As a graduating senior, Jake Newberry was focused during the final days of classes at Mira Mesa High School in San Diego in 2012.
Just not on his studies.
It was the last of three days of the Major League Baseball draft, and Newberry was listening for his name, something that seemed like a long shot just months earlier when Newberry was pitching for his high school team.
“I figured I would just go to a junior college anyway, just because of my grades,” Newberry recalled last week in the Royals clubhouse after being called up from Class AAA Omaha. “I wasn’t going to be able to get in anywhere big. But once the draft started happening, more D-2 teams started filing in and talking, but it was nothing really serious. My grades, I had a 1.8 (GPA) my freshman year because I just came in and didn’t take anything seriously. I didn’t really know what to do in high school and kind of slacked off. That kind of hurt me getting into college.”
But Newberry got his big break a few months before graduation when he started for Mira Mesa in a high school baseball showcase at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres.
Although he carried an ERA below 1.00 into the game, Newberry said major-league teams were there to scout his opponent that day.
“All the scouts were there to watch him,” Newberry said, “and I ended up going toe-to-toe with him and put my name on the map from there.”
After the game, scouts from the Mariners and Tigers contacted Newberry’s father. At Newberry’s next home start, a Royals scout was there.
So, Newberry hoped he might hear his name called while in class. But by sixth period, which he said was athletics, he hadn’t received a call, so Newberry planned to throw on the baseball field.
“I was technically still in school,” said Newberry, who is a right-hander. “I was listening to (the draft) the whole day in school, because we only had like three days left and as a senior you don’t really do anything for the last three. So it was one of those things where I was still in school, listening to it. I didn’t really have anything to do that day.
“I was throwing a bullpen that day when I actually got the call. The Royals didn’t call me. My best friend’s dad saw the ticker come across first. So he called my best friend because I was throwing my bullpen, and he was like, ‘Oh by the way, you got drafted.’ I was freaking out because I was like I can’t just bang this bullpen right now, but I kind of had to because all these calls started coming in.”
The Royals picked Newberry in the 37th round (out of 40 total), but he couldn’t sign his contract because he was just 17. His mom had to co-sign it.
Nevertheless, Newberry was thrilled for the chance to continue playing baseball and avoid junior college.
However, he faced a big adjustment at his first stop: the Arizona League. Newberry was accustomed to throwing his fastball 90 mph, but he didn’t want to look at the radar gun those first few weeks.
“In high school, if you throw six innings, you don’t throw for a day or two because you’re just hanging,” Newberry recalled. “When you’re in pro ball, you throw every single day. It’s tough. I was throwing 81 or 82 when I first got into AZL. I was sitting there like, ‘what is going on?’ It was not being used to doing it and having the opportunity to keep going and learn. It’s a learning process when you first get drafted, especially when you’re 17 and around a bunch of 22, 23 year olds. Most of them were fresh out of college to start their seasons.”
Despite the age gap, Newberry had a 2.81 ERA in 16 appearances that first season as a professional. Each year after that, Newberry climbed another level in the Royals’ minor-league system and made his major-league debut last fall.
Newberry started the 2019 season at Class AAA Omaha but was promoted last week. In three appearances, he has four strikeouts and two runs allowed in three innings pitched.
After getting the latest call from the Royals, Newberry reflected on his unlikely path to Kansas City, a city he knew little about when a high school kid with what appeared to be limited prospects.
“They don’t go play the Padres that often, so I never got to watch them play,” Newberry said. “Obviously, on MLB the Show, I would play against them. But I never thought I would be in Kansas City. It’s amazing.”