Chicago Cubs Prospect Haydn McGeary Just Keeps Hitting: “Haydn’s Mishits Are Other Hitters’ Barrels”
“Umpires would say we’re probably never going to see something like this again, how far he’d hit balls.”
This is what Haydn McGeary’s college associate head coach Sean McKinney told me as we reminisced on Haydn’s Hall of Fame career at Colorado Mesa University.
“Haydn’s mishits are other hitters’ barrels.”
This is what a coach in the Cubs organization told me jumps out to him about Haydn after their time working together.
“I know I’m big and strong. I don’t have to swing very hard. Meet the ball out in front and just touch it with the barrel.”
And this is how 6-foot-4 Haydn McGeary summarizes his hitting philosophy, which on Tuesday led him to a promotion to Double-A Tennessee, just 38 games into his professional career. McGeary earned the move up based on a .368/.467/.592 batting line in 20 games with South Bend to start the season, after being drafted in the 15th round just last year.
It’s an incredible rise for a player from Division II baseball, even from a program as successful as CMU’s. But those close to McGeary are not surprised.
McKinney told me how he knew McGeary was special during his senior high school baseball season (in Glendale, Arizona), when McGeary was leading the nation in home runs halfway into the season. And then, of course, opposing pitchers stopped throwing to him, basically for an entire month. McGeary didn’t expand his zone, he didn’t sulk. He took his walks and stayed the course. Division 1 teams that finally called and checked on his status were rebuffed; McGeary would hold firm to his CMU commitment, and would ultimately finish tied for second in the country in homers.
“Ever since then it opened my eyes how easy and free I play when you’re not pressing, having fun and being in the moment with your teammates,” Haydn said about that stretch during high school. “Anytime I find myself struggling I find that it’s because I’m thinking about the wrong things.”
“We really appreciated as coaches how he handled that time,” McKinney said.
In college, McGeary was pretty incredible from the jump. Look at the ridiculousness of these batting lines:
2019, 41 games: .347/.401/.646
2020, 18 games: .471/.525/1.014
2021, 47 games: .481/.541/.973 (National Player of the Year)
2022, 57 games: .481/.579/1.061 (National Player of the Year)
No, there’s not a typo to be found in there. And if there’s a point in time that’s perhaps most important to the McGeary story, it’s between those 2021 and 2022 seasons.
“We all thought he could play better [than in 2021],” McKinney told me. “We never let him off the hook.”
McGeary had anticipated getting drafted after 2021 based on his play that season and some interest from scouts, but after 20 rounds, his name wasn’t called.
“The initial response is pretty frustrated, pretty confused,” McGeary said. “Skip helped me realize this is an opportunity to get better, there’s obviously reasons I wasn’t drafted and we can spend the next year figuring those things out. I got to school in the fall, and we got to work on what we felt we needed to work on.”
Mesa coaches worked with McGeary to shorten up his swing and trust that an easy swing will still go far. They worked on making sure his contact point allowed for an all-fields approach, with right-center a consistent focus. They worked on a plate approach that wasn’t designed to just swing at strikes and let balls go past, but swinging at the right pitches that he could elevate and drive.
“I loved throwing BP to Haydn because I would try to get him out,” McKinney said. “The way he’d hit balls then, Haydn never watched it. He’d know he got it, that he hit it well, and he’d just get ready for the next pitch.”
And this is where the Cubs come into the picture, grabbing McGeary in the 15th round of the 2022 draft. Haydn was one of just four hitters the Cubs drafted, and he’d receive the maximum allowable bonus ($125,000) to not necessitate the organization dip into its bonus pool. I asked Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz to comment on Haydn, and he sent this message:
“Fun story so far being the result of good scouting by Mac [Steve McFarland] — our veteran area scout in the 4 corners — Stoney [Justin Stone] and JB [Jared Banner] putting him on the right developmental path and obviously a lot of hard work from Haydn himself.”
Other members of the Cubs organization have praised McGeary’s early performance in some of the metrics they care about. “He makes contact, does damage and swings at the pitches he should be swinging at … scary combination,” one messaged.
I thought of that quote as I watched McGeary’s first Double-A plate appearance this week:
While he was still in South Bend, Haydn talked about how pro ball has caused an evolution (or maybe you’d just say more thoughtfulness) in his plate approach.
“I thought I’d get to pro ball and I thought everyone will be throwing strikes so I’ll have to get my swing off,” he said. “As I’ve learned through instructs and fall last year, because guys have such better command of multiple pitches, they’re better at getting you to swing at their pitches. It’s forced me to slow down even more and be a little more selective.”
By my eyes, the impressive thing about Haydn is the ways that his body helps but doesn’t hinder him. He does a great job keeping his hands in, he doesn’t cheat on the ball at all and truly is fine driving balls to right field. Power seems like a byproduct of a bad pitch in the wrong location, not the result of a desperate search to elevate the ball at all costs.
Defensively, it appears the Cubs will mostly work with McGeary as a first baseman moving forward. He caught some in college, and might see a game every now and then in the role, but it’s unlikely to result in anything but an emergency role in the future. Left field will likely be explored further into the season, I’m told. But for now, McGeary is working diligently to make himself into the best first baseman he can be.
“Before I was somebody that would just be put over at first base, now I feel like I’m learning how to actually play it,” he said.
McGeary, 23, will likely spend the rest of the season with Double-A Tennessee, and he knows that some failure is inevitably headed his way. But he insists he’s prepared for it, determined that “if there’s a day I’m dragging, not letting those feelings control my actions.”
While it’s too early to crown the Cubs for making a great pick, the early results are suggesting the Cubs snagged a sleeper on Day Three last July.