Nathan Kirby Joins ‘From Phenom To The Farm’: Episode 101


Image credit: Nathan Kirby (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2012 draft, Nathan Kirby was a BA Top 200 prospect, with a chance to go as high as the top two rounds.

A lefthander from James River High School in Midlothian, Va., Kirby had the velocity, ability to spin the ball and projection professional organizations look for in a high school arm, but the University of Virginia commit knew that while the physicality for professional baseball was there, the readiness to pass up college for the professional lifestyle wasn’t.

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“When I’ve made decisions in my life, I’ve been fortunate that my parents have been there by my side. They’ve given me the right information to make good decisions, and that decision for me was that I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t grown up,” said Kirby. “I realized that I need to go to college, it seemed to be a better place for me to grow—I wasn’t ready for all the things that came with getting drafted.”

Less than two hours from his home, UVA was everything Kirby wanted in a school, with elite academics and a top-tier baseball program—both of which challenged him during his first year in Charlottesville. Adapting to the classroom is a challenge for any UVA freshman, and on the mound in the 2013 college season, Kirby went from Top 200 draft prospect to bullpen arm with an ERA over 6.00. However, lessons from that freshman year paved the way for his future success. 

“I couldn’t be more thankful for the failures that I did have as a freshman at UVA,” said Kirby. “Through failing 90% of the time my freshman year, doing a lot of running, I applied a lot of those things I learned.”

Kirby made good use of lessons learned as a freshman during his sophomore season. He garnered ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year and Baseball America first-team All-American honors as UVA’s Friday night starter, tossing an 18-strikeout no-hitter against Pittsburgh along the way. 

His sophomore campaign was nearly without blemish, until his start in the opening game of the College World Series finals, an early exit in a loss to eventual national champion Vanderbilt. Unfortunately for Kirby, his dream season had ended with a bitter taste. 

“The thing I felt awful about was seeing all the juniors and seniors that had to move on,” said Kirby. 

His junior year promised to be more of the same on the mound, but injuries to his lat and elbow put Kirby on the shelf for most of the 2015 season. 

“Unfortunately, my elbow was beginning to degrade,” said Kirby. “Some of the things I was dealing with in the spring were more of how can I maintain and keep my head above water, versus how can I get better.”

He missed the entire final two months of the season, cheering from the bench as UVA made a surprise run to Omaha, finding themselves yet again facing Vanderbilt. In the 8th inning of the deciding Game 3, UVA called on the still-ailing Kirby to close out the Commodores, providing redemption in sealing the program’s first national championship. 

His two innings against Vanderbilt marked the baseball peak for Kirby. Selected 40th overall by the Brewers in the 2015 draft, Kirby spent most of his first four years in professional baseball injured, undergoing Tommy John and thoracic outlet surgery. His stuff and health never fully returned, and he retired in 2022 after 144 professional innings. It seems fair to ask him if throwing through pain to deliver a national championship was worth it.

“Oh yeah,” said Kirby. “People have asked me if I would go back and change my decisions in life, and I would not.”

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ national champion and former University of Virginia star Nathan Kirby joins to walk through his career.

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