Kyle McGowin rarely dreams about playing Major League Baseball these days, at least during his waking hours. The 26-year-old Sag Harbor native, who pitches for the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, has gone back to basics as he works his way through one of the most competitive environments in the world of sports.
As things stand now, McGowin takes the mound as a Senator every fifth day and that is where his focus has remained.
“Right now, I feel great. Everything is clicking for me,” McGowin said during a visit back home to Sag Harbor this week. He was in town while the Eastern League All-Star Game was being held in Trenton, New Jersey. And while an almost unheard-of eight-day rest in the middle of the season was welcome, McGowin was actually named to the Eastern League’s Western Division All-Star team. He missed the game because the Nationals organization wanted to allow their coveted prospect some additional rest.
Through the first half of the season, McGowin, a 2010 graduate of Pierson High School who starred at Savannah State University before being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2013, posted three games with 10 or more strikeouts, and as of the all-star break was 4-2 with a 4.02 ERA.
A call up to the big leagues or a return to the Nationals’ Triple-A club in Syracuse could come any day now, especially with the way McGowin has been pitching. Or it could not come at all. Regardless, McGowin, with an improved changeup and slider and two- and four-seam fastballs that rise into the low 90s, is content living with a host family in Harrisburg and going to the ballpark every day.
“You go about your business, getting your work in,” McGowin said about his approach, which he admitted has strayed off course at times during his five-year Minor League career. “I’m a lot more comfortable than I was last year. Last year I tried to do too much, and it just caved in on me. This year I’m just trying to be myself, relax, go about doing my business and it’s working out great for me.
“Last year it was on my mind a lot, and that’s why I didn’t do so well,” he added about his ultimate goal of getting called up to the big leagues. “I put so much pressure on myself. Now I’m just saying if they need me, they need me, and I’m just going to do my job until they give me that call.”
After being traded from the Angles to the Nationals following the 2016 season, McGowin had a tough start at Triple-A Syracuse and posted a 1-5 record after being moved down to Harrisburg to close out the year. This season, McGowin is enjoying one of his best stretches as a professional, including a game on June 12 in which he posted a season-high 11 strikeouts.
“Those are fun games,” McGowin said as a smile lit up his face. “You’re so confident out there and no matter what I throw, I think I’m going to get the hitter out. I’m so confident with my stuff.
“Out of 10 games, maybe you throw great in two of them and the rest you have to battle,” he added. “Most of the games I’ve pitched this year I’ve felt really good and it just goes back to how I’ve been preparing myself for each game.”
McGowin is still playing under his rookie contract he signed in 2014, which he said pays only about $2,000 per month before taxes so he is still “living off my signing bonus.” Next year McGowin will be a Minor League free agent, and stands to snag a significant raise, though it will be nowhere near what he would make with a Major League contract.
For now, McGowin seems okay with that. He seems to genuinely enjoy living with his hosts in Harrisburg, Karen and Randy McLaughlin, who travel to games and feed him while he’s at home. He travels with his girlfriend, Kayla Siwicki, and feels his game is improving day after day. As a scout wrote recently on the website prospects1500.com, McGowin’s “stuff is impressive, but this week shows that it may be the season he finally puts it all together as a hidden, late-bloomer with no more hype in the tank.”
So what if he gets the call to get on a plane for Washington? Will he be ready?
“I know I’m ready,” he said with confidence. “I’ve prepared a lot this year. If you had asked me that last year, I would have told you yes, but I really wasn’t. This year I felt like with everything I’ve done — both mentally and physically — I’m much more advanced and prepared.”