Lefty Sears brings strikeout stuff to Mariners

Citadel starter led NCAA Division I in K's this season

June 14th, 2017
J.P. Sears went 7-3 with a 2.64 ERA and 142 strikeouts at The Citadel this past season. (The Citadel)

SEATTLE -- Among the 23 pitchers selected by the Mariners in the 40 rounds of the MLB Draft, which concluded on Wednesday, J.P. Sears won't stand out in the crowd.

At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he's not physically imposing. As a junior at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., he's not coming from a baseball powerhouse. But when it comes to production, the lefty stood tall this past year, striking out more batters than any other pitcher in the NCAA Division I ranks.

So when the Mariners saw Sears still on the board during their 11th-round selection to open the final day of the Draft, they picked up the South Carolina native, and are eager to see what he can bring to professional baseball after he flies to their Peoria, Ariz., facility on Friday to take a physical exam and likely sign a contract to begin his journey.

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"He's a strike-throwing machine," Mariners amateur scouting director Scott Hunter said. "He's got one of those fastballs that guys don't pick up. He has a little lower slot, three quarters, and the ball comes out of his hand with life, and sneaks up on hitters. He's missed a ton of bats. This is a kid we're excited to put in our system."

The Citadel is a military school, and Sears has spent the past three years being part of a very disciplined world.

"Yes sir," Sears said from his home in Sumter, S.C. "I wore the uniform every day for the past three years, got up every day at 6:45 a.m. for class, kept clean shaven, all of that. That discipline helps with everything else. Just the business of it, being around you and being really organized. That's what it's taught me more than anything."

Sears is one semester shy of his degree in business administration, and intends to finish that process, but there is no requirement for Citadel graduates to enlist or serve in the military. So his life will now focus on pro baseball, which is something he dreamed about as a kid, but didn't fully start to expect until a breakout season this year in the Southern Conference.

The 21-year-old went 7-3 with a 2.64 ERA and an astounding 142 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings over 14 starts, including notching 20 strikeouts in a two-hit shutout of the Virginia Military Institute on March 24. He was a second-team All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball, a third-team All-American by Baseball America and a semifinalist for USA Baseball's Golden Spikes award.

Sears' fastball tops out at 88-90 mph, but he locates well, and has worked on his offspeed offerings. Whatever the formula, it's clearly been working.

"I can't really explain it," Sears said of his high strikeout totals. "I just compete, and use my strengths as a pitcher. It's just controlling my pitches, and locating. I would say I developed my changeup and threw my curve more for strikes this year. And the fastball has gotten better, more movement and deception."

Citadel coach Fred Jordan, told the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., that Sears "throws three pitches for strikes. And he's got a fighting heart."

Sears played linebacker and receiver at Wilson Hall High School, which won a South Carolina state title during his senior year, and would have loved to pursue a gridiron future. But he brings that bulldog mentality to the mound, and it has served him well.

"Size isn't all that matters," Sears said. "That's a big thing with projectability with players, and I understand that. I'm not on that end of it. I just go out, and care about me versus the hitter. It's all about competing in the moment.

"We don't find guys I play against to be crazy freak athletes. I have seen guys that are faster or throw harder, and are projected higher, but I just compete with what I have."