CLEVELAND – Brett Favre cemented his legacy in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after winning Super Bowl XXXI and earning three MVP awards, 11 Pro Bowl selections and the 1995 Offensive Player of the Year during his 19 years in the NFL.
Although more people know him as the quarterback who channeled his inner Cal Ripken Jr. and started 321 games in a row, his time as an offensive coordinator at Oak Grove High School is rarely recognized.
Kirk McCarty was the starting quarterback for the state-champion Warriors in 2013, a prosperous program that hired Favre in 2012, two years after his playing career ended. Not only did the left-handed arm of McCarty carry Oak Grove to their first state title, but he also did it under the wing of Favre’s play-calling prowess.
The unlikely relationship between the two carried McCarty to 6,989 yards and 80 touchdowns, an illustrious high school career that would all but guarantee a chance to play at the collegiate level.
Despite the accolades and Hall of Fame connections, McCarty decided to pursue his dream on the mound, a place where he struck out 81 batters in 54.2 innings to land a 7-1 record and 1.41 ERA over the course of his senior campaign. The two-sport athlete added another two state championships in 2012 and 2014, completing the hat trick of accomplishments on high school’s biggest stage.
Similar to Favre, McCarty committed to Southern Mississippi with the intent to further his academics and eventually pursue a professional opportunity.
“Out of high school, he was a little short of what they were looking for as a signee,” said Scott Berry, the head coach at Southern Mississippi. “His signability wasn’t good anyway just because of his (outstanding) academic record.”
McCarty is 5-foot-10 and although his high school resume dazzled a number of Division I programs, it was not enough for an immediate chance to play in the minor leagues. With a 4.0 GPA in the classroom and quarterback-like instincts on the diamond, it only seemed like a matter of time before McCarty made his presence known at the next level.
“I think he’s a very hard-nosed competitor on the mound,” Berry said. “I look at Kirk and I say that he’s a lot like a quarterback on the pitching mound. He really thinks things through. He’s very cerebral in his approach. He’s a highly intelligent kid. The thing you see with him is he just doesn’t beat himself.”
While football and baseball find themselves on opposite sides of the sports world, the preparations for a quarterback draw parallels to the preparations for a starting pitcher, something that Favre mastered when he played every game for nearly 19 years.
“He’s kind of like a quarterback that studies film in preparation for a game,” said Berry, taking note of McCarty’s time on two drastically different playing fields. “That’s kind of what he did. There was a time where he was pitching on Saturday and we were throwing [a different pitcher] on Friday. He was fine with that because he liked to watch the hitters that he was going to face on Friday night for Saturday’s game. Kind of like watching film in a quarterback. He’s very competitive.”
In his three season with the Golden Eagles, McCarty earned first-team All-Conference USA honors twice in 2016 and 2017, most recently going 10-2 with a 3.52 ERA and 9.3 K/9 in 17 starts (99.2 innings) this spring. Couple those accolades with a C-USA Academic Medal, Commissioner’s Honor Roll award and placement on the highly regarded President’s list, and McCarty possessed everything a big league franchise could ever ask for.
“He represented our team and actually represented our university in the conference, as well,” Berry said. “The leadership skills are certainly in place there. He was very outgoing in the community with public service. You’re getting a well-rounded young man, a very well-rounded young man. A guy that represents you not only on the field, but off the field as well.”
The Indians selected McCarty in the seventh round (222nd overall) of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft, the first hurler from Brad Grant’s class of picks.
“He’s a 5-10, 180-pound lefty,” said Grant, the club’s director of amateur scouting. “His ability to throw strikes is what stands out with him. It’s a three-pitch mix. He has the ability to locate. Average breaking ball, average fastball (and) average changeup. Again, it’s the ability to throw a lot of strikes and be able to locate his pitches.”
In addition to his standard package of offerings, McCarty is also working on a cutter, a developing weapon that works well with the spin rate of his off-speed pitches.
“I think with the three years that he’s had in our program, you watch how he’s developed and he’s gotten that fourth pitch, that cutter, he’s always had pretty good command,” Berry said. “I think analytically, the stuff, the data they have nowadays, kind of predicts a little bit. All these clubs are privileged to really kind of break down spin rates and that sort of thing. I think that’s probably where he graded out so high with those. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s getting his opportunity to further his career and get to pro ball. He’s worked really hard for it. You can see the work as it paid off year in and year out.”
McCarty will visit Cleveland on Friday to complete a physical, having the intent to sign his first professional deal. If all goes as planned, the ace of a 50-win team will be joining the Tribe’s pipeline in the coming weeks.
“They did their homework on him. Chuck Bartlett was the area scout that has really researched it and watched Kirk several times,” said Berry. “It says a lot about him and what they think of Kirk in the future. I’ve watched the young man grow, not only from his high school years, but the three years here at our level.”
The transition from college to the minor leagues is one of the hardest to make, particularly exemplified in a farm system that drafted Trevor Crowe (2005), David Huff (2006), Beau Mills (2007) and Alex White (2009) in the first round, all of which are retired or released.
If McCarty’s collegiate prosperity can translate to Mahoning Valley, Lake County, Lynchburg, Akron and Columbus, then his charismatic personality will bode well for the Indians and spread to other up-and-coming prospects in their system.
“He’s going to keep the team loose. He’s the guy in the clubhouse that everybody will gravitate to,” Berry said. “He doesn’t shut up. He talks all the time, but it’s good (for the team). He keeps everybody loose and I think that it’s such a great characteristic of his personality. He’s a team guy. It’s not about him. I think he just kind of instills that into others and how he carries himself and others just kind of feed off of it.”
Kirk McCarty’s trip to Cleveland will officially make his dream a reality and provide him with the vision of winning a World Series, an accomplishment comparable to Brett Favre and his Super Bowl title in 1997.
“Cleveland (is a) great organization,” said Berry. “Certainly coming off the big year they had last year. They had that momentum going. I feel like they’re targeting guys that continue to keep that going in the direction they want. Certainly, Kirk fits that mold that they’re looking for.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.