Phils pitching prospect McGarry ready to thrive with right mentality

March 4th, 2022

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Griff McGarry last spring found himself falling into a common pitcher’s trap.

He started thinking too much.

“It was the issue of letting the moment get a little too big when I was out there,” McGarry said at the Phillies’ prospect camp at Carpenter Complex. “Thinking about the inning, finishing the inning, instead of thinking about that individual pitch.”

Thinking too big can be a problem for pitchers. Sometimes they step onto the mound and think about their line, even before they throw their first pitch. Got to go six innings today. Got to give up three or fewer runs. Need that quality start. Sometimes they make a great pitch, then watch an infielder box the ball into the outfield. They carry those frustrations into the next pitch. Sometimes, the inning spirals.

But McGarry made some notable mental and mechanical adjustments last season at the University of Virginia. After he lost his spot in the rotation and struggled as a midweek starter, he spent more than three weeks working on himself. He lowered his arm slot a bit. He leveled his front side.

“My glove was running a little bit high, I think I was losing control because of that,” he said.

He improved his mental approach. McGarry rejoined the rotation and dominated in the College World Series. The Phillies selected him in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft, based on his stuff and upside.

McGarry struck out 43 and walked 14 in 24 1/3 innings between Low-A Clearwater and High-A Jersey Shore. There is as much buzz about him as any pitcher in the Phillies’ system. He finished last season as the Phillies’ No. 30 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Expect him to make a huge jump in the 2022 rankings.

“With the way the game is trending, you have 'stuff' starters and you are describing Griff McGarry,” Phillies player development director Preston Mattingly said. “The guy that has four pitches that can all grade out as plus. That's Griff McGarry.”

McGarry’s fastball touches 99 mph. He throws a slider, curveball and changeup, too. It is easy to see why the Phillies want him to start. But it is easy to see him making a quick trip to the big leagues as a reliever, too.

“We knew he had big stuff and he could move pretty quick and have a ton of success,” Minor League pitching coordinator Travis Hergert said. “We’ve stayed out of his way mechanically. It’s really just getting him comfortable in pro ball and letting him ride the momentum that he had at UVA. I think the biggest key was honing in on his mental approach and the mental adjustments that he made at UVA. How can we embrace that part and get him comfortable going out there and competing? Taking that approach allowed him to focus more on competing than tinkering. We didn’t want to go down that road, and we still don’t feel there’s a need to go down that road.”

McGarry still has thoughts run through his mind when he is pitching. TV cameras have caught him muttering to himself on occasion.

But only good thoughts these days.

“I remember one of his last starts of the year in Brooklyn, I asked him, 'What are you telling yourself out there?'” Hergert said. “It was really just honing in on that one pitch, really just trying to have that one pitch have a life of its own. It’s like ultra-focused on that, no matter what the result was previously.”

“It’s small things,” McGarry explained. “It’s like, ‘All right, let’s go right here.’ That kind of thing. … In the beginning of the [college] season, I had a lot more negative thoughts. An example I use is, like, ‘I need to throw a strike here.’ Toward the end of the season, it was, ‘I’m going to throw a strike here.’ It’s just changing those little things. It sounds cliché, but it really helped me. It’s a lot more natural. The more you do something, the more natural it becomes. So when I’m out there, I think I maintain that right mentality and that confidence, which I think is a really big difference. When you’re pitching at this level, a lot of it is mentality going in.”

The right mindset, combined with that 99 mph fastball and three plus secondary pitches, could take him places.