In his Double-A debut, McGee was roughed up for four earned runs in just two innings in a loss to the Charlotte Knights. He failed to make it out of the third inning, finished with an alarming number of walks (six) – four of which came in a long first inning -- and surrendered five hits. But on Wednesday night, the 21-year-old, who has only been able to legally drink for less than two weeks (born on 08/06/1986), threw more like the pitcher who had 145 strikeouts in only 116 2/3 innings at Vero Beach in the Florida State League. He only allowed three base runners – one hit, two walks – retired the first 14 batters he faced, and struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings in a dominant performance.
Even more impressive, he hit his spots with an overpowering fastball – his bread and butter on the mound – which was consistently clocked in the mid 90s throughout the game. McGee's arm, one of the liveliest in the organization, is the one of the main reasons why he is considered as one of the top five lefty pitching prospects in the minor leagues today.
"He was pumping gas," catcher Josh Arhart said. "The ball just explodes out of his hand. We kind of used everything to keep it fresh if it was needed later in the game, but if you're throwing fastballs by guys, you have to keep with it until they adjust."
Tampa Bay's fifth round selection in the 2004 June draft, McGee is now 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA – four earned runs in 8 1/3 innings – with the Biscuits.
Prior to being called up, the youngster was breezing through Single-A competition for Vero Beach – going 5-4 with a 2.93 ERA and scattering only 86 hits and 45 runs, 38 of which were earned, in 21 starts for the baby Devil Rays. For his stellar performance, he was one of four Vero Beach players to be elected to the Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star team.
In 2006, pitching for Southwest Michigan, McGee – 7-9 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 starts – ended the season among the Midwest league leaders with 171 strikeouts. In a breakout year, he earned Midwest League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honors while establishing himself as a premier prospect in the Tampa Bay organization.
If the Nevada native can continue to develop a nice off-speed repertoire and work towards harnessing his blazing fastball, one of the best in the organization at all levels, including the Devil Rays, he could be pitching at the highest level in the very near future. In my opinion, if he continues to prove himself at Montgomery, and eventually Triple-A Durham, he should be big-league ready after another full season of professional baseball.
And with the recent signing of David Price, the number one overall pick in June's draft, the organization now possesses a stable of talented young arms, which arguably rival any other organization in the American League.
6'9 right-hander Jeff Niemann – 11-5, 3.90 ERA at Durham is also less than a year away from making his major-league debut. Niemann, one of three Rice University pitchers selected in the first round of the 2004 draft, has battled through several arm injuries during his first three seasons as a pro. But after an impressive spring training performance with the parent club, the hard-throwing righty has made impressive strides as the anchor of a successful Bulls starting rotation this summer.
Niemann, Edwin Jackson, current Tampa Bay ace Scott Kazmir, McGee, Price – the Golden Spikes Award winner at Vanderbilt in 2007, and Jamie Shields could potentially form a dangerous starting rotation for the Devil Rays in the very near future.
Wade Davis – also recently called up to Double-A after going 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in 13 starts as McGee's teammate at Vero Beach, current Tampa Bay starters Jason Hammel and Andy Sonnanstine, Christopher Mason, who is 13-4 with a 2.54 ERA for the Biscuits as their ace, and former first-round pick Wade Townsend are five more starters -- of the plethora of promising starting pitchers in the Tampa Bay farm system – who could make a huge difference for the franchise at the major league level in the next five years.
The quick development of McGee and the signing of Price, one of the top pitchers to come out of the college ranks in a long time, brings the organization one giant leap closer to the first .500 season in franchise history.