The baseball world got to know Brandon Finnegan after he put his name on the map in 2014, when the 21-year old heard his name called on June 5 after the Kansas City Royals selected him in the first round of the MLB draft. Two days later, Finnegan earned the win over Pepperdine in the opening game of the Fort Worth Super Regional best-of-three series that the Horned Frogs would ultimately win. Ten days after the Pepperdine performance, the Fort Worth native sailed through eight innings and allowed two runs (one earned) in a 15-inning loss to national runner-up Virginia that tied a record for the longest game in the history of the College World Series.
It was one of the better performances that college baseball saw in 2014, as Finnegan tallied a 9-3 record with a 2.04 ERA for TCU. In just over 105 innings pitched, he racked up 134 strikeouts, yielded just 79 hits and walked only 29.
And he wasn’t done.
Finnegan’s name came up again when he made a similar splash in the professional ranks. Just three months and one day after he was drafted and 81 days after his Frogs finale (after dominating the minor leagues in class A-advanced and AA to the tune of 27 innings pitched, 26 strikeouts, 20 hits, four walks and a 1.33 ERA), he was called up to the big leagues and would make his debut at Yankee Stadium, striking out two in two perfect innings. He and the rest of the Kansas City Royals caught fire down the stretch of the regular season and carried their momentum right into the playoffs. The 5-11 lefty threw two more perfect innings in a wild card-elimination game against Oakland that ended in a 12-inning, 9-8 Royals victory and began an eight-game winning streak that put K.C. in the World Series. After retiring the only two batters he faced in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, Finnegan became the first player in the history of baseball to have appeared in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.
Inside Pitch got the chance to catch up with Finnegan to talk about his unprecedented 2014 campaign.
Inside Pitch: How would you say college baseball prepared you for what you faced in the major leagues?
I wouldn’t say it was college baseball that did it as much as it was TCU itself- the way the program is run, the mental conditioning we did, everything else involved got me ready for it. And of course, the College World Series got me prepared for the big leagues too.
IP: Since your freshman year, your walks per nine innings decreased every season (4.33 in 2012, 3.97 in 2013, 2.47 in 2014). That number has continued to decrease in the minors (1.33) and even the major leagues (1.29). What would you attribute that to?
Really it was just putting the work in. Coach Saarloos and Coach Schloss (TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle) both challenged me to just throw strikes with every pitch I had, so I just took off with it. I wasn’t really trying to spot up as much after that, just trying to hit the mitt and do my job.
IP: How do you go about setting goals?
We set a team goal at TCU and we all had personal goals too, but like Coach Schloss says: if the team goals are accomplished, then our personal goals will be met too. It ended up being just like he said.
IP: So if we were to tell you before this past season started that you were going to the College World Series, would be drafted in the first round, would pitch in the MLB World Series and that your hat from that game would end up in Cooperstown, what would you say?
I’d have just laughed. I mean, that was just crazy. Something you don’t hear happening too much, honestly.
IP: What was the hardest thing to deal with when you reached the major leagues and eventually the World Series?
Nothing was really hard to deal with; I went through it all in college except for the rookie hazing, which wasn’t even that bad- all I had to do was dress up, that’s it.
Really it was just grinding through the end of the season; I’d already been pitching for what felt like four years straight, so getting through those last two months was the hardest part.
IP: Have you been able to put your accomplishments from this past season into perspective at all?
No, not yet. People try to help with that, they try to help it sink in, but it doesn’t really work.
IP: What’s it like dealing with opposing fans at the major league level?
I don’t really pay much attention to the crowd, but you can obviously hear them when you’re two feet away from them. They love their teams and it’s okay to cheer for your team and everything, but some of the stuff you hear is brutal. It never really bothered me, but it’s hard to explain, but I think it’s something that everyone should experience. They’re good at cheering their team on, but some of the stuff that comes out of fans’ mouths is just unreal.
IP: Were there any guys on the team that took you under their wing?
Oh yeah. Eric Hosmer, Jarod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain all took me under their wing, took me out and had a good time, I got real close to them real quick.
IP: What about anyone you faced in the big leagues that you had to stop and say ‘holy cow, I grew up watching this guy and now I’m trying to get him out!’
If anybody in the big leagues had an effect on me when I pitched to them, it was Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton and David Ortiz. I got the chance to talk to Ortiz and Hamilton, they just told me to keep throwing the way I was and good luck.
IP: Any goals in mind for the 2015 season?
It just depends on what the Royals want me to do. They haven’t told me yet, all I know is that if they don’t go get another [starting] pitcher, they’re going to give me a chance to earn a spot [in the rotation], but if they do, then I think I’ll be back in the bullpen.
IP: How do you stay motivated after so much success?
I mean, I went to two World Series in one year and didn’t win either one of them. I think that’s motivation enough, which motivates me a lot to get better. Also, I don’t have a set role [with the Royals], so I’ll still have a team to make come spring training. I think you have to go into the offseason with that mindset; obviously you need rest, but you still have to bust your butt when it comes to workout time.
After coming off a rollercoaster ride that no one in baseball history has ever been on before, Brandon Finnegan has earned the rest.