The first thing you read about Seattle Mariners prospect George Kirby in any scouting report is his strike-throwing ability. In 88 innings for Elon University this spring, he allowed six walks.
That’s not a typo. Six.
Then there are the strikeouts. He accumulated 107 in 14 games for the North Carolina school, with five games of 10 or more. All of that helped him to go 8-2 with a 2.75 earned-run average in his junior year and end up the M’s first-round selection – No. 20 overall – in June’s MLB amateur draft.
It’s the second time in consecutive years the M’s plucked an extreme strike-thrower from a mid-major Southern school – Logan Gilbert went 14th overall out of Florida’s Stetson University last season and has already made his way to Double-A Modesto in his first full minor-league season.
Gilbert’s success is a path the M’s hope Kirby, 21, will follow.
Then there’s the Elon connection. Pitcher John Brebbia became the first Elon player to reach the majors since 2006 when he was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals in May 2017. Infielders Nick Zammarelli (eighth round, 2016) and Ryne Ogren (12th round, 2018) were both drafted by the Mariners in recent years.
It’s almost become a tradition that the Mariners would select an Elon player at some point in the draft.
“At Elon, the last couple years, we’ve had a lot of good pitchers coming through,” Kirby said. “Our coaches did a great job recruiting. I went to a school where I knew I could compete right away as a freshman. Had the opportunity to play a good Southern schedule. And it worked out pretty well for me.”
Obviously, the Mariners think the staff at Elon is doing something right.
“Zammarelli’s in Double-A, another one of my teammates is in Arizona right now, (Ogren) got traded to the Orioles,” Kirby said. “(The Mariners) have been doing a good job. They’re coming to all of our games, seeing pitchers, hitters – whoever it is. So it’s good to have that connection. And our coaches and the scouts stay very close.”
Kirby said carrying the weight of a first-round pick isn’t a burden.
“It’s very nice to be able to get drafted that high,” he said. “But overall, we’re all in the same position. We’re all the same guys basically playing at the same level. Just got to keep doing well to move up. Yeah, no pressure really.”
He said with Everett’s proximity to Seattle, the AquaSox can’t toil in anonymity like some short-season players can when the affiliate isn’t as close to the parent club: “My first start there, the crowd was a little bigger. I think it was nice to see. Everett’s a great place, close to Seattle. (Triple-A) Tacoma’s right there, too. So a lot of the guys in the front office will come down to Everett, watch the game. That’s a really good atmosphere there.”
Kirby throws a four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball and slider and throws all for strikes – either in or out of the zone.
“I command the fastball pretty well,” he said. “I try leave the zone a lot, execute some pitches down in the zone. In college, the zones are more side to side. So here, it’s more up and down. So that’s one thing I’ve got to work on, just to command a little better up and down the zone. And I think if I do that, actually, my pitches are pretty good.”
The Mariners seem to be placing an emphasis on control pitchers in the early rounds of the draft. Usually, that’s the last thing that comes in a transition from amateur ball to the pros. Not so with Kirby, or Gilbert before him.
“I’m not afraid to get get hit,” Kirby said. “I mean, if you live in the zone, even the best guys are only going to get a hit three out of 10. So, I think just for me, just attacking the zone and being able to leave a zone when I want gives me opportunity not to walk people and just not give out free bases.”
Kirby feels there’s room for improvement within the 25 to 30 innings he’s slated for the rest of the summer.
“I just need to command the zone a bit more,” he said. “It’s a lot different from college. Just maybe try and gain a little velo(city). Just try and get acclimated with the minor-league ball and stuff.”
Kirby said no one in the organization has said specifically that they want to see him increase the speed of his low-90s fastball – but it wouldn’t hurt.
“I mean, it would be nice,” he said. “Just be able to command and throw hard.”
Like a lot of ballplayers, Kirby likes to golf and play video games.
The Rye, New York, native is close to his degree in project management.
“I’ve got four classes left,” he said. “I’m going back in January for our winter term. And then I gotta find time to go back in the fall next year.”
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