At some point in your life, someone gave you some bad news. The kind of news that wasn’t expected. For Kyle McPherson it was earlier this year after performing quite well for the West Virginia Power. McPherson would not be moved up in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, but sent back a level.
A pitcher that compiled a 5-2 record with 32 strikeouts and six walks was told to go back to State College.
Perhaps, the South Atlantic League hitting wasn’t as good as the New York-Penn League? Whatever the reason, it surely didn’t slow McPherson down. He is not the type of player that feels sorry for himself. Not in the least. But to say that McPherson went back to State College a man on a mission is an understatement.
What McPherson did when he was sent back to State College is a lesson in determination. Left with no choice but to kick ass and take names, he did just that. In 13 starts for the Spikes, he struck out 57 batters, allowed just 11 walks and held the opposition to a .248 batting average with an ERA of 2.99.
(At the time, the move really puzzled us at Rum Bunter, but taking the time to think about it since talking to McPherson, the State College Spikes rotation without him this season would have been well, a lot different.)
The move turned out to be the right one for both the Pirates and McPherson. The Spikes had a turnaround season and the 6’3″ McPherson performed so well that he earned Pitcher of the Year honors for the Spikes. His last three starts certainly pushed him over the top when the ballots were cast, as McPherson struckout 16 batters, walked two and allowed just two earned runs over the 19 innings he pitched.
He just kept pitching better and better. No tantrums. No questions. Just strike after strike, out after out.
Rum Bunter was fortunate to grab a few minutes of Kyle’s time last week. McPherson oozes humility throughout our conversation.
Smitty: WERE YOU PLEASED WITH YOUR SEASON?
McPherson: “Yes, sir it was a lot better than I expected. I had a decent year at State College, walked away with the Spikes Pitcher of the Year Award which I was very surprised to see, but so far so good, I stayed healthy and was able to put quite a few quality starts together.”
DID YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY DOWN THE STRETCH?
“No, I just wanted to work quick, work efficiently for the team and get back to our dugout and let them go to work with the bats, that was my mentality.”
WHAT WAS SO DIFFERENT THIS YEAR AT STATE COLLEGE, DID THE TEAM HAVE BETTER TALENT?
“Yes sir, the mentality was different than last year. Everybody had the same goal, play pitch for pitch, or at-bat for at-bat and that really made a difference. Last year we had certain players that didn’t want to do that. It was a drastic turnaround.”
DID THE ORGANIZATION GIVE YOU ANY UPDATE ON WHAT THEY EXPECT FROM YOU THE REST OF THE YEAR?
“Yes sir, I have been fortunate enough to get an invitation to the Pirates Instructional League. I will be headed down there in a week (this Thursday) I will be there for three, three and half weeks. I’m going to work on my fastball command and overall pitchability and also some velocity work. Those are my goals.”
HOW DO YOU IMPROVE YOUR VELOCITY?
“That will come from strength and mechanical work. The organization feels that a lot of my velocity is being left on the table, that is what they are telling me, so I am going to try and bring that velocity up by tweaking some mechanical issues, alleviate some stress on the arm and allow the body to take most of that stress rather than the arm.”
HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN A PITCHER?
“No sir, it has always been off and on, pitch an inning or so and then back to the field. In high school I pitched a decent amount, but while in college I was primarily a dual guy. (They made sure) I had time to get reps as a position player then I would jump on the mound.”
KYLE WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE NEXT YEAR?
“My overall goal is make it to the big leagues. Of course, the organization will place me where they see fit for me to reach that goal. My goal is to have a healthy spring training and offseason. I’m going to go down to the Instructional League and I will be all ears. I will pick many things up for the betterment…to take with me for next year.”
“Wherever they decide that they want me to end up is up to them, I cant control that, so I will give myself every opportunity I can and let the chips fall where they may.”
TELL ME MORE ABOUT WHAT YOU SEE FOR NEXT SEASON?
“Next year, I will continue where I left off this season. Keep putting quality starts together. I want to have a standout year again next year, make strides for the big leagues. I would really like to get some AA exposure next year and keep moving up the ladder. As long as I am able to stay healthy and continue to perform I will just let them make those tough decisions. I am just going to go out there and play.”
After the interview, one pitcher came to mind for me and that is Rudy Owens. He also was held back and the organization spun some interesting reasoning behind their decision. Whether any of us agree with how the young pitchers are handled as they are coming up the pipeline, it appears to be working in making them mentally tough. Something a pitcher can never have enough of on the mound.
Owens had an incredible season and earned the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher Award which is an incredible accomplishment when you look at his stats last year while playing for the Spikes:
Owens 2008: 13 starts a 4.97 ERA, 58IP, 45K, 13BB
McPherson 2009: 13 starts, 2.99ERA, 75IP, 57K, 11BB
My question to each of you is this. If Owens can make such a jump in one year, why not McPherson? If he gains some knowledge in Instructional League, works his tail off in the offseason, and can stay healthy while gaining a couple digits on the radar gun combined with that outstanding command, well everything points to a breakout season for McPherson next year.
And heh, are you going to tell McPherson, a guy who has earned two black belts in his young life, that it can’t be done?
Didn’t think so.