Travis MacGregor struck out 19 batters in 31.2 innings in his pro debut. He struck out 32 batters in 41.1 innings last year in short-season ball in Bristol.

So it was a huge surprise when he struck out 12 batters in 5.1 innings during his 2018 debut with the West Virginia Power on Friday night. It’s not as big of a surprise that he had a good outing.

The Pirates drafted MacGregor in the second round in 2016, giving him a $900,000 bonus to break his commitment to Clemson. The deal was slightly under slot, but still a lot for a guy who wasn’t ranked as a consensus top 200 draft prospect.

He looked like an overdraft to those who hadn’t seen him leading up to the draft. The Pirates followed him closely and noticed his velocity had increased, jumping into the low-90s and touching 94 consistently by the end of his prep season. He had a tall and skinny frame, with the chance to add more velocity, along with a feel for a changeup and a new curveball.

MacGregor was a project, an expensive one, but a guy already showing some early signs of progress.

He didn’t have an easy transition to pro ball. He had a lot of moving parts in his delivery, and his mechanics were difficult to repeat, leading to some control issues. He also didn’t have that consistent velocity, usually topping out in the low-90s. This didn’t lead to good results in Bristol last year, with MacGregor falling apart at the end of the season.

But something was different this spring. When I saw MacGregor, his command looked much better. His delivery looked a bit smoother, and his velocity was higher, coming in at 92-93 and touching 94 in the last outing I saw him in. The Pirates noticed the changes as well, leading to his push to West Virginia.

“[The delivery is] starting to smooth out a little bit,” Pirates’ farm director Larry Broadway said. “He showed enough to be ready to go in full season and see where he’s at. Even through camp, he wasn’t real sharp early, but started repeating the delivery better, and getting the fastball in the zone more, tightening up the breaking ball. He’s in a good spot.”

MacGregor’s breaking pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball. When he first started throwing it, the pitch didn’t have good command and would spike in the dirt short of the plate. He has improved the pitch over the last two years, and is starting to see better results, as shown by his season debut.

Neal Huntington said to reporters on Sunday, including our own Matt Gajtka, that MacGregor was hitting 94-95 MPH, showing a bit of an increase over what I saw in Spring Training.

“To see him attack the strike zone, get a number of strikeouts, it’s just a great first outing and an outing for him to build on,” Huntington said. “It hasn’t been easy for him. He’s had his challenges, but it lets him know that the stuff can play and lets him know he can go out and be aggressive and trust his weapons and continue to grow and develop and work his way to the big leagues.”

MacGregor will make his next start on Thursday, giving a chance to show whether his season debut was legit. I wouldn’t expect him to strike out guys at the rate we saw last week. I do expect him to continue showing good overall results, with his stuff and command showing a noticeable improvement this spring, which should lead to a promising 2018 season for him.

IMPORTANT: You will need to update your password after the switch to the new server in order to log in and comment. Go to the Password Reset Page to change your password.