Growing Up Baseball

Long before Ty McFarland was selected by the Yankees in the 10th round of last June’s Major League Draft he was growing up in a baseball environment that would eventually prepare him for this moment.

McFarland grew up in a household in Bridgewater, VA where, 20 minutes away, his father was the head baseball coach of James Madison University. Having spent that majority of his childhood around the baseball diamond, older players, and numerous coaches, McFarland learned early on that he wished to pursue a professional baseball career.

Fast forward nearly two decades and McFarland is in the midst of living out his dream.

“Going to the field every day, seeing guys progress and move on to the minors and eventually the Major Leagues, I got to see how awesome of an experience it was,” McFarland said. “So yeah, as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to [play professionally].”

Prior to his selection by the Yankees last summer, Ty attended college at James Madison University for four years where he played for his father, Spanky McFarland.

During his four years at James Madison University, McFarland proved to be an asset at the plate. He hit .315 for his career with a .407 on-base percentage, 180 runs scored and 131 runs batted in. In his senior year he led the team in batting average (.317), slugging percentage (.507), runs scored (47), hits (72), home runs (9), total bases (115), at-bats (227), multiple-hit games (21), and tied for first in games started (53).

Where he was a liability was in the field. Throughout McFarland’s entire baseball career he has never found a home in the field. He has played shortstop, first and third base, and even pitched since high school.

Being the coach’s son, McFarland would have grown up knowing how to play the game right, and therefore suiting him to play any position. But it could also mean that he was the player that when his team needed someone to step up, regardless of the position, it was him. Both of these could be reasons for McFarland’s versatile defensive history.

“Well, I’d say, as far as baseball skills he’s better served in the hitting side,” Ty’s father and longtime coach, Spanky, said. “Defensively, we played him at third base – I guess the Yankees are trying to play him at second base – and he’s got a plus arm, pretty good hands. What gets him in trouble is his he’s got long legs. He’s like 6-foot-3, that’s part of the reason why we played him at third, he didn’t have the best first step.”

Despite knowing that, as the coach’s son, Ty knew the proper way to play each position, his father was still a bit taken aback when he discovered his son were to play second base for the Yankees.

“To be honest, when he got drafted and I saw second base by his name I thought ‘hmm okay,’ he said. “And I know the trend nowadays you can hide a good hitter at second base, where in the old days it was pretty much a glove man. So I know that’s kind of of the model, so I can see what they were thinking but we went out the next day and started working a little bit at second base.

“To be honest, he never played there, he didn’t know the turns, he didn’t know the flips, he didn’t know the angles. I thought it was kind of a stretch, to be honest. And when I went up to watch him play, probably in July, I was impressed. He’s made a lot of great strides, so he’s getting better every day.”

In his first professional season, McFarland displayed some of his offensive proficiency that got him drafted. He hit .278 for the year with 24 runs, 40 runs batted in, and 17 doubles. With each progressing month, however, between June and August, his batting average dipped before raising again in September.

That shouldn’t be anything to worry about since it was McFarland’s first season of playing ball nearly every day. Add that on top of the college season he came off of, and it was a workload he’s never had to endure before.

In the field he spent most of his time at second [43 games] but played at third base a fair amount as well [16 games]. He had 15 errors in 225 total chances, good for a .933 fielding percentage. It’s not terrible but not where you want it to be. But improvement is the name of the game.

“He’s done a great job,” Staten Island Yankees manager Mario Garza said. “I think he’s improved in many ways. He’s really improved defensively.

"He’s learned the game, he’s learned the pro game. He’s learning how to play every day – I think there’s some wear and tear that took its toll late, which is completely normal for a guy coming off a college season but I fully expect him to take advantage of the time [this offseason] to build strength and build speed, and come here next year ready to go.

“It’s hard to change positions in professional baseball. So that’s one thing – he wasn’t real used to playing second base so from the beginning of the season to now he’s shown tremendous improvement in just his understanding of the position, the feel, the responsibilities and I fully expect him to continue improving.”

