Righties on track: 2020 Draft picks impress

February 20th, 2021

In 2020, right-handers Max Meyer, Kyle Nicolas and Zach McCambley experienced a whirlwind of emotions during an unconventional year. First came the abrupt end to their college careers, followed by a return home and then the culmination of a life-long dream to get drafted. Much in the world is still uncertain during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on a Saturday morning at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex, this trio of Marlins Draft picks simultaneously threw bullpen sessions as part of big league camp.

All three were selected last June, with Meyer (MLB Pipeline's No. 28 overall prospect) chosen third overall. Nicolas (Miami's No. 21 prospect) and McCambley (No. 22) were taken in Competitive Balance Round B and the third round, respectively.

"It was one of the best days of my life getting drafted, and I went right to taxi squad -- and obviously we have all these protocols, we have to test every other day -- so it got kind of taxing a little bit. But it was awesome," Meyer said on Zoom. "Being with all those guys and the new guys coming in, too, we just got drafted, we all want to show everyone what we can do. And you know, we're all hungry to get to the next level. And we're trying to get as much information as we can from all these MLB guys, so it's a great experience being in big league camp here. I guess we're all kind of talking to each other about that."

Following his signing, Meyer, 21, participated at the alternate training site in Jupiter, Fla., as part of the 60-man player pool. Nicolas and McCambley, meanwhile, had to get creative to stay in shape. Over the summer in Ohio, Nicolas found parks to play catch in because of safety and health restrictions for gyms. McCambley noted the organization did a good job of keeping in touch with its Minor Leaguers, sending a text or calling every couple of weeks to see how their arms were holding up during a six-week throwing program. By the time it ended, the prospects headed to Florida for instructional league.

When that ended in November, Nicolas stayed in Jupiter and trained at the facility to keep throwing and lifting. Rather than being stuck in the blizzards of an Ohio winter, he could throw outside in the Florida sunshine. The 21-year-old McCambley was home in New Jersey, while Meyer was relegated to throwing against the wall in his garage in Minnesota.

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"It's a pretty good relationship," said Nicolas, who played on the same Cape Cod League team as McCambley in Summer 2019. "We get together at all the instructs and we kind of had gone through the same thing, you know, being drafted up in college and then kind of just waiting at home, not really knowing where, when we were going to go anywhere. We kind of came in and had a similar experience. So that kind of bonded us right away. It's been really good."

Under normal circumstances, all three would have begun their professional careers in the low Minors and seen game action. Instead, the trio had to find other ways to progress.

Meyer has been refining the grip on his fastball and working on his changeup as a third pitch. Nicolas, who turns 22 on Monday, has focused on fastball command and ensuring his changeup can be that third or fourth pitch in his arsenal to remain a starter. McCambley's priority lies in improving his changeup; he hoped to ask top prospect Sixto Sánchez about his elite offering. Each pitcher sees this first taste of Spring Training big league camp as an opportunity.

"First day was awesome," McCambley said. "I mean, every day I come in here is awesome. Not a lot of guys really get a chance to do what we're doing. And I'm very fortunate enough to get that invite to come here, and I'm just really excited to get started and learn from these big league guys. But I'm excited to really just watch. I'm kind of just going to try to absorb everything that I can. I know that I'm in a position where I have to just be open ears for everything. I'd be lying to you if I told you that I wasn't, you know, a little starstruck coming in, but now that I'm here, it's kind of just come in here, get my business done, do what I've got to do and be a professional just like the rest of them."

Marlins manager Don Mattingly had not seen any of the 2020 Draft selections throw in person until Saturday's bullpen session. These three, along with left-hander Jake Eder (2020 fourth-round pick), are part of the organization's effort to build a sustainable winner behind strong starting pitching.

"Obviously you don't pick a guy with your first pick -- third pick in the country -- that you don't think is going to be electric," Mattingly said of Meyer. "So he's a guy with obviously good stuff with a number of pitches. It's good to have him in camp, and all the young guys, honestly, that we haven't seen from the Draft. Our development group really likes the guys. They haven't had much chance to pitch, but [they] like the way they've worked and the way they get after it and their stuff."