The Royals have been no stranger in dipping into the college pitcher pool over the last two years. When faced with a shortened draft in 2020, Kansas City was one of the most active teams in the undrafted free agent market, looking for college talent. Their activity paid off, with the Royals signing five players on Baseball America’s Top 500 prospect list. One of those players was 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-handed pitcher John McMillon out of Texas Tech.
McMillon was originally drafted in the 11th round in 2019 by the Detroit Tigers but failed to sign. He was scouted for his triple digit fastball and power at the plate. MLB Pipeline projected that he would’ve been a 6-10-round guy in a typical season.
“Really interesting guy. Big power as a hitter who they converted to pitching full time. He actually caught a little. He’s a guy who could win a Home Run Derby. But he’s got the big fastball. A lot to work with here. He has been on scouts radars for a long time.”
The former two-way player at Texas Tech logged 47 2⁄3 innings in 2019 with 67 strikeouts and 35 walks this spring. Additionally, he smacked nine home runs and drove in 20 runs in 110 plate appearances in college. Here is one of his mammoth home runs off a scoreboard.
#TexasTech's John McMillon dropped one of the deepest bombs EVER at Dan Law Field. Easily 450 ft, off of the TOP of the scoreboard. By the way, he's also a freshman, and throws 96 MPH. He's not human. #WreckEmPosted by KAMC News on Tuesday, March 28, 2017
The Royals, however, took exceptional notice to the pitcher he could become. His 100 mph fastball and strikeout numbers were enough to peak their interest. After spending a few months in the organization, McMillon is pleased with the system he ended up in.
“It’s been really great since I joined the organization,” McMillon said in a phone interview. “I feel like I’ve definitely been given all the tools to progress, as an athlete and as a pitcher. It’s been awesome to see... it’s been nice out here building, working on baseball stuff with everyone.”
McMillon has been raising eyebrows in the Instructional League in Arizona. According to Mike Rosenbaum of MLB Pipeline, McMillon and 2020 fifth round pick Will Klein “have showcased elite velocity in their introduction to pro ball, with both hurlers hitting 100 mph on a regular basis.”
When asked what’s the fastest pitch he’s thrown in the Instructional League, McMillon says he’s sticking with what the report says.
“I guess it’s 100,” McMillon said. “If that’s what I read that somebody said I was going to 100, I’m going to go with that. I’ve seen 99, but if it’s 100 in the paper, that’s what I’m going to go with.”
Though McMillon hasn’t gotten the chance to pitch in a full minor league season, he says the Royals have been working him out as a reliever in the Instructional League. Of the 72 games he appeared in college, the right-hander started only 12 of them.
“I really like pitching and it’s been fun to just get out of here right off the bat, but I like relieving. I liked the challenge that it presents — having to get ready in a hurry sometimes. But on the flip side of that, starting has challenges too. They both present unique challenges, but how you prepare is kind of the same.”
McMillon has used the Instructional League as an opportunity to clean up some mechanical issues. However, the mental side to his game hasn’t changed.
“There was just a lot of rough edges around my delivery and I’ve been working on just cleaning it up a little bit,” McMillon said. “As far as the mental approach to the game, it’s pretty much stayed the same. [I’ve] just been really attacking the strike zone — throwing strikes has been a big emphasis out here. Our pitching philosophy on the Royals is really getting ahead and pitching to contact.”
As players gear up for the winter months ahead, there will be time to work on individual things outside of baseball. For McMillon, there’s a few parts to his game that he’s planning to focus on in the offseason.
“One of the big reasons I was excited that we got to do this [Instructional League] was it really did open my eyes to improvements that need to be made to my game,” McMillon said. “I think one of the elements I’m really going to be focusing on this offseason is my flexibility, my mobility and my overall functional body movement. To be more mechanically smoother and more efficient at throwing strikes.”
Give John McMillon a follow on Twitter @JohnMcMillon17.