The list of Division I college commits for the St. John’s Prep baseball team keeps growing.
Junior pitcher Max Gieg announced Monