After up-and-down college career, Massey finds groove in pros

June 11th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- It’s not uncommon in the slightest for young players to excel in college but struggle upon being drafted. Amateur ball, of course, isn’t pro ball. J.P. Massey’s experience over the last five years, however, has been a tad atypical.

Massey, selected by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 2022 MLB Draft, was named the Florida State League Pitcher of the Month for May, allowing two earned runs across 25 innings (0.72 ERA) with 29 strikeouts for Single-A Bradenton. Following four turbulent years as an amateur, Massey is finding his way as a pro.

“I’ve had my ups and downs throughout my career, especially leading up to the Draft,” Massey told “So just to start finding some consistency and have a place where I can consistently work and get better has been amazing.”

Through two and a half months, the 23-year-old has emerged as one of Bradenton’s best starters, posting a 2.84 ERA with 52 strikeouts across 44 1/3 innings. Following a rough April (6.07 ERA), Massey has allowed just five earned runs in six starts.

During his four years at the University of Minnesota, Massey never really found a sustainable formula for success. Across 123 2/3 career innings with the Gophers, Massey had a 6.72 ERA. His best single-season ERA was 4.66. The right-hander piled up the strikeouts (140) but also piled up the walks (106).

“Going into college, just being young and feeling invincible, I was in a great spot mentally,” Massey said. “As time went on, dealing with Draft projections, COVID, whatever it may be, it was a lot more difficult. Life wasn’t the same.”

During Massey’s senior year, a family friend introduced him to Cole Broker, a mental skills coach in Arizona. Massey was never unwilling to talk to his parents about what he was going through, but working with Broker allowed him to talk with someone who could provide an unbiased, neutral opinion.

“He’s been much more than just a mental coach for me at this point,” Massey said. “He’s one of my best friends that I go and talk to about anything. … It’s a lot more than just talking through your thoughts and feelings. It’s truly trying to evaluate it and trying to figure out what you need to do to put yourself in a position of success.”

Massey’s evolution as a pitcher hasn’t been limited to the mental game. During the offseason, he worked with pitching coach and former Major Leaguer Marvin Freeman, who made 221 appearances across 10 seasons. Massey admitted that he had a “bigger” delivery earlier in his career, and while he still utilizes a pronounced leg kick, the right-hander has honed in on “trying to keep things in a small, tight window where I can have a lot of repeatability.” Massey currently features five pitches -- four-seamer, two-seamer, curveball, changeup -- and he is still tinkering with how to best use them.

“We’re still trying to figure out the ideal repertoire and usage rate each and every outing, but [five pitches] allows me to have something that I can use against hitters,” Massey said. “If I see them trying to lean towards one pitch, I can throw something that goes in the other direction. It gives me a lot of versatility while I’m on the mound.”

Further helping Massey’s evolution as a pitcher are the Reds’ Hunter Greene and the Guardians’ Triston McKenzie, both of whom have imparted wisdom to Massey. Along with Greene and McKenzie, Massey spent countless hours with the D-backs’ Alek Thomas, whom he’s known since their travel ball days in Illinois.

Massey regularly worked with Thomas and his father, Allen, the White Sox’s former strength and conditioning coach who was drafted by the team in 1996. In working with Thomas, Massey met Quinn Priester, the Pirates’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who went to Cary-Grove High School just outside of Chicago.

“Both of those guys were high Draft picks that dealt with the pressure of being prospects immediately as young players and having to live with that,” Massey said. “Going into my first professional season, it’s been vital to have both of them that I can call on whenever I need advice or whenever I may have questions about how to go about something. They’ve both been huge for me and they always seem to be there whenever I need them. I’ll be forever grateful for all they’ve done for me. I’m puling for them, and I hope one day, we can all cross the same path in the big leagues.”