New England's Pride Turns Focus To Career Path

BOSTON--Tough decisions don't get easier the more you have to make them, but Jack McGeary is growing accustomed to the process nonetheless. The ambitious lefthander enters his senior season as one of the top amateur pitchers in the country, and after much deliberation, recently made his college choice official. He committed to Stanford, but a stack of mail from schools courting his services last year is a reminder of all the options he had to sift through.

His next big decision will be less diluted, but won't come with any less hand wringing.

If McGeary maintains his reputation this spring, his name could be called during the first round of this year's draft, but only if he is willing to postpone his college education and give up his chance to pitch in college.

His combined SAT score of 2030 (of a possible 2400) is evidence he's got the brains to go along with the baseball skill, which will come in handy while he carefully considers what step to take next.

"I'm serious about baseball, but I want to be more than just an athlete," McGeary said. "My parents both graduated from St. Francis (Pa., University), and school is an important consideration. It's funny--the whole 'which college' decision is tough, but thinking about it, choosing between college and pro ball is even tougher."

Ahead Of The Curve

The recent scuttlebutt among scouts has been the rare crop of top-end high school pitchers coming up the pipeline in the Northeast. The arrival of Mystic, Conn., product Matt Harvey, New Jersey high school teammates Rick Porcello and Evan Danieli and even Quebec righthander Phillippe Aumont has long been awaited. But last summer McGeary made sure Harvey was not alone in representing New England in this unprecedented class of prep hurlers.

That's when the well-mannered, well-spoken 17-year-old from Roxbury's Latin High hit the showcase and travel ball circuit and proved that guile was as much a part of his repertoire as grades.

McGeary's competitiveness, control of four pitches and feel for pitching soon began winning over scouts, and by the time he shut things down for the winter, the vaunted foursome from the Northeast had a fifth member.

"McGeary is not far behind that group," said a scout with an AL organization when asked to sum up McGeary's status in comparison to Harvey and Porcello. "I could see him easily sneaking into the bottom of the first round."

With a fastball that sits near 88 mph and tops out at 92, McGeary lacks the 96-97 mph velocity that has made Harvey and Porcello household names among college coaches and scouts. That doesn't mean, however, that he's the next Jamie Moyer.

"I get a lot of Andy Pettitte comps," McGeary said. "I guess that's pretty close, mostly because I have similar arm action to his. Mark Buehrle is another, even though I don't throw a cutter. I'd say that I'm neither a power pitcher nor a finesse pitcher. I'm somewhere in the middle."

Which is where McGeary's pitches never seem to be. He shows an uncanny ability to move his fastball around the strike zone, and throws a two-seamer, changeup and curve to complement his four-seam fastball. His secondary stuff is another separator, as his curveball is among the best in the class, not only for its sharp snap but also because of his ability to put it where he intends.

"It is not unique to see a guy (from the Northeast) with one (above-average pitch), but it's very unique to see a guy with more than one," said a national crosschecker with an American League organization. "And you could argue that McGeary has three plus pitches, even though his fastball isn't going to blow you away.

"He pitches like a guy born and raised in California or Florida."

Stanford's appeal spans far beyond Palo Alto or even California, and Cardinal recruiting coordinator Dean Stotz recognized McGeary's polish and upside as soon as he saw him pitch.

"Everyone is attracted to guys who throw hard,"  Stotz said. "But a lot of times pitchers lack the rest of the package when they get here, because they overpowered guys in high school and didn't need it. Jack developed that foundation and pitchability early. We like that he has both good command and good secondary pitches."

Ante Up

Some college coaches might not be as openly honest about the prowess of a recruit--at least not until Aug. 15, the newly established deadline incoming players have to decide whether to sign with the team that drafted them or attend school. But Stotz is well aware of McGeary's stock among scouts, and is hopeful his school's track record of retaining recruits holds up with the prize of his 2007 class.

Historically, players who commit to Stanford play at Stanford. Stotz said that the last player to sign a letter of intent with the Cardinal and instead sign a pro contract out of high school was Ryan Jaroncyk, a Mets first rounder in 1995.

McGeary must ponder the pull of pro ball against the excitement of a college career and the obvious benefit of a Stanford education.

English or history would likely be his major at Stanford, and hitting, as well as pitching, could be a part of his role on the field. McGeary is an excellent hitter, with good balance, power and bat speed to his swing, making him a potential two-way threat in college.

Ultimately, however, McGeary doesn't shy away from what will likely be the most important factor in his choice.

"In the end, in order to not go to college it has to be worth it," he said. "So I guess it will mostly come down to money."

David Laurila is a freelance writer based in Cambridge, Mass.