Sports

Tarpon Springs’ Travis MacGregor begins pro career with GCL Pirates

Travis MacGregor last visited Manatee County about a month-and-a-half ago for a couple of hours of sitting on the bench.

Tarpon Springs’ East Lake High School visited Lakewood Ranch High School in a Class 8A-Region 3 semifinal, and East Lake was willing to let its future second-round pick take the night off.

MacGregor and the Eagles were in a rare position this spring. Fellow starting pitcher Christian James wound up as a 14th-round pick with the Mets, and the third member of the rotation will pitch for Notre Dame next year. Even East Lake’s top relief pitcher, a junior this year, is likely to be drafted in 2017.

“This season was, I think, something not a lot of guys get to experience with the amount of talent we had on this team. We had three guys throwing 90-plus on our team. We had kids that didn’t even touch the field really that were pitchers that would be a starter, maybe even the ace, at any other school.”

MacGregor, however, separated himself. With a 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame and a rapidly improving four-pitch arsenal, MacGregor became the 68th selection, in the second round, of the 2016 MLB draft by the Pirates.

Earlier this week, he arrived in Bradenton to begin working out with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates, whose season begins Friday in Lakeland. He projects as a starting pitcher at the Major League level with an easy throwing motion and long arm action to complement a frame with room to pack on, potentially, 30 more pounds.

“When a lot of the pro scouts look at players they look at what they’re going to be five years from now,” East Lake head coach Zack Roper said, “not what they are right now.”

Even now, MacGregor is impressive. Since the summer before his senior year, when he dedicated himself to pitching full-time, MacGregor’s four-seam fastball velocity has jumped from 84 mph to around 90 or 91 mph, and he’s been clocked as fast as 94. Throw in a two-seam fastball, changeup and curveball, and McGregor has an advanced battery of pitches for an 18-year-old.

“I definitely like living off the fastball,” MacGregor said, “but I like my changeup as my out pitch.”

Pittsburgh took MacGregor on June 9, three picks before the end of the first day. MacGregor spent most of the second round in contact with three Major League clubs, but as the third round rapidly approached nothing was certain until the Pirates called a few minutes before their pick came up. They wanted to take him, and MacGregor wanted to sign.

A week later, his contract was finalized, and MacGregor was ready to make the 90-minute trip from Tarpon Springs to Pirate City.

“I felt like the club was invested in me and that I was going to have a good chance with this club,” MacGregor said. “This was the club I wanted to go with, and we got the opportunity and we decided to take it.”

The right-hander doesn’t know for sure why Pittsburgh was interested, but he suspects it’s a combination of his frame and production. In 54 innings as a senior for East Lake, MacGregor went 7-1 with a 0.92 ERA and 82 strikeouts.

The Eagles wound up knocking off Lakewood Ranch in the region semifinals before bowing out against Lutz’s Steinbrenner High School in the region final. A month later, MacGregor and James completed their unusual season by electing to play professionally.

Roper knows MacGregor is ready. When he committed to pitching full time before his senior year, MacGregor developed a strong routine without emphasizing pitching in games as often as possible. He balanced live action with long toss, lower-body workouts and recovery days.

Now he’ll have a MLB organization monitoring him while he tries to continue increasing his velocity and improving his command.

“His ceiling is extremely high,” Roper said, “but what he’s got between his head is already mature and that’s what I think will put him apart from some of the guys he’ll be playing with at the low minor-league levels.”

GCL Pirates Schedule

June

24 at GCL Tigers East, Noon

25 vs. GCL Tigers East, 10 a.m.

27 at GCL Braves, Noon

28 vs. GCL Braves, Noon

29 at GCL Tigers West, Noon

30 vs. GCL Tigers West, Noon

July

1 vs. GCL Blue Jays, Noon

2 at GCL Blue Jays, 10 a.m.

4 at GCL Phillies, Noon

5 vs. GCL Phillies, Noon

6 vs. GCL Yankees West, Noon

7 at GCL Yankees West, Noon

8 vs. GCL Braves, Noon

9 at GCL Braves, 10 a.m.

11 vs. GCL Tigers East, Noon

12 at GCL Tigers East, Noon

13 vs. GCL Yankees East, Noon

14 at GCL Yankees East, Noon

15 vs. GCL Tigers West, Noon

16 at GCL Tigers West, 10 a.m. a.m.

18 at GCL Blue Jays, Noon

19 vs. GCL Blue Jays, Noon

20 vs. GCL Phillies, Noon

21 at GCL Phillies, Noon

22 at GCL Yankees West, Noon

23 vs. GCL Yankees West, 10 a.m.

25 at GCL Braves, Noon

26 vs. GCL Braves, Noon

27 at GCL Tigers East, Noon

28 vs. GCL Tigers East, Noon

29 at GCL Yankees East, Noon

30 vs. GCL Yankees East, 10 a.m.

August

1 at GCL Tigers West, Noon

2 vs. GCL Tigers West, Noon

3 vs. GCL Blue Jays, Noon

4 at GCL Blue Jays, Noon

5 at GCL Phillies, Noon

6 vs. GCL Phillies, 10 a.m.

8 vs. GCL Yankees West, Noon

9 at GCL Yankees West, Noon

10 vs. GCL Braves, Noon

11 at GCL Braves, Noon

12 vs. GCL Tigers East, Noon

13 at GCL Tigers East, 10 a.m.

15 vs. GCL Yankees East, Noon

16 at GCL Yankees East, Noon

17 vs. GCL Tigers West, Noon

18 at GCL Tigers West, Noon

19 at GCL Blue Jays, Noon

20 vs. GCL Blue Jays, 10:00 a.m.

22 vs. GCL Phillies, Noon

23 at GCL Phillies, Noon

24 at GCL Yankees East, Noon

25 vs. GCL Yankees East, Noon

26 at GCL Braves, Noon

27 vs. GCL Braves, 10:00 AM

29 at GCL Tigers East, Noon

30 vs. GCL Tigers East, Noon

31 vs. GCL Yankees East, Noon

September

1 at GCL Yankees East, Noon

David Wilson: 941-745-7057, @DBWilson2

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