2020 Draft: Florida RHP Tommy Mace Ready To Outcompete Everyone
No matter what Tommy Mace is doing, he’s competing.
Whether he’s on the mound at Florida, on the golf course, in the weight room or simply playing a game of catch, Competitiveness is simply part of his DNA.
“I’m really aggressive on the mound,” Mace said. “Kind of no joking there, I’m really serious. I can get a little angry at times. Like, hard-core competitor and I don’t really like to lose. Never like losing at all.”
Through four starts this spring, during Mace’s junior season with the Gators, he had yet to lose a game. Going 3-0, 1.67 over 27 innings, Mace had a career-high strikeout rate (8.7 per nine) and a career-best walk rate (1.7 per nine) as he looked to prove himself as one of college baseball’s top arms.
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“He’s improved every year,” said Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “I think this year was probably his coming out year. Unfortunately the season got cut short.”
Florida was scheduled to start a three-game series against Georgia to kick off Southeastern Conference play the weekend college baseball shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The series would have pitted two of the best teams in the country against each other, with high-level pitching matchups each game causing Marriotts all over Gainesville, Fla., to book up with scouts.
“You were going to see Tommy Mace against Emerson Hancock and Jack Leftwich against Cole Wilcox,” said one National League front office executive. “A lot of people were there to see that initial matchup. But what if the kids from Florida pitched better than the kids from Georgia? Maybe they start trending upwards.”
For his part, Mace was ready for the matchup against Hancock, who ranks as the top righthander in the 2020 class. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Florida ace was ready to show that he didn’t just belong in the conversation with the top arms in the class—he could even beat those arms.
“Just kind of mad that I couldn’t go and compete and prove myself and prove that I was a top pitcher at Florida or a top pitcher in the country,” Mace said. “Obviously we can’t really do anything about it but it just sucks that I couldn’t go and beat people.
“I want to show that I’m just as good as the kids who are in the top 10 picks and show that’s where I should be and that’s who I compete with. Not being able to makes me mad because I could go against all those kids and be fine and win.”
With no college season, Mace has had to find other ways to compete. In the last several months, that’s meant working with another highly-competitive Florida righthander, 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer.
Mace and Singer work out three or four times a week together, throwing bullpens, working on changeups as they play catch or working with plyo balls. Whatever the two are working on, both are constantly trying to outdo one another.
“We compete every day,” Mace said. “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing ... Anything that we’re doing I’m trying to kill him and he’s trying to kill me and the smack talking is real and stuff like that. But that’s just how we are.”
The two have had a competitive relationship dating back to Mace’s first year on campus, when Mace was a self-described “fiery” kid coming out of high school and Singer was on his way to being named the Baseball America 2018 College Baseball Player of the Year.
They would golf together back then, and both would try and out-drive, out-chip and out-putt the other, as if they weren’t really on the same team. But that competitive drive in all aspects of life has helped Mace take his game to the next level.
“I think he showed me the way of toning down, not expressing, just absolutely crushing kids on the field,” Mace said. “I just learned little cues from Brady, watching how he works. If I had to say, he’s probably the most ready guy who’s going to be in the big leagues this year as a pitcher.
“He’s been throwing simulated innings since quarantine ended. Just how hard he works, I want to be around him as much as possible and get as much work as I can in.”
Mace’s work during this time has been more than just competitive bullpen sessions with a former teammate. He’s also enlisted the help of current Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson, who’s teaching him how to evaluate his pitch data with Edgertronic and Rapsodo in order to take his game to the next level.
“Nate is like an analytical phenom,” Mace said. “Everyone is looking at Nate like, ‘How are this kid’s numbers so good?’ So him teaching me how he does things and stuff like that is helping me with some of the areas that I don’t really have in my game, which could elevate me even more.”
Mace hadn’t been exposed to Rapsodo much in the past, so seeing the vertical and horizontal break of each of his pitches, and knowing how to adjust his fingers to get the most out of each offering in his arsenal, means another big breakout could be on the way.
He’s worked on throwing a more efficient four-seam fastball and is hoping to get the pitch up to 18 inches of vertical break. At the same time he’s trying to optimize the movement of his curveball and cutter, maximizing the break of both pitches and also getting distinct movement to give hitters as many unique looks as possible.
In some instances, the feedback has shown that his present stuff is plenty good already—he just might not be using some pitches as frequently as he could.
“(I’m) having my changeup play off my fastball differently,” Mace said. “(Now, I’m) looking at my changeup as one of the best pitches I have. But I threw it only a handful of times this year ... I have so much upside in this draft. It’s going to be interesting (to see) what I am in two or three years.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Mace has been able to quickly implement the tweaks that Pearson and Singer have helped him tease out of his game. While he is a tall pitcher, Mace has always had an exceptional feel for his body and his history of throwing strikes at Florida backs that up.
“He’s extremely athletic and he has a real repeatable delivery,” O’Sullivan said. “He stays in the strike zone an awful lot for a kid his size.”
Mace never had a pitching coach growing up, so his adjustments on the mound were always based on feel. If something wasn’t working or he was having trouble figuring out how to land a pitch for a strike he would watch videos on YouTube to get a better understanding of what he needed to do, and then implement those tweaks in his own delivery based on what felt natural for him.
His golf game has also been valuable in helping him understand how his body is moving in space and how to consistently sync up his upper and lower halves.
“Golf, it’s a lot of feel,” Mace said. “When you’re less than 100 (yards) out or you got into the wind so you have to go (to) a club more so you have to hit a little punch shot or something like that. But also it’s a lot of timing because if your hips and your shoulders are off at any point, you’re going to pull or shank a ball quick.
“And that’s the same thing for baseball. If your timing is off in baseball with your hips and your shoulders then the pitches aren’t going to be where you want them. You’re going to pull or yank them. It’s literally the exact same thing.”
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Mace has plenty of projection remaining for major league teams to dream on. With the combination of his size, work ethic, competitiveness and desire to better himself as a pitcher his breakout is surely coming. Based on his four-game sample in 2020, it was going to happen during his junior year.
Without a full season to show that potential, though, teams can only guess at what he was going to do. Teams have struggled to line up an exceptionally deep 2020 college pitching class, and only getting four weeks to evaluate arms makes that challenge all the more difficult.
But O’Sullivan has seen plenty of first-round pitchers come through his program and in his mind, Mace is deserving of that selection as well.
“I think in his case I think he did enough even though it was obviously a shortened season,” O’Sullivan said. “I think he separated himself. I definitely think he’s worthy of going in the first round. I’ve seen enough of what they’re supposed to look like and I definitely think the way he pitched in the fall and how he pitched in the early part of the spring, I think he’s certainly worthy of that.”
As for Mace, while he’s disappointed he isn’t pitching right now, he understands all he can control is how hard he works. Where he goes in the draft is out of his hands now. All he can do is keep competing.
“I just do what I have to do and get my work done and it will all figure itself out,” he said. “I just want to be an ace on a big league team and run a staff like I have for two years and also in high school.
“It’s always been, ‘OK, Tommy might help us a little bit’ and there are always kids who are supposed to be ahead of me and I just outcompete people. That’s what makes me better than kids, is mentally, I will outcompete people or do everything that I need to do every day to make sure that I’m going to win.”