Royals closer Mike MacDougal
Royals closer Mike MacDougal has the stuff of legends, when he finds the strike zone.
Kansas City Royals
Position: RHP Height: 6-4 Weight: 195 Born: 3/5/77 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Mike MacDougal was drafted in 1999, with a first-round pick the Royals received as compensation for the loss of Jose Offerman to free agency. Despite control problems, MacDougal had been successful at Wake Forest, going 13-3 with a 2.63 ERA his junior year. He had a good year as a starter at Class A Wilmington in 2000, then jumped a level to Triple-A in '01. He was erratic at Omaha, but did enough to warrant a promotion to the majors, where his season ended early with a skull fracture. That made 2002 a rehab season, at the end of which he converted to the bullpen. Following a successful stint in winter ball, MacDougal earned the closer job in Kansas City for '03, and has converted his first seven chances successfully.
All scouting reports on MacDougal begin with his fastball, timed as high as 100 mph this past winter. He usually pitches in the 95-97 mph range, plenty fast, and his heater has outstanding movement. He also has an excellent slider. MacDougal has a changeup and curveball that have their moments, but he relies mainly on the fastball/slider combination when used in relief. MacDougal is overpowering, but his pitches have so much movement that he often has trouble throwing strikes. His mechanics are erratic, but even when everything is in gear, his pitches dart so much that he doesn't always know where they are going. The good news is that MacDougal is nearly unhittable when he does throw strikes. He hasn't always shown a lot of self-confidence, but seems to have taken well to the closer role.
MacDougal's track record is very mixed, although his weak numbers in '02 were a result of injury. His strikeout rates have never been quite as high as you'd expect from someone with his stuff, and at times he's been more hittable than he should due to weak command. Although he's thrown seven shutout innings so far this year and has allowed just two hits with seven strikeouts, he's also walked six. At some point the league will catch up with him if he doesn't improve his control.
Weird injuries have slowed his development, including mononucleosis in college and a skull fracture in '01 caused by a flying bat. The latter injury caused nerve damage and left parts of his throwing hand and arm numb for most of '02, making it impossible for him to grip his pitches properly. Full feeling has now been restored, and not surprisingly his command has improved. MacDougal hasn't had serious shoulder or elbow problems.
What to expect
MacDougal has been a big factor in Kansas City's stellar start, saving seven of their 11 wins with seven innings of shutout ball. Such performance won't last forever, unless his control improves. But even with command questions MacDougal is one of the foundations of the future for the Royals. Whether that future flowers fully in 2003 or later in his career remains to be seen, but MacDougal is certainly one of the most exciting pitchers in baseball. If he can throw strikes more consistently, he can be one of the best as well.
John Sickels is the author of the 2002 Minor League Scouting Notebook, and is now working on the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book. His biography of Bob Feller will be published next spring. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at JohnSickels.com.