Big things are ahead for Luke McNeillie.
The right-handed pitcher has been a quick riser through the ranks of the 2023 grad class, and has emerged as a must-watch name in advance of that year’s MLB Draft.
McNeillie is, of course, a veteran of New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series events; we first saw him break onto the scene at the 2020 Underclass Combine and then at last year’s Main Event at Citi Field, an invite he earned off of a strong showing at the Atlanta regional event earlier that summer. While he’s since made an appearance at the Georgia Bombers scout day this past January, where he unquestionably one of the standout arms there, his last impression for most on a national scale is likely his outing at Citi Field.
That’s certainly not a bad thing — he struck out two batters in two innings of work at the home of the New York Mets — however, for those who haven’t seen him since September, the improvements have been both gradual and noticeable.
“I think the big thing for me is I’ve put on a couple pounds,” McNeillie told FutureStarsSeries.com in a Zoom conversation.
“That’s always been the big thing for me, just gaining weight and getting stronger. I move pretty well, so the big thing has been the weight room and more (focusing) on the mental side of the game too. But I’ve always talked to ‘Mags,’ (Johnny Magliozzi) my pitching coach, about it, but it was time to start taking it as serious as I could. I was taking it as serious as I could, but it was time to actually focus on it and try to be the best I can.”
McNeillie says he’s noticed that his delivery has become smoother since bulking up a bit, and things have come easier for him on the mound in general. He’s also seen gains in velocity — McNeillie says he reached 94 MPH right at the beginning of March — and said he’s not surprised that things have started to come together for him given the work he’s been putting in.
“The big thing was just my legs, that’s what I focused on, because that’s what I’d been struggling with mechanically too,” said McNeillie, who noted that’s helped with getting drive from his lower half in that delivery.
McNeillie has credited both Magliozzi and his new high school pitching coach, long-time big-leaguer Kris Medlen, for their help on the mental side of things, saying they’ve both helped him realize how dominant he can be in games.
While he wasn’t necessarily dominant at Citi Field — which is somewhat to be expected as one of only a handful of underclass invites last year — the flashes were certainly there of what’s surely to come. It was, at minimum, an extremely valuable learning experience as McNeillie seems to be continuing on a path that will either take him to The University of Florida or as a selection in the 2023 MLB Draft.
“That was an experience that not a lot of kids get to have, and I’m definitely thankful for that,” McNeillie said. “I’d say the biggest thing for me, honestly, was probably getting to see some kids from the Dominican and Puerto Rico, and realizing that there’s guys not just from the U.S. trying to get to where I want to be too. I think that was an eye-opener for me. But the experience, it was legit. Sitting in the locker room was pretty cool. That’s all something I hope to be doing one day, so it was good to get to see it before everything happens.”
While it wasn’t McNeillie’s first visit to the Big Apple, it was, obviously, his first time on the mound in Queens. He made sure to take a moment to soak it all in, but before he actually set foot on the rubber, making sure that the moment never got too big.
“That first time walking out from the dugout was just kind of eye-opening to see how real it all is,” he said.
If all goes as planned, the big leagues will be a part of McNeillie’s future, it’s just a matter of when he chooses to take that path. He announced his commitment to the Gators this past summer, and would be a key part of their rotation from the second he walks in the door.
“I always wanted to play in the SEC, that was one of my dreams, playing at a bigger school in the southeast,” he said. “It just felt like family there. The coaches, I connected with them really well, and my dad is big on the academics, and they’re a good academic school, so it kind of worked out perfectly.”
The recruitment process itself was a challenging one — Luke’s mother became ill, and he took some time away from talking to schools to focus on his family — but it’s one he largely handled himself. The decision on what to do next summer will largely be his as well, and as you can imagine, with how far away it all is, it’s one he says he hasn’t put a ton of thought into just yet.
“I’m not really too worried about it, because I know if it doesn’t work out (in the Draft), I’m going to be at a good school and have good academics and a good (baseball) program, so I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “I know it’ll get talked about more during my senior year, but right now it’s just about trying to get better. If it happens, it happens out of high school, but I’m not too worried about it right now.”
It’s been a long road to get to this point at all for McNeillie, so that he’s even on the radar for the 2023 MLB Draft has been something that’s been difficult for him to entirely wrap his head around.
“Growing up, I was not a good pitcher, so I did not expect it to be anything like this,” he said. “I never expected to be talking about anything with the Draft out of high school. It was always a goal to get drafted out of high school, but I never really thought it would be as realistic as it is. But, it’s definitely exciting just to see it all happen.”
McNeillie raises an interesting point, in that if you look through some of his older amateur baseball profiles, he’s listed as an outfielder/pitcher, with the days of the former having now long been in the past. So, when did it all change?
“Maybe my eighth grade summer was really the year, and then freshman year of high school I got to pitch on varsity, which was a step forward to what I wanted to be as a pitcher,” he said. “That was kind of that year where I flipped into mainly a pitcher. I always had a good arm growing up, I just couldn’t locate anything. It was really just that I got hurt my eighth grade year, and then after that, I did a lot of physical therapy and everything and my arm got stronger. I started working with one of the coaches at the time at the Bombers before ‘Mags’ came over, and it opened up my eyes that I could be a real pitcher.”
Having historically been one of the premier producers of premium talent on the travel ball scene as of late, the Bombers have also helped shape McNeillie over the past several years, which, as he continues to develop and improve with them, is something he won’t soon forget.
“(They’ve played) a huge role,” he said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, I think. Definitely with colleges and everything, they got me connected to all the schools I was talking to. And then ‘Mags’ has obviously helped me out a ton pitching-wise. He’s had a big impact. Really, I don’t even know how to describe it, he’s been a guy that I can trust with anything, more than just baseball.”
As he continues his work with the Bombers, and likely gets some more invites to upcoming Future Stars Series jewel events as well, the focus remains simply on getting better every day as he works towards a big summer in 2023.
“The big thing for me is just gaining more weight than I have been, I’m still a skinny little kid,” he joked. “Just trying to put on 10-15 pounds is my goal by next year’s spring, which would get me up to 185-ish. But, every day, all my ‘pen days, I try to feel everything out with my arm and how I’m releasing it and trying to figure it all out. We have Rapsodo at my high school and with the Bombers, so that’s something I can use to analyze my days with my pitches, which has helped me out a lot too.”
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