Jackson McClelland is thriving in the closer’s role with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2017.
Former Vancouver Canadians righthander Jackson McClelland has emerged as a reliever to watch in the Toronto Blue Jays system. The Pepperdine Wave product has locked down the closer’s role with the Lansing Lugnuts where he is a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities so far this season. McClelland has put up an earned run average of 1.32 and has struck out 13 batters in 13-2/3 innings. He is allowing less than a baserunner per innings with a WHIP of 0.88 while limiting Midwest League batters to a .159 average.
Through his groundball rate is just 25 percent, McClelland is limiting hard contact with a line drive rate of 12.5 percent – which represents a more than 10 percent drop from last year in Vancouver when he struggled in the closer’s role, converting just one of five save chances. He finished 2016 with a 2-4 record and a 3.26 ERA over 24 relief appearances.
McClelland has bounced back in a big way by being named Lansing’s pitcher of the month for April by the Around The Nest podcast, which gathers insights from all the broadcasters in the Blue Jays minor league system. In a recent interview with Lansing Lugnuts play-by-play announcer Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, McClelland said he was told by his coaches that he needed to lose weight and he did just that, dropping about 35 pounds from the tail end of 2016 through the off-season. He says he focused on core-specific pitching exercises that dealt with his abdominal, lower back and shoulder muscles. The 6-foot-5 hurler attributes the weight loss to simply eating better by avoiding fast foods and anything with sugar.
The hard work has paid off for the McClelland has seen his velocity jump from the low 90 MPH range to the mid-90’s, touching as high as 97. The 22 year-old (who turns 23 on July 7) has a four-pitch mix of a fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. He says he is working on his slider by trying to get the right grip, trusting it and spinning it right.
Goldberg-Strassler noted that Lugnuts pitching coach Willie Collazo (also McClelland’s pitching coach in Vancouver last season) said McClelland’s mentality is “in the right place, ” which for McClelland is to “stay aggressive, throw strikes and let the defence take care of its job”. He says the one takeaway from all of his pitching coaches is simple, “You never know how good you are until you throw strikes so you might as well throw strikes.”
Jackson McClelland made his Nat Bailey Stadium debut on June 30, 2015 with two scoreless innings against the Hillsboro Hops.
Drafted in the 15th round of the 2015 draft by the Blue Jays, it was not a particularly memorable occasion for McClelland as he believed he was taking a nap at the time. He reported to Vancouver for his pro debut that year and made his one and only start in Tri-City June 25 where he gave up two runs over three innings but struck out a pair of Dust Devils. He followed that up with two scoreless outings at Nat Bailey Stadium on June 30 and July 3 but McClelland missed the rest of the year with a torn labrum and a shoulder impingement.
A native of Cherry Hill, California, McClelland says he was home-schooled growing up, allowing him to travel playing baseball throughout the Golden State as well as Canada and Taiwan. He was a catcher at first but became a full-time pitcher after throwing a six-inning no-hitter as a junior at Redlands East Valley High School, the same school former 2012 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Griffin Murphy attended. He also took up Olympic weightlifting as a sophomore, noting that some aspects of being a weightlifter – such as power, coordination, strength and balance – are transferable to pitching.
With a streak of six scoreless outings covering a span of seven innings, McClelland has carried his weight pretty well in the Lugnuts bullpen by having less of it.