches that will help him down the road as a starter."
The junior McCullers' numbers in his second full season as a starter were excellent: 140 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings, 30 walks, six complete games, four shutouts, a .106 opponents' average and a 0.18 ERA.
But some teams still aren't convinced McCullers will be a starter. He didn't help his argument by walking 17 batters over his final 25 innings, spanning four games. However, Warren argued at least some of that was a product of high school umpires adjusting to his high-velocity stuff. McCullers was once near the top of some draft boards but has since slid back down a bit.
"I think that I've done a really, really good job -- especially in the regular season -- of attacking the zone and not letting people get free passes," McCullers said. "I think I've done a pretty good job of putting that to rest. I'm still working, always trying to get better."
"I think [evaluators] were trying to do anything they could to knock him down, and I think Lance responded really well with the season he had," added McCullers Sr. "I don't think there's too many other kids in the country who have the stuff he has."
There's also the question of signability, as the Scott Boras client has been committed to Florida for two years and has spoken highly of the school's program. He was quick to mention that many of the top picks in this year's Draft will likely be college pitchers. There will be a conversation after he's drafted, of course, but it's certainly not professional baseball or bust at this point.
"College is a good thing, in my eyes," he said. "If I decide not to go to school, there's going to be a good reason for it. We'll see."
"If he has that opportunity and someone drafts him, and he's treated fairly and it's the right number and he wants to, he'll go and play ball," added McCullers Sr. "Otherwise, he'll go to Florida."
Either way, he'll continue to blow by batters and inspire more stories about his electric arm, just as he always has.
"It's something that's kind of built into me," McCullers said.