FSS alum, two-way star Nolan McLean dazzles in High-A pitching debut

April 12, 2024

“There might be a time where I have to decide, and there might not, but guys like Ohtani are showing people every day that it can be done. Hopefully, I’m another anomaly in that process.”

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Back in his travel ball days with the Dirtbags, Nolan McLean said he didn’t really think much of being a two-way player.

It is, after all, something you see quite a bit at that level. But there’s a distinct difference between those who have to do it out of necessity, and those who do it because they’re capable.

Because they can.

McLean was always the latter, a legitimate two-way threat, and it’s something he’s carried with him first to Oklahoma State and then to the New York Mets organization, where he made his High-A debut as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Cyclones on Wednesday afternoon at Maimonides Park.

“I was just being a baseball player first, and that’s what I wanted to do my whole life,” McLean told FSS Plus. “I didn’t realize it was that uncommon in college too, not a lot of guys do it, but I told our head coach from the first day, I was like, ‘Hey, I want to do both.’ I obviously can hit, which is what I was going to school for, and once I got on the bump for a little bit, he saw it was pretty good there too. We worked it out, and happened to be that it was out of the ‘pen while playing a position too. Pro ball will be a little different with the starting role, but it’s something that I definitely want to continue.”

McLean is, as he says, a starter now after serving as a reliever during his collegiate career, and made just his second professional start on Wednesday after a very brief debut to his professional career in Low-A St. Lucie after being drafted in the third round last year. The 22-year-old righty was sharp, keeping the Asheville Tourists off the scoreboard in 3 1/3 innings of work, using a fastball that sat between 94-96 miles per hour as part of a four-pitch mix to strike out two and allow no runs.

“Felt like I competed very well, didn’t necessarily have my best stuff, but was able to get outs with what I had,” he said. “So, it was good to get my feet wet a little bit and go out there and compete.”

The transition to starting is still very new for the six-foot-two, 214-pound righty, and part of that is being able to harness his stuff over longer periods of time.

“I think the hardest part has been just kind of finding that cruising altitude for me on perceived effort and figuring out where my percentage on how hard I’m going to try to throw, being able to hold it a little longer and being able to maintain a good effort level and be able to compete at the same time,” McLean said.

“That’s been the biggest challenge, but hopefully the more and more I get out there, I think the easier it’ll become. I’ve noticed that my perceived effort and what’s actually coming out are two completely different things. Even though I was trying to throw 100 percent out of the pen, it was basically the same velocity as it throwing a perceived 80 percent. It’s hard from a competitive standpoint trying to just not let it rip every time, but knowing that the velocities are really not too far apart.”

McLean has modified his slider to more of a sweeper variety, and worked on a changeup that he says has served him well over the past few weeks and provides a different look for him.

That is, of course, half the story. The two-way aspect of his game — he’s literally listed as the lone “two-way player” on the Cyclones roster — is still unfolding, as he’s awaiting his season debut at the plate. There doesn’t seem to necessarily be a set plan in place just yet for how that will look, but it certainly seems as though you’ll start to see him contributing sooner rather than later in Brooklyn’s lineup in a designated hitter role.

“Just talking with the manager, there’s going to be some trial and error in how I’m feeling or how I’m holding up,” he said.

“That’s what it comes down to, it’s a longevity thing with it being a long season, and at the same time, it’s a starting role, so my repetitions and the strain on the body is higher than it usually is. But, the routine side of things has gotten a lot easier, so it’s very doable. It’s about how good I perform and the rest is up to me.”

Being used as a starter, McLean says, actually helps his overall development on both sides of the ball.

“Especially from an arm standpoint and overall feeling, it’s definitely easier because you know exactly when you’re going to be throwing versus out of the pen where it could be multiple times a week or spur of the moment-type thing,” he said. “Routine-wise, it’s helped a lot, and my arm can’t feel better right now.”

The goals for the season are simple, in that he simply wants to stay healthy and get better every day, no matter which side of the ball that may be on. But he’s clear in that he wants to have opportunities on both sides as long as possible, and is hopeful to follow in the footsteps of a certain New Balance athlete you may know who has set the example for the next generation to try to follow.

“It’s going to be up to my performance, and if one side develops faster than the other, then I don’t expect them to hold me back because one side of the ball isn’t progressing as fast,” McLean said. “There might be a time where I have to decide, and there might not, but guys like (Shohei) Ohtani are showing people every day that it can be done. Hopefully, I’m another anomaly in that process.”

Mike Ashmore
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