As one of the Washington Nationals more intriguing September call-ups, Kyle McGowin impressed and has now set himself up for a real breakout season in 2019.
Coming into 2018, not too many Washington Nationals fans would remember the name, Kyle McGowin. But after his first career major league start in September, he might be able to set himself up for a breakout year in 2019.
The 26-year-old was about to start his sixth season in the minor leagues after he was acquired from the LA Angels in the Danny Espinosa trade. He opened the year in High-A with the Potomac Nationals and then was able to take off.
After a brief two-start sting in Potomac, he moved up to Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators. But it was when he made it to Triple-A that he established himself as a possible September call-up for the Nationals.
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With the Syracuse Chiefs, he started eight games, pitching to a 3-2 record with a stellar 1.20 ERA, 0.66 WHIP and struck out 44 batters in 52.2 innings. While those strikeouts were down from his High-A and Double-A results, he showed much better command at the highest minor league level with just a 1.54 BB/9, and that plays at any level.
He needs to rely on his command as his pure stuff that isn’t going to blow anyone away at the highest level. In his brief time in the bigs, his fastball averaged 91.2 mph while his slider and changeup sat in the low 80s.
But he wasn’t always able to command his pitches as well as he would’ve liked. In 2017, he only had a 61% strike percentage across the same three minor league levels he pitched at this year. Then in 2018, that jumped up to 66% in the minor leagues and in a post-game interview following his major league debut, he told Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post what it was that helped him flip the switch:
"“My mental game is night and day different from last year. I was dwelling on the negatives last year, and this year I took the negatives and turned them into positives. Then my training this winter was a lot different. I went and trained with a couple of facilities, and I’d say that did wonders for me.”"
While that doesn’t really profile as a top-end rotation starter in the majors, there’s no reason that he can’t be a mid-to-low starter. The mentality change will need to stick, as we’ve seen with Jeremy Hellickson who operates similarly, you can get knocked around occasionally, so you need to have a short memory.
Looking ahead to 2019, while he deserves to start the year at Triple-A, he may need to start the year with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. In the offseason, the Nats signed a deal with the Fresno Grizzlies to be their new Triple-A affiliate, which creates logistical issues for calling players up.
As things stand, McGowin may well have put himself at the front of the queue for a promotion should injuries hit the rotation early in 2019. Therefore, with the possibility of being needed on short notice, Harrisburg makes a lot more sense as a base than Fresno, out in California. Not to mention the hitter-friendly conditions in the Pacific Coast League, that the Grizzlies play in.
If he is indeed the first port of call when a rotation spot opens up, then he could be primed to breakout in 2019. It would be stunning if the Nationals rotation went the whole year without an injury, and McGowin would be ready to take the opportunity with both hands when it comes.
Kyle McGowin may have finally figured things out in the minors in 2018. Now the Washington Nationals will be excited to see what 2019 has in store, and hope he can take another step forward.