This offseason the Yankees’ management will assess McFarland’s play at second base and determine whether or not that’s his long-term position. Both Garza and Spanky McFarland noted that many teams play a power bat at second base in today’s game, and with that in mind it’s fair to say that’s probably where they’ll keep him.

Similar to his time at James Madison University, McFarland was among the team leaders in several offensive categories. Despite it being his first year in the pros, he led the team in at-bats (237) and runs batted in (40), was second in hits (66) and home runs (5), and was third in doubles (17), triples (2), walks (20), stolen bases (6), and batting average (.278).

“He’s got tremendous offensive potential,” Garza said. “He’s a guy that can use all fields. He’s shown some power to the pull side, and some doubles power to the opposite field. I think as he develops and grows up as a hitter, he’s going to be able to show a little more impact to the opposite field side. But he’s a tough guy to strike out, he’s a good baseball player – he’s a grinder in the batter’s box.”

In his 237 at-bats, McFarland struck out only 37 times – one of the lowest totals of anyone on the team with over 150 at-bats. His father mentioned that Ty’s walks and strikeouts have always been fairly close – and he was right. Only in Ty’s freshman year did he strike out more than he walked, and throughout his college career his walks out-paced his strikeouts, 105 to 95.

Garza praised McFarland’s eye at the plate for such a young player.

“There’s times where he’ll come back into the dugout – maybe after he’s taken a strike three or something – and he’ll say ‘man that ball's a little off,’ and we’ll watch video and, sure enough, it’s a little off. He’s got a real good feel for the strike zone. He’s a guy that competes real hard in the box, he’s doesn’t like striking out. He’s able to execute.”

While his offensive and defensive numbers, obviously, aren’t quite where Ty or the Yankees would like them to be yet, you can’t say his first pro season was anything but a success. And looking back on his season, McFarland was pretty pleased with the results.

“It was a great time,” he said. “I was surrounded by a lot of great coaches and a lot of great players, so I thought everyone did a great job of helping me with my first season and bringing me through the Yankees organization.”

What was the biggest difference between the pros and college?

“The every-day grind and overall competition,” McFarland said. “[I] never really played this many games in that short amount of time, especially adding onto the college season. So my body wearing down, I had to get used to that, how to deal with that every day to maintain my performance. That and just the overall competition was a lot better than college.”

Ty McFarland, literally, may have been born to be a professional baseball player. With his dad as his coach, he was taught the proper way to play the game from a young age. He learned how to become an offensive weapon and, although he never found a home in the field, he learned how to be a gamer by just toughing it out. Both Ty and his father mentioned that the relationship between them often crossed boundaries [either bringing work back home, or vice-versa] but both agreed it was likely for the better.

“Probably after every game in college we’d come home and discuss the game,” Ty said. “Probably should’ve gotten away from it a couple times but growing up … it was all we really talked about. We talked about other stuff but that’s what we enjoyed talking about. After every game, we’d come home and discuss it, after every practice, it was just our kind of lifestyle.”

When asked about what it was like seeing his son get drafted by the New York Yankees, Spanky admitted to having mixed emotions.

“To be honest, it was interesting,” he said. “I had a lot of people ask me ‘how’d that feel?’ and I said well to be honest, after watching this kid grow up and the hours, and hours, and hours he spent working on baseball, part of it was relief that the hard work paid off. So it was a sense of relief first and then, of course, a sense of being happy for him and excited for him as well.”

Throughout the season, Ty and his father would speak on the phone a couple times during the week. They would even text each other after games to really discuss what the box score was unable to convey. Fortunately for the two of them, Spanky was able to make a trip this summer to see Ty, and see all of his hard work pay off.

“It was awesome having my mentor, and coach, and dad, all in the same person throughout my whole life finally get to see the more advanced player that he’s been a part of,” Ty said. “So it was a good experience for both of us.”

This offseason, Garza said he would like to see McFarland improve at second base, learn to steal more bases, and just understand what it takes to be a pro and how to endure a full season. There’s a lot on his plate, and Ty is working extremely hard to be a successful Major League second baseman for the New York Yankees right now but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten where he’s come from.

“I wouldn’t have rather had it any other way,” McFarland said. “Growing up around a baseball field … it was a pretty awesome experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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