Luke Hagerty Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 28
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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Luke Hagerty was on the cusp of fulfilling years of projection and promise.
The towering 6-foot-7 lefty accepted his sole Division I scholarship offer to Ball State, and in three years on campus, added nearly 10 miles per hour to his fastball and turned into a 2002 first-round pick of the Cubs.
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Hagerty dominated his first professional assignment, a pit-stop at short-season Boise, and pretty soon many Cubs fans began to view Hagerty as the soon-to-be left-handed complement to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in the Chicago rotation.
“People started saying I’m supposed to be the guy to round out that team,” said Hagerty. “That was kind of a lot to start to hear…I looked at it as yeah, I’ve been working my butt off, I’m happy that people are recognizing the work I’ve put in.”
His rise to the Chicago rotation took a detour when Hagerty had Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2003. Nearly two years of rehab later, and Hagerty was in big league camp trying to win a job—with the Marlins.
He’d been selected by the organization in the December 2004 Rule 5 Draft (a draft that Hagerty knew nothing about until he became a selection) and that subsequent spring was impressing Marlins brass and manager Jack McKeon in Spring Training.
One day, as he prepared to throw live BP to the Marlins’ starting outfielders, the wheels came off.
“For some reason, this one thought- hey, I hope you don’t hurt anybody—it was just something I said to myself—everything spiraled from there,” said Hagerty. “It felt like a fuse went off—like somebody just turned a switch off with how I thought.”
“I was standing out in the outfield ready to go warm up, and I felt this adrenaline wash all over me, and thinking, oh crap—I don’t remember how to pitch.”
Instantly, Hagerty was gripped by what’s commonly known in sports as the yips. He lost the ability to throw a strike, or even to throw a baseball in the same zip code of where he hoped for it to land.
He spent the rest of the spring battling what he hoped would be a temporary ailment, with Marlins veterans like Al Leiter and Paul Lo Duca offering encouragement and advice—mostly mechanical tips—but nothing took. The Marlins returned Hagerty to the Cubs, and he spent the next four years fighting for his career within his own mind—something that became a constant struggle, even in the “offseason.”
“I didn’t leave. I didn’t have offseasons,” said Hagerty. “I went to the field every day to try to figure it out.”
“I didn’t feel like I could stop, because if I stopped it was beating me, and I needed to fight and figure it out.”
He’d see glimmers of hope, but eventually, after being released by the Cubs and multiple Indy ball teams due to his inability to throw strikes, Hagerty left baseball behind. He finished his degree, got married, started a family, and began training athletes.
Hagerty opened his own training facility, X2, in the Phoenix area. Initially resistant to training baseball players, Hagerty relented, and eventually even began to play catch with some of his athletes—something he hadn’t been able to comfortably do when he was still playing.
Playing catch turned into bullpens, and bullpens turned into throwing gas and hitting spots. Hagerty found himself throwing harder and sharper at age 37 than he had at age 21, and in January of 2019 put on a lights-out display in a bullpen at the Seattle-area Driveline facility in front of professional scouts.
“I felt like I won there—I mentally won,” said Hagerty. “Putting myself in that situation again to allow that to be an option—I felt pretty empowered
The Cubs signed their former top prospect, offering a chance at a Jim “The Rookie” Morris-like comeback story, but an elbow injury and the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to his second run at the big leagues. Hagerty has again (for now) retired from professional baseball, this time walking away as someone who conquered the yips, instead of the player who was run out of baseball by them.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former first0round pick and Cubs farmhand Luke Hagerty joins to discuss being recruited as a “project,” being a member of a college rotation with two 1st round picks, and his battles with the yips.