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‘Fire-in-the-belly mentality’: Chicago Cubs 2nd-round pick Jackson Ferris is a strikeout machine with upside

IMG Academy pitching coach Steve Frey always tells people Jackson Ferris has that “it factor.”

The Cubs selected the 18-year-old left-hander in the second round Sunday, an impressive high school pitcher who can rack up strikeouts. rated Ferris the No. 19 prospect in the draft and Baseball America had him at No. 34. The Cubs, who picked him at No. 47, added a high-upside arm.

Ferris struck out 189 batters in 105 innings during two seasons as a starter at IMG Academy. He finished his senior year with a 1.33 ERA and 6.87 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 10 outings.

“When he’s outside of the lines he’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet,” Frey told the Tribune. “And inside the lines, he’s got that fire-in-the-belly mentality where he wants the ball. He wants to win.”

Ferris always told Frey he was available between starts if it meant helping his team win.

“He’s a really good pitcher, but he has that little extra that some guys don’t have,” Frey said. “And coaches are going to love that.”

IMG Academy’s national schedule pits them against high-quality opponents. Ferris’ ability to use all four pitches — fastball, curveball, changeup and slider — in game situations stood out to the Cubs. Ferris’ fastball can range from 93-95 mph with a curveball and changeup that are considered above average. A lot of elite high school pitchers are so dominant they need only two pitches to shut down opposing hitters. While Ferris would sometimes rely on a two-pitch mix against the bottom of a lineup, that would not fly against a team’s best hitters.

Ten Cubs scouts evaluated Ferris throughout the spring, led by area scout Tom Clark.

“This wasn’t somebody that was just coming in pitching with two pitches for two innings,” Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said. “I mean, he’s throwing complete games and showing off four pitches and going multiple times through the order and showing an ability to make in-game adjustments, so it went above and beyond your typical two-pitch high school pitcher.”

Frey knows what it takes to make it to the big leagues. He spent eight years in the majors with five teams, finishing his career with a 3.76 ERA in 314 games as a reliever. Frey sees something special in Ferris. The young pitcher would play around with different offspeed grips, and once he found that feel, “there was no turning back.” Working on the mental side of pitching was a common theme during his bullpens, and it carried over to games.

Frey described Ferris as a joy to work with.

“He would just get after it,” Frey said. “He’s not a guy that overprocesses. He is see the sign, commit to the pitch and get after it.

“I mean, obviously we’re talking today because of the gift that he has, but over the two years, he just developed as a complete pitcher.”

Ferris will need to add strength to his lanky 6-foot-4 frame. To take the next step in his development, Frey said keeping an open mind is important, something the academy preaches to all players before they move on. That might mean trying new grips or delivery tweaks as the Cubs utilize their technology and pitching infrastructure, including their pitch lab.

“You want to continue to be successful at each level and it’s baby steps,” Frey said. “And that’s what he’s going to have to get used to.”


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