Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 15
Big league dreamsFormer Nipomo Titan Jeff McNeil goes from Dirtbag to NY Met
By KRISTINA SEWELL
The first text Jeff McNeil got from his brother, Ryan, after the Major League Baseball draft read something like this: “Good, now I can strike you out.”
But nothing can bring Jeff down, not even competitive taunts from his baby brother—a pitcher drafted right out of high school into the Chicago Cubs farm system.
On June 12, Jeff said goodbye to Long Beach and hello to a dream come true when he signed his contract with the New York Mets.
“I was talking to several scouts over the fall and spring,” he said.
The utility player who spent the last season manning shortstop was also scouted by the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Florida Marlins. According to Jeff, the Detroit Tigers wanted to sign him, but the Mets beat them to the punch with the first pick.
After a physical exam and the contract signing, Jeff took up temporary residence in Florida, whose weather doesn’t appeal to the California native.
Even still, his spirits are soaring. After three years at Cal State Long Beach, he said it’s time to move on.
“It’s been real good, but I’ve been planning on this,” he said.
Life in the minors will be filled with days spent at the field, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., practicing and playing games. Jeff said he will start out with the King Sport Mets in Tennessee.
“I have to play hard and show the organization what I can do,” he said of moving through the farm system.
If all goes well and Jeff continues to impress, he has a chance to play for the farm team in Brooklyn. The athlete, who has been swinging a bat since age 3, said he is glad he went to college first before the pros.
“I needed to mature as a player and develop my skills,” he said. “I learned how to work hard and I think that will help me in professional ball.”
Judging by his 2013 season statistics, Jeff developed his skills exceptionally. He finished the season with 77 hits, 16 of which were doubles. He came in having one of the lowest strikeout totals at 11. He is one of four players to play in every game, making 51 starts. With a .348 batting average and .398 on base percentage, Jeff puts up the numbers they want to see in the majors.
According to Long Beach State infield coach Jesse Zepeda, Jeff is simply a versatile baseball player.
“He is a true competitor with a mental toughness that helps him understand the game well,” Zepeda said.
Jeff described himself as a contact hitter and said he goes to the plate with the mentality that he is going to beat the pitcher.
“I’m a contact hitter; I just try to make contact and put the ball in play—I don’t strike out often,” he said with confidence.
Zepeda added, “He understands who he is as a hitter. He puts the ball in play hard.”
In addition to a consistent bat, Jeff has speed and athleticism on his side; he runs from home to first in 4.1 seconds, and he had six stolen bases last season.
While Jeff can play any position with command, he spent 2013 at shortstop. Zepeda said he was the Dirtbags’ most consistent infielder and had the best fielding percentage with little to no errors.
Zepeda said that leading by example, Jeff, whose nickname is “Mac,” always showed up to play; his team knew exactly what to expect from him.
As for the Nipomo native, he is excited and ready to pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues. He won’t return to Long Beach until September.
“He was the kind of player you wanted involved when the game was on the line,” Zepeda said. “His versatility will keep him around for a while; it will be interesting to see what they do with him.”
And when he gets there, Jeff is going to make sure his brother doesn’t strike him out.
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell sees Angels in the outfield. Contact her at email@example.com.
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