The Tampa Bay Rays aren’t afraid to go away from the norm when making player decisions. That is what they did in the 19th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, when they selected sidearm reliever Justin McCalvin from Kennesaw State University.
McCalvin is an interesting player because he has limited movement in the fingers on his pitching hand. After suffering a hand injury in high school, he was forced to have surgery that should’ve been routine. However, a freak accident during the surgery left him with permanent damage in his hand. This factor has likely turned many teams off of McCalvin, but the Rays saw his potential and they weren’t afraid to go for it.
Switching from an overhand deliver to a sidearm delivery during his freshman year to accommodate for his hand, McCalvin has dominated as Kennesaw State’s closer. This year he has put up a 2.21 ERA while striking out 60 and walking 19 in 61.0 innings. He would also set a Kennesaw State record with 16 saves and led the entire team in ERA. Unlike most of the Rays picks earlier in the draft, McCalvin is a guarantee to be a reliever is a pro. However, he has a chance to be a good one. His fastball sits around 89-93 MPH, and thanks to his delivery it has nice movement on it. His best pitch is a wipeout slider, which he has no problem throwing with confidence in any count. He commands both of the pitches well despite command generally being a sidearmer’s biggest nemesis. At 22-years old he is a bit older than most college juniors, which combined with his health questions and inability to start games dropped him this far in the draft. However, the Rays saw a guy with the chance to be a good reliever, and they were willing to look past the questions to select him. McCalvin has defied odds so far in his career, and he could very well continue to do so as a pro.