One is from the West Coast and the other from the East Coast. They met in middle America to ply their trade of throwing baseballs, first in Peoria and now Springfield.
Eventually — perhaps sooner than later — the journeys of strike-throwing 22-year-old pitching prospects Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo could take them to Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
“They are different, but one thing they both do is they really compete,” Springfield Cardinals manager Jose Leger said of the pitching duo drafted in 2021. “It’s good to have them both here. The experience they will acquire here is going to be good for them and we’ll see where it takes them.”
The right-handers were selected by the Cardinals last summer after outstanding college careers, McGreevy a first-round choice out of UC Santa Barbara and Graceffo a fifth-rounder from Villanova.
They started the 2022 season in High-A Peoria before being promoted, along with shortstop prospect Masyn Winn, to Double-A Springfield in late May. There have been some bumps in making the adjustment to the higher level, but both pitchers have also impressed with Graceffo, in particular, opening eyes.
Graceffo starts strong
Graceffo was named on Monday the Texas League pitcher of the week after going 1-0 with a 1.29 earned run average, making two seven-inning starts, allowing just six hits and two runs, while striking out 12 and walking none. He limited hitters to a .130 batting average and now has pitched seven innings in three of his five Double-A starts.
Rising to the Cardinals’ No. 20 prospect at MLB.com, Graceffo is 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA since his promotion, walking only two while striking out 22. In 101 career professional innings, he has issued only 15 walks with 115 strikeouts.
“I feel like I’m a consistent pitcher,” Graceffo said before a recent home game at Hammons Field. “I attack the zone and attack the hitter, throwing a lot of strikes.
“I like to work fast and keep my fielders happy so they keep making plays for me.”
Graceffo said he and McGreevy have spent a lot of time together since signing with the Cardinals last summer. They are roommates in Springfield and share a rivalry of coasts while both seek new cultures in the Midwest.
“Style-wise we are pretty similar,” Graceffo said of their pitching. “We both work fast and throw a lot of strikes. Fastballs, we differ a bit. He’s a sinker guy and I’m a hoppy fastball guy. But strike-throwing wise we’re definitely similar.”
McGreevy shaking off rough start
The 6-foot-4 McGreevy had a rough first Double-A start, at Tulsa, and struggled in his most recent outing, at home against Corpus Christi. He’s 2-2 with a 4.78 for Springfield with seven walks and 22 strikeouts.
The organization’s No. 7-ranked prospect also features exceptional control with only 13 walks and 70 strikeouts in 71.2 career minor-league innings.
“The beauty of baseball is you come back the next time and fix things and adjust,” McGreevy said of overcoming sub-par performances. “The closer you get to the big leagues, the better the hitters are. There is little room for error.
“When pitching to better hitters, they are going to hit mistakes. What used to be singles are now doubles and home runs at the higher levels.”
McGreevy said he’s learning as he rises that simply throwing strikes isn’t the same as locating quality strikes.
“I could throw it down the middle every time and wouldn’t walk anybody, but throwing strikes on the edge is something I’m working on,” McGreevy said. “If the walk rate goes up, it’s with a purpose, trying to not give hitters anything good to hit.
“Hopefully, after a year the walk rate will go back down again, but I’ll be more fine with my location, around the edges.”
College experience big for both pitchers
McGreevy wasn’t drafted out of high school in San Clemente, California, going to UC Santa Barbara as both a shortstop and pitcher. He was the Gauchos’ closer as a freshman and developed into a star starting pitcher by his junior season, when he went 9-2 with 115 strikeouts and only had 11 walks in 101.2 innings in helping his team to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think in my heart I always knew I was going to be a full-time pitcher eventually, but was trying to stay a shortstop as long as I could,” McGreevy said. He credited UCSB coach Andrew Checketts with putting his career on the right track.
“The development from then on was exceptional,” McGreevy said. “That track record he’s had with pitchers (including Shane Bieber) is exceptional. He was monumental for my development through that program.”
Graceffo, who grew up about an hour from Villanova’s campus in Wayne, N.J., said college baseball was equally important to his progress.
“It’s a big maturing process when you go to college and you have to figure things out on your own,” Graceffo said. “I couldn’t imagine being Masyn (Winn) or Jordan (Walker) and coming from high school right to pro baseball, just because that jump is insane.”
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Sights set on St. Louis
Graceffo’s velocity jumped several notches during his college career, but he took it to another level last winter through a rigorous workout program at Annex Sports Performance Center in Chatham, N.J. He came into spring training able to throw his fastball at 100 miles per hour.
“They helped me put on a lot of good weight,” Graceffo said. “I left Palm Beach last year at 212 and came back for spring training at 230. Just the weight jump and getting stronger and faster and moving better helped me a lot.”
Both he and McGreevy impressed Cardinals brass enough to receive assignments in spring training to pitch against big-league hitters in live batting practice and simulated games against the likes of Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols, Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson.
“I found out when I got to the field that day, about two hours from it happening,” Graceffo said. “That was a great opportunity to pitch against some of the best hitters in that lineup.”
McGreevy said his reaction when his session against the big leaguers came “was like, ‘wait, what?’ I wasn’t afraid or anything. It was cool. Then to talk with Arenado about living back in So Cal, where we’re from, that was cool.”
Even more cool would be the chance to be big-league teammates with those guys. The Cardinals have shown that they are not afraid to promote pitchers, particularly those who have produced after a solid foundation from college.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” McGreevy said. “I want to move up, but I know development is huge as well and they do a good job of developing their players. I’m excited to develop in their system.
“I know when they think the time is right to move me up, whether that’s Triple-A or the big leagues. At the same time, I’m just soaking in the development where I am right now.”
Cardinals upcoming games
The Springfield Cardinals opened a six-game series at Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday night in Springdale. They return home to open a six-game series at Hammons Field next Tuesday, June 28, against the Wichita Wind Surge, Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton.