Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jesuit phenom Lance McCullers Jr. impresses with 97 mph fastball

TAMPA — Measuring pitching prospects is an inexact science, but the radar gun is the professional and college scouts' most trusty tool because it often separates the power arms from the pretenders.

And on one mid-March day behind the Jesuit High School baseball field backstop, one number on the gun raised all eyebrows.

Near the end of Jesuit's district game against Jefferson, one of 16-year-old right-handed reliever Lance McCullers Jr.'s fastballs popped into the catcher's mitt to the tune of 97 mph.

"When I heard that, I thought the radar gun must be messed up," McCullers said. "Quite honestly, I knew I threw hard, but I'm still kind of in shock about that."

But the fact is, McCullers is no joke.

Gifted with the best arm in the bay area — and possibly the state — McCullers is just a sophomore. He's also the Tigers' starting shortstop, as well as their No. 3 hitter. This year, he has worked to hone a curveball that hits the mid 80s.

He has already accepted an oral offer to play college baseball at the University of Florida. McCullers is the oldest son of a former major-league pitcher and has already matched his father in velocity.

"What he's throwing at 16 is what I was throwing at 25," said Lance McCullers Sr., who pitched seven major-league seasons, mostly as a reliever with the Padres in the mid 1980s. "And he's a heck of a lot better athlete than I was."

McCullers is a major reason Jesuit (29-3), consistently one of the top baseball programs in the bay area, is back in the state tournament after a four-year hiatus and playing for its first state title in a decade. The Tigers face Ponte Vedra in Friday's Class 4A state semifinal at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie.

"We have a great program here," McCullers said. "But you never know when you're going to get back. The road is tough just to get to this point. We can't get wrapped up in going to states. We have to get wrapped up in winning states."

This is a rare opportunity for a rare talent.

"It's as rare as I've ever seen," said Jesuit pitching coach Geoff Goetz, a former Jesuit standout and first-round draft pick in 1997. "I mean, I played with Josh Beckett as a senior and he was amazing. But to have that kind of velocity at his age and to be able to throw two other plus pitches for strikes, I've never seen anything like that. It's just a different level."

In his two seasons at Jesuit, McCullers has been the Tigers' closer, and more times than not, their bridge to victory in the late innings. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has yet to allow an earned run in 16 innings this season, striking out 33 and holding opponents to a .125 batting average.

At the plate, McCullers leads the team with a .467 batting average. He has driven in 27 runs and has 12 extra-base hits. In the regular season, he made just one error at shortstop.

McCullers committed to Florida in September, choosing the Gators over Georgia, LSU, Florida State and Georgia Tech.

While most around him say he has the talent to be either a position player or pitcher in the future, being the closer suits McCullers just fine.

"I love having the ball in my hands late in the game," he said. "I love coming in to close it out. To me it's kind of a mind game, thinking about what the batter thinks I'm going to throw and trying to throw him off."

Most hitters sit on his fastball — most have to — which made the development of his breaking ball this year, and a selectively-used changeup that still hits the mid 80s, key to his success.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he hit 100 next year," Goetz said. "He might have already hit it. At 16, he's not even close to hitting his peak, velocity-wise. But if he can consistently pitch between 93 and 97 and get hitters out, holy crow,he'd still be better than 99.9 percent of the guys out there."

McCullers' father, who has coached him for years with the AAU Tampa Cannons, noticed early — age 6 or 7 — that his son had a strong arm.

McCullers Sr., a Tampa Catholic alum, led San Diego with 16 saves in 1987 and struck out 126 hitters in 123 innings. Mom Stacie was a tennis standout at LSU.

Even his younger twin brothers, Ryan and Austin, have their claim to fame. The Jesuit incoming freshmen were members of the Citrus Park team that went to the Little League World Series two summers ago.

But it's the comparisons to his father that are hard to avoid. There are already whispers about the pro draft (Baseball America has him projected as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2012 MLB draft). But McCullers' greatest strength might be his ability to remain grounded.

"To me, there's really no comparison," McCullers said. "(My father) made it to the majors. I haven't made it yet. But I know he's done a great job with me."

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com.

. Up next

State tournament

At Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie

6A: Alonso vs. Hialeah American, 1 p.m. Friday

5A: King vs. Pace, 1 p.m. Monday

5A: Armwood vs. St. Thomas Aquinas, 8 p.m. Monday

4A: Jesuit vs. Ponte Vedra, 10 a.m. Friday

3A: Tampa Catholic vs. Jacksonville Bolles, 5 p.m. Wednesday

2A: Shorecrest vs. Jay, 10 a.m. Monday

On the Web

We'll have live updates from games involving local teams at state at tampabay.com/hometeam.

Jesuit phenom Lance McCullers Jr. impresses with 97 mph fastball 05/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 9:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. USF defense feeds on Temple offense to take NCAA interceptions lead

    College

    TAMPA — Backed up in his end zone, Temple quarterback Logan Marchi scrambled, trying to elude a USF defensive end coming straight for him. Until then, Marchi hadn't had much luck hitting his receivers.

    South Florida Bulls safety Devin Abraham (20) sacks Temple Owls quarterback Logan Marchi (12) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 21, 2017.
  2. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated

    College

    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humiliation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  3. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person

    College

    TAMPA

    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  4. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  5. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    The Rays still talk about having a shot to make the playoffs. But recognizing and correcting mistakes will help them next year, such as Mallex Smith trying to steal third in the first. "Those are the little things we've got to find how to eliminate real quick," manager Kevin Cash said.