There are pictures -- a lot of them -- that prove Mac Sceroler’s Orioles connections run much deeper than when the O’s made the righty their first-round selection in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The images line family albums. There is one of Sceroler as a toddler, in an Orioles hat; there is another of him at Camden Yards, cheering on “Uncle Ben.”
But really, the photos are superfluous. Sceroler's resemblance to his maternal uncle, former O’s pitcher and current broadcaster Ben McDonald, is obvious the minute you meet him. It’s all over his face. It breathes through in his confident, upbeat demeanor. It’s caked into his southern Louisiana drawl.
“Ben is almost a legend up there in Baltimore,” Sceroler said Wednesday. “I’m super excited for this opportunity, and this has been a big week for our family.”
Long before Sceroler became a Reds fifth-round Draft pick out of Southeastern Louisiana University in 2017, he learned to pitch from McDonald, the older brother of his mother, Pasha. Sceroler was close to his uncle growing up, often traveling to his nearby farm (the families lived -- and still live -- just six miles apart) to train or join him on deer hunts. Sceroler on Wednesday called McDonald his “first pitching coach.”
Sceroler, 25, was born in 1995, McDonald’s last of seven seasons in Baltimore. McDonald, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the '89 MLB Draft, retired after the '97 season.
“He has that insight not many other people have, because he’s been through everything I want to go through,” Sceroler said. “He’s a great person to lean on, especially during a time like this.”
They’ve grown closer, now that Sceroler will get a chance to actively follow in his uncle’s footsteps. McDonald wasn’t heavily involved with the O’s decision to draft Sceroler, but consulted with the team briefly before the selection. McDonald’s private gym was a refuge for Sceroler during the early days of the pandemic, growing more important when the Minor League season, which Sceroler would’ve spent at the Double-A level, was cancelled. The two have spoken several times in the past week to discuss the opportunity in Baltimore, where Sceroler and fellow Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Wells will get the chance to win bullpen roles in Spring Training.
“We’re pretty close,” McDonald told MLB.com. “We’re a tight-knit family.”
Recently, uncle and nephew were linked in overcoming another bout of adversity: They are the only two members of their extended family to avoid contracting the coronavirus in recent weeks. Sceroler’s mother, father and sister were all infected, along with McDonald’s wife, children and parents. News of Sceroler’s selection has helped boost the family’s spirits during this difficult time.
“My mom went out and dug out some of my old Orioles stuff,” McDonald said. “It brings back a lot of gold and good memories in a lot of ways.”
More of a late bloomer than the uber-prospect his uncle was, Sceroler piqued the interest of several teams prior to the Rule 5 Draft despite never playing above Class A Advanced Daytona, where he pitched to a 3.69 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 117 innings over 26 games (20 starts) in 2019. The O’s especially like how Sceroler’s low-90s fastball plays in tandem with his overhand curve; the righty also totes a slider and changeup.
Should Sceroler not make Baltimore’s Opening Day roster or not spend a full season in the Majors, the O’s must offer him back to the Reds for $50,000. But if he does, it’ll require what’s becoming an increasingly common jump from A-level ball to the Majors -- something that was far rarer when McDonald achieved the feat back in 1989. Only one other Oriole in the past eight years has accomplished the feat: Jason Garcia, another Rule 5 Draft pick, in 2015.
“It’s a huge jump, but I also think if you go out and perform and can command the ball, you can be successful at any level,” McDonald said. “It was a big learning curve for me. The difference for Mac is, he understands what pro ball is about.”