Once Lance McCullers, Jr. hit 96 mph on the radar gun as a 16-year-old sophomore, everyone knew the mound is where he belonged. Problem was, he also happened to be an exceptionally gifted hitter. Coming into this season, his senior year, his offensive stat line looked like this:
92 G, .440 AVG, 105 R, 27 2B, 5 3B, 14 HR, 82 RBI, 14 SB .567/.768/1.335
Now, obviously, being a great hitter isn’t really a problem. However, it is hard to focus on one aspect of your game when you are putting in time to excel at both. McCullers could have chose to remain an offensive-minded player and no doubt would have been drafted high on those talents alone, but high school pitchers who can zip it 100 mph are more rare than a .300 hitter with pop.
One look at the dip in his offensive numbers this year indicate he is focusing a lot more on the pitching side of his game. He is hitting just .273 with two home runs and 13 RBI over 19 games. Coming into this season, the one knock on his pitching was his control. He had everything else you could want from a future ace, including size (6′-2′, 200 pounds), sound mechanics, velocity and genes. His father, Lance McCullers, was a seven-year major league veteran pitcher. While he could always make bats miss, he had a tendency to overthrow his fastball and his secondary offerings weren’t as on point as some scouts wanted. Over 77 innings entering this season, he had 123 strikeouts and only allowed 45 hits. He also, however, walked 50 batters.
His draft status was all over the place. I had seen him going anywhere from being the first high school right-hander to go first overall, to being selected in the lower half of the first round. There were real questions about his control and if he could improve on his secondary offerings. He had the plus fastball, and his curveball could be knee-buckling at times, but starters need a third pitch and his off speed stuff wasn’t there yet. He came into this season with something to prove. So far, his game log looks like this:
- 5 IP 0 ER 3 H 9 K 1 BB
- 5 IP 0 ER 0 H 8 K 3 BB
- 6 IP 0 ER 2 H 11 K 0 BB
- 3 IP 0 ER 2 H 4 K 2 BB
- 6 IP 0 ER 1 H 13 K 2 BB
- 5 IP 0 ER 0 H 12 K 1 BB
- 7 IP 0 ER 1 H 12 K 1 BB
- 5 IP 0 ER 1 H 10 K 0 BB
That is 42 innings and no runs allowed. Even at the high school level, you don’t see many players going an entire season with an 0.00 ERA. Especially for a pitcher whose team plays a tough schedule and gets the best from every opposing player wanting to show up the top prospect. He is 8-0 on the season, and his 16.8 K/9 ratio shows the improvements in his repertoire. His curveball is much more consistent and is now a plus pitch. His slider has developed to an above-average pitch already and now projects to a potential plus pitch at the next level. No one will ever question his aggressiveness on the mound or his desire to get better. When you drop your walks-per-nine innings from 5.9 to 2.1 in less than a year, your desire and focus is evident.
McCullers only has a handful of games left to seek out a perfect season on the mound. Even if he falters along the way, he has more than cemented his place in the draft and could still very well be that first right-hander to be the top pick overall.