Although the Royals drafted left-hander Brandon Finnegan just last week, he’s going to be quite familiar with Omaha by the time he signs his first professional contract.
On Sunday, Finnegan and his Texas Christian teammates will open play in the College World Series in Omaha. And last year, Finnegan was with the USA Collegiate National Team in June and July.
Finnegan, who was the 17th overall pick Thursday in baseball’s first-year player draft, helped Team USA sweep a five-game series against Cuba by throwing seven shutout innings in a 1-0 win at Werner Park in Omaha, where the Royals’ Class AAA affiliate plays.
“It was a lot of fun,” Finnegan said in a conference call. “To be with the best players in the country was probably the (most fun) part, honestly.”
Fun and instructive. Finnegan was 3-1 with 23 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings over six games (four starts) with Team USA. But a chat with a Team USA teammate may end up being more memorable than beating Cuba.
North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon, who was picked by the White Sox in last week’s draft, helped Finnegan with his change-up.
“He told me to throw it like a fastball, to throw it as hard as I could,” Finnegan told the Star-Telegram. “Before my slider was pretty much 78 to 81, maybe. Changing the grip and the way I threw it I was getting it up to 89 mph the whole game.”
In a story with the Star-Telegram, Finnegan said that before making the change the pitch looked more like a slurve, a bit too loopy to be consistently effective.
“It makes it a lot sharper and a lot harder for guys to hit, obviously,” he told the Star-Telegram. “It just dives out of the zone real quick. I got to where I could repeat it every game I pitched.”
That improved pitch also caught the eye of the Royals.
“We were able to see him on Team USA this summer against Cuba,” Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “It was a really impressive outing he had there and what has been more impressive as we’ve gotten into this season is he’s developed his change-up, he’s learned to become more of a pitcher than a guy with a good arm.”
There were some concerns among Royals fans that Finnegan’s good arm might not be completely healthy. But he said there was a simple explanation for why he missed a start this spring for TCU.
“Really, it was just a little bit of inflammation of the shoulder,” Finnegan said. “I think what caused it was just sleeping on it wrong. I don’t throw many pitches in any of the games I’ve pitched. The most I’ve ever thrown is 116, which is less than any of the other big-time guys in the draft. It’s definitely nothing to do with over-pitching.
“It was a little tight. I knew something wasn’t right, but I wanted to pitch. So I did all the tests with Dr. (John) Conway and passed them with flying colors, so they went to my hips and found out they were a little off-balance, I lost a little rotation in them. So I started stretching my hips out, and after that, my shoulder felt amazing.”
Finnegan, who is 9-3 with a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings with the Horned Frogs, was held out of a start against Kansas State, although he would wanted the ball that weekend.
That was no surprise to the Royals.
“He’s a real big competitor,” Goldberg said. “Probably the one consistent ingredient in all of our reports when they came back after watching him pitch is he’s a really tough competitive kid.”
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/pgrathoff