Ben McDonald and his nephew chatted last weekend in Louisiana about two of their favorite topics, the hunting and baseball seasons intertwined.
McDonald, the first-overall selection in the 1989 amateur draft who spent nine years in the majors. Mac Sceroler, a former fifth-round selection of the Reds out of Southeastern Louisiana who was the fifth player chosen Thursday morning in the Rule 5 draft.
A former high-profile Orioles pitcher and current MASN analyst, and a close relative who will report to their spring training camp.
The announcement of the Orioles’ selection, broadcast on MLB.com with the Winter Meetings reduced to virtual form, was accompanied by a reference to McDonald. What could only be assumed was the level of excitement that rose above their tree stand.
“I kind of heard through the grapevine that there was a possibility that Mac would be drafted potentially by the Orioles or other teams,” McDonald said yesterday. “My understanding was he was on the list of a couple teams. So I knew there was a chance.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know much about the Rule 5 draft, but I’m hearing that there’s an opportunity maybe,’ so he was all excited about potentially something happening. I told him I heard from the Orioles, through the grapevine, nothing promised but potentially it could happen. He was excited about getting an opportunity.”
One that eluded him with the Reds, who excluded Sceroler from their summer training camp and fall instructional camp.
Sceroler, who turns 26 in April, made 26 appearances at high Single-A Daytona in the Florida State League in 2019 and posted a 3.69 ERA and 1.111 WHIP with 29 walks and 127 strikeouts in 117 innings. COVID-19 shut down the minor leagues and denied him a chance to pitch at the next level.
“He had a good year in 2019. I think he led that league in strikeouts over there,” McDonald said. “Like a lot of minor leaguers, he was waiting for 2020 to come around because he was going to start at Double-A, they were telling him, and he was looking forward to it. And of course the pandemic hit and set everything back, like a lot of kids. They didn’t get a chance to go out and perform. It was a lost year for everyone.
“When this (Rule 5 draft) happened he was super-pumped about it. And of course the family is, too, because he was just looking for another opportunity and as we all know, the Orioles are the land of opportunity right now. It’s a great organization to be in and he’s excited about it. It brings back a lot of memories for my mom and dad and my sister and family and all that kind of stuff about the Orioles days. So it’s an exciting time in our family, to say the least.”
Evidence is unpacked, displayed and modeled.
“I would have been excited for him either way, but because it’s the Orioles, it’s emotional for the family,” McDonald said. “My mom was real emotional (Thursday) night. My dad was, too. They’re dragging out all the old Orioles stuff. My mom sent me a picture. She had one of my old Orioles jackets on from, like, 1993 that I used to wear when I came off the field to stay warm and go back out. She had put it on and took a picture of it and sent it to me. So everybody’s fired up about it.
“I talked to Mac. He is so excited, you know? Just because it’s another opportunity, but also because his uncle played for the Orioles and he understands it’s a wonderful opportunity for him. I had a talk with him and I said, ‘Listen, this is your shot, this is what you worked so hard for, this is what you put all the time into.’
“He stayed busy during the pandemic. He wasn’t at an alternate site with the Reds or anything, but I’ve got a gym at home and he stayed busy every day working out. He went out to where he went to school at Southeastern, which is just east of Denham Springs, where I live, and threw to hitters all spring and summer, so he stayed in the best shape that he could. He hoped to be with the alternate site and it didn’t happen, and then he wanted to go to fall ball and they called him and told him he was going, and then they kind of pulled the plug on that right at the last second and told him that he wasn’t going.
If the intent was to stash Sceroler, it didn’t work.
“I know some teams do that when they want to keep a kid in their organization and don’t want other teams to see him and they try to hide him at times,” McDonald said. “Maybe that was the reason why. But all that’s water under the bridge now.”
The odds of keeping a pitcher on a major league roster with no experience above A ball don’t favor Sceroler, but he can’t be hurt by the process. He’ll be exposed to a new environment at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. Free to absorb the atmosphere, instruction and data provided by the pitching and analytics staffs.
And if he’s passed through waivers and returned to the Reds, he should arrive as a better and more mature prospect.
“The Orioles are trying to get to the forefront of the analytical stuff,” McDonald said. “You’ve seen it like I have, and they’re really moving forward. So maybe he’ll get some different kind of feedback that he wasn’t getting over there. And he’ll be in a big league camp, so whether or not they keep him, he’s on the 40-man roster. It’s the best thing that could have happened for him all the way around.
“I’m hoping he sticks. It’s highly unlikely a kid who never pitched above A ball sticks in the big leagues, but you know how that stuff works. If they do decide to send him down and the Reds don’t want him back for whatever reason, he gets to go down to the minor league system with the Orioles and have a chance to go up and down and get a shot at the big league level at some point during the season, so I think that’s the way he’s looking at it. Obviously, he wants to stick and he wants to be there, but he also realizes it’s a great opportunity no matter what to get some big league action this year.”
So exactly who is Sceroler besides a fifth-round draft pick with deep Louisiana roots and a famous uncle?
“He is a strike-thrower, first of all,” McDonald said. “Mac was a kid who was a late-bloomer. In other words, in high school he didn’t even make the varsity team as a sophomore. He made it as a junior, got to pitch a little bit, but really his senior year he started to come on and get some notice and end up going to a mid-major at Southeastern. None of the big schools were looking at him. And then all of a sudden he becomes freshman All-American at Southeastern, gets in the starting rotation as a sophomore, does really well, and then his junior year he does even better.
“The velo continued to tick up, his command of his stuff got better, being able to locate the fastball, and then he picked up a changeup at Southeastern to go along with the breaking ball, so his stuff has really been evolving and getting better. I know the spin rates, vertical break on his fastball, is above average. He spins his breaking ball pretty well, too.
“He was a fifth-round pick, but talking to scouts, Mac kind of fell off right at the end of that year. His last two or three starts were not good. They had him penciled in higher than that along the way and then he fell off a little bit, so that dropped him to the fifth round, but a lot of people thought he was second- or third-round material. I saw him up to 96 mph several times in college.
“He’s trying to adjust to the new big league way and the new pro way where it’s a max-effort kind of deal. That’s what they were telling him when he was with the Reds. ‘Hey, I want you to throw every pitch max effort, whether you’re a starter or not. If you get four innings, that’s perfect. Five innings? That’s even better.’ That’s kind of where they are. But he’s a strike-thrower and he commands his fastball really well and a changeup that’s a plus-pitch, too.
“He’s got some learning to do, like a lot of them do, because he just hasn’t pitched past A ball, but I think this is a wonderful opportunity just to get to big league camp and see what it’s all about.”