During the lead-up to last month’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft, Jeremy McKinney hadn’t had much interaction with the Washington Nationals.
Which made it all the more unexpected when the Nats chose the 2013 Franklin Community High School grad in the 31st round.
“It was a surprise to me,” McKinney said, “but that just made it more fun.”
Though he had a year of eligibility remaining at Indiana State, the 22-year-old McKinney opted to get his professional career started. He signed and reported to West Palm Beach, Florida, home of Washington’s Rookie League affiliate.
McKinney, who consistently throws between 92 and 95 mph and has topped out at 97, is working as a relief pitcher, a role he became familiar with during his two full seasons with the Sycamores.
He’s getting adjusted to the idea of his entire day revolving around baseball. McKinney wakes up at 5:45 a.m. each day, and he’s at the field working from 6:45 until at least 3 p.m.
“It’s definitely different than college, but I love it so far,” he said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet that this is now my full-time job.”
Perhaps the biggest hurdle in McKinney’s transition has been the language barrier. Many of his new teammates hail from the Dominican Republic, and while he took a year of Spanish in high school and a semester in college, those haven’t adequately prepared him for immersion.
Fortunately, he said, there are a handful of bilingual players who are able to bridge the gap.
I’m getting along with these guys really well,” McKinney said of his teammates.
McKinney’s hope is that he can earn a promotion before year’s end to pitch for the Auburn (New York) Doubledays, the Nationals’ short-season Class A squad in the New York-Penn League.
He was Indiana State’s main closer in 2016, going 6-4 with seven saves and a 3.26 earned-run average. He followed that up by making 16 appearances, including eight starts, in 2017, going 5-1 with a 4.09 ERA.
McKinney struck out 46 and walked just 10 in 49 2/3 innings of work a year ago, and upped his strikeout numbers a bit in 2017, fanning 68 batters in 55 innings.
As a high school senior at Franklin, McKinney went 8-3 with a 1.77 ERA and struck out 132 batters while helping the Grizzly Cubs win Johnson County, Mid-State Conference and sectional titles.
He played at Northwest Florida State College in 2014 before heading to Indiana State, where his first season was cut short by a nerve injury in his right shoulder.