Everyone’s path to getting drafted is quite different. That’s true for Cubs draftee Haydn McGeary, but Major League Baseball hopes it’s a route that becomes more common.
McGeary, who posted spectacular numbers at Division II Colorado Mesa University, used a big showing in the Appalachian League this summer as a springboard to professional baseball. He was taken by the Cubs in the 15th round in the 2022 Draft and finished the year with Single-A Myrtle Beach, putting up more strong numbers in his pro debut.
The Appalachian League was formerly a professional Class A Short-Season league, but last summer it turned into a wood-bat college league. It gives players like McGeary a taste of what life is like when you get drafted.
“It’s pretty similar to professional baseball, as far as the schedule and the format,” McGeary said. “I wanted to get a kind of a taste for playing every day and playing under that kind of schedule on that kind of grind before I was actually having to do it. The coaches and the players in Bluefield did a really good job. It's definitely that experience over the summer helped me a lot to be comfortable out here and integrate into the schedule out here a lot quicker and quicker.”
The catcher has been touted by the Cubs for the productive bat he possesses, fitting given the player he modeled his game after: Paul Goldschmidt.
“He’s accumulated some off-the-charts, Nintendo-type numbers,” Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s backed up by some context-neutral data points as well when we’re talking about the exit [velocity] and how the ball just flies off his bat. We got to the point where we were really comfortable [with] the potential in having a power bat.”
McGeary’s productive bat has carried over to his professional career so far. He batted .273/.342/.409 in 18 games across two levels before the season ended. That early production can be credited in part to his experience in the Appalachian League.
McGeary took advantage of the opportunity to get comfortable at the next level while bolstering his Draft profile. The Ridge Runner (Bluefield’s team) slashed .403/.482/.622 with four homers and a 1.104 OPS in his 119 at-bats. It’s a summer McGeary used to not just land his dream job, but one that taught him valuable lessons moving forward.
“I can’t say enough good things about the league,” McGeary said. “The coaches you work with and teammates you play with are unbelievable. It’s the time to learn your lessons and make mistakes, whether it's forgetting a belt or not knowing how to travel. It’s going through those kinds of things before you get in trouble for it or fined for it or lose your job.”
McGeary’s experience with the league allowed him to realize the dream he had since the age of 4. A dream that he knew could become a reality at Thunderbird High School in Arizona, where his freshman coach advised the player that if he put his game together that he would play ball in college and beyond.
It was the same year that McGeary cemented himself as a catcher, as he played outfield in a few games and had questions about playing catcher due to his 3 1/2-inch growth spurt he had that year. His questions were answered after putting in work with an instructional coach.
“A lot of coaches told me I shouldn’t catch at my height [6-foot-5],” McGeary said. “They wanted to move me to first or the outfield. It’s not easy to play the position at my height, but I love being behind the plate. I put in work with a private instructor, and we worked twice a week for two years doing mobility drills and anything to master the position.”
The work McGeary put in paid off as he made a name for himself, being named Arizona’s 4A Player of the Year and finishing in the top 10 in the nation in homers during his senior year. He did not receive much college attention, though, with Colorado Mesa University landing his services.
One visit made McGeary feel the fit was perfect and he proved the decision was wise, as he went 275-for-615 with 75 homers and 243 RBIs in his four years at the university. He hit exactly .481 in each of his last two college seasons, blasting 35 homers as a senior. The production led to 15 accolades in his final year and landed him the opportunity to play in the Appalachian League, plus beyond.
McGeary, who loves dogs and video games like MLB the Show, is hoping that the video game kind of numbers carry over to his time in the Cubs organization. The outgoing first-year pro looks to make his name known as he starts his ascent to the Major Leagues.