Suddenly, it seemed like all of the phones inside the McNeil home were ringing Tuesday morning.
Ryan McNeil picked up his. On the other end was a representative from the Chicago Cubs. In this same moment, the Minnesota Twins called. Both teams wanted to pick him in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.
After he put down his phone, McNeil became an official draft pick. The Cubs were the big winners, as they chose the Nipomo High senior right-handed pitcher to be the 101st overall selection in the third round — making him the first San Luis Obispo County high school player to be drafted in the first four rounds since 2005, when Morro Bay pitcher Scott Blue was taken in the fourth round (138th overall) by the Boston Red Sox.
“This process has been building up for a couple years,” said McNeil, who, at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, throws a fastball that sits between 92-94 mph. “It’s exciting to realize all the work has finally paid off. All the things I worked for accumulated to this.”
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He still needs to make a major decision. Last fall, he signed a National Letter of Intent to join his brother Jeff — a sophomore infielder/outfielder this past season — at Long Beach State.
McNeil has to figure out if he wants to skip college and commit to the Cubs by the July 13 signing deadline.
All signs point to McNeil jumping straight to the pros, where he would start within the Cubs’ minor league system. He declined to go into details about how much money he wants from the Cubs, with negotiations expected to take place in a week.
According to Baseball America, McNeil’s draft value is listed at $471,900.
“I’m hoping it’s what I want,” he said. “I really want to play professional baseball. If I don’t, I can always go to college. But I really want to sign. I really want to play professional baseball.”
Jeff said he’d understand if his younger brother passed on Long Beach State, adding, “I’m excited that he’s getting drafted. If he comes to Long Beach, it’s great for us. He’ll help our program tremendously. Whatever he decides to do, I’ll be happy with it.”
McNeil’s mother, Rebecca, believes her son is in the right situation.
“I think given where he was drafted, he feels like he wants to take the opportunity and see what he can do with it,” she said. “Especially being a pitcher, you can’t get better development than at the pros.”
McNeil is believed to be the highest county high school player to be drafted since San Luis Obipso’s Terry Lee went to the San Francisco Giants in the first round (19th overall) of the 1974 draft.
McNeil helped build his name after he participated in two major showcases last August — the Area Code Games in Long Beach and the Perfect Game All-American in San Diego. He entered his final season at Nipomo with high expectations and finished with a 1.10 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 57 1⁄3 innings. The Titans (12-10, 7-5 Los Padres League) suffered a 9-5 loss to Ontario Christian in the wild-card round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
After the season, McNeil focused on the draft. Besides the Cubs and Twins, he worked out for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“He’s an exceptional athlete,” said Nipomo coach John Stevens, who has been coaching at various levels for about 25 years. “He got drafted right where he belongs. I thought he’d go somewhere between the second and fourth — and he did. I’m very happy for him. I hope he signs. If he doesn’t, he still has a great situation in Long Beach, but I think he’s ready to go.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and I haven’t seen many Ryan McNeils.”