Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ready To Defy Odds, Hastings Hurler Ready For Tampa

Andrew McGowan knows the ensuing couple of months will be an uphill battle.

The recent Hastings High graduate, who evolved into one of New York State's leaders in strikeouts, is certainly embracing the major challenge cooking on his front burner.

At 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, McGowan is certainly not the most intimidating pitcher. The lefty throws in the early 80-MPH range. He did not emerge into a pursued product on the recruiting agora, slipping through some cracks.

Though lacking the same speed, gaudy statistics, and physical frame as most pitchers headed to major Division-I programs, there is one aspect of McGowan's pitching package that makes up for all of these notable deficiencies.

McGowan's featured pitch is a filthy two-seam fastball, which tends to throw hitters off because the movement is difficult to time.

This was evident against Pelham, when McGowan fanned 12 and surrendered zero earned runs in seven innings on the hill. The Pelicans were handcuffed at the plate, appearing as if they couldn't make contact or tap a McGowan pitch into the Hudson River if the game was played on the Titanic.

McGowan was rendered unhittable. Hastings stormed back from an error-filled start to stamp an electrifying 5-4 win.

Against Irvington, McGowan struck out 14 batters and yielded just one earned run. In a Section 1 playoff game, McGowan's pitches rendered Pawling the Frozen Bat Friends Fraternity. The kid delivered a career-best 15 strikeouts en route to twirling a one-hitter.

Defensively, Hastings wasn't the same. Numerous errors put a lot of weight on McGowan's shoulders, needing every single iota of his augmented arm strength to carry them through later innnings.

Now, with a three-year career at Hastings in the rearview, McGowan is serious about weighing his stock at University of Tampa.

McGowan was accepted into the school during the spring and has had talks with Tampa coach Joe Urso. Urso, who authored a career as a player at Tampa and compiled a 446-137-1 record during his time at the helm, has offered him a walk-on opportunity.

While being a 'mop-up man' may not seem like a sought after position, several have walked on to eventually climb the ladder to becoming starters. If McGowan's arsenal of hard-to-solve pitches can tie up batters and plug him into the workaday roster, opportunity will follow.

"When I get there, there is a lot more work to be done," said McGowan. "This baseball isn't a joke and is nothing close to New York baseball so I'm going to have to be ready for a huge jump in competition and everything else that comes with that."

Since the spring season ended, McGowan has changed his approach on prolonging his baseball career.

McGowan has rapidly morphed into a workout fiend, running three miles each day and lifting religiously at the weight room inside the Cochrane Gym or the New York Sports Club in Dobbs Ferry.

Surfacing as one of the top hurlers in the Section and registering as one the top-10 leaders in New York State has helped bolster his confidence. McGowan utilized a fastball, curve, change-up, and slider in his arsenal to keep the hot bats at bay.

"Trying to be recruited wasn't my goal during high school," said McGowan, who also played football and basketball during his stay at Hastings.

"I stopped playing summer ball for a while, thinking I just wanted to go to college without the rigors of playing an NCAA sport. I definitely think if I put time into looking at schools and getting people to come watch my games I would have gotten some better college looks but not until early in my senior year did I make up my mind that I was going to play in college."

To college scouts, the top three factors (in order of importance) in a pitcher's evaluation are location, movement, and velocity. This could give McGowan the chance to earn a roster spot as a freshman and potentially work his way into meaningful innings.

"He has to put the work in but if he does, he can pitch in the bullpen there probably within the first two years," said Hastings coach Jesse Waters, who culminated his eighth year at the Yellow Jackets' helm with a 15-7 campaign.

"If he puts the time in and he's prepared for that, he can do that. I think when he's on, with all those high-strikeout games, he's as close to unhittable as possible. There are times, however, when he struggles a little with his control and he can walk a few too many. The last game of the season, he was almost unhittable. Valhalla had a great offense and he gave up only two hits to that team, maybe three. He struckout a bunch of guys but he walked so many that he couldn't finish."

Waters continued, "As I told Andrew in the winter, he can go down to Tampa and in the first year or two pitch out of the bullpen. If he continues to work and gets a little bigger, at some point I think he could be at least a guy out of the bullpen for three years for them."

No doubt, the competition will spike to top levels. Following a 36-17 record, Tampa had five players selected in the 2011 MLB Draft. In the last two years, Tampa--which recruits from many of Florida's traditional baseball breeding houses--has launched 15 players to the draft.