Upon opening his email inbox shortly before the start of baseball season, Rye coach Mike Bruno discovered one inquiry that made him do a double-take.
It was in this moment when Bruno recognized that his top pitcher, senior George Kirby, was a legitimate Major League Baseball draft prospect.
“MLB Network emailed me and asked me for video footage and a head shot. It really got real then,” Bruno said. “It also hit me in the first game against Albertus Magnus when they had all of the scouts there. Every game, there was more scouts. I started thinking he had a real opportunity.”
With the MLB draft set to begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Kirby is about to find out exactly where he stands in the eyes of those scouts and decision-makers.
It’s become increasingly likely that the 6-foot-4 right-hander will be selected in the first half of the 40-round first-year player draft, possibly even in the top 10 rounds.
BaseballAmerica.com included Kirby in its annual “BA 500,” ranking him No. 379 among this year’s draft class.
“There are over 25 Major League clubs that have scouted him,” said an amateur scout who works for a National League team. “They like his size, they like his easy, fluid motion and they like his potential to develop.”
The word “projectable” has been used by scouts and pitching experts who have seen Kirby, meaning that they see upside and room for growth. This past season, Kirby’s fastball generally sat around 90 mph, occasionally touching 92 or 93. But as one scout said, “I think eventually he can be closer to 94, 95.”
“I’ve had him up to 92, but I think he’s going to throw harder than that one day,” said an amateur scout from an American League team. “He’s a good pitcher right now who has not peaked. There’s a higher ceiling there. That’s what we look at with young guys like this. For me, I think three or four years down the road, the future is going to be bright.”
If drafted, Kirby would become the fourth Rye High School alum selected, joining Eric Junge and brothers Rick and B.J. Surhoff.
B.J. Surhoff is the only player who was drafted directly out of Rye High when he was chosen by the Yankees in the fifth round (128th overall) in 1982. He elected to hold off on going pro and play in college at the University of North Carolina, and the decision paid off. Three years later, Surhoff was selected No. 1 overall by the Milwaukee Brewers and went on to play in the big leagues for 19 years.
Kirby is committed to Elon University, so he’ll have to make a similar choice. If he opts to go to college, he wouldn’t be eligible for the draft again until after he completes his junior season.
“I tell everyone that I’m really looking to start my career,” he said before adding, “but it has to be worth my while to sign.”
Kirby mentioned that many teams have asked him about “signability.” He’s been telling them that he hopes to go “around the third round,” which would surely come with a six-figure signing bonus. For comparison, Bronxville native Harrison Bader was selected in the third round last year by the St. Louis Cardinals and received a signing bonus of $400,000, while many other third-round players got over $500,000.
The question remains: How high will teams reach for Kirby without an assurance that he’ll sign?
“That is probably the No. 1 concern for most clubs,” the AL scout said. “Some clubs don’t know really where he stands. These picks are valuable, and you can’t roll the dice on a guy who you don’t know if he’s going to be in your uniform.”
Most draft projections don’t have Kirby going in the top three rounds, but getting picked anywhere in the first 10 rounds would likely net him at least $100,000. Then he’ll have a life-altering decision to make.
For now, it’s just a waiting game filled with uncertainty.
“I’m very anxious,” said Kirby, who went 6-0 with a 0.32 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings this season. “I don’t know what to expect come Thursday.”
Kirby is the hottest prospect in Section 1 this season, but there are a few others who have been scouted and have a chance to go later in the draft.
East Ramapo catcher Jeffry Parra has drawn attention from a handful of teams, while Byram Hills outfielder and right-hander Frankie Vesuvio and Albertus Magnus right-hander James Reilly have also had scouts attend their games.
The most highly regarded player in New York state is Shenendehowa right-hander Ian Anderson, who is ranked 12th overall by Baseball America and is expected to go in the first round.
The first two rounds of the draft will be broadcast live on MLB Network beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Rounds 3-10 will be held on Friday, with rounds 11-40 on Saturday.
Visit mlb.com to follow the draft from start-to-finish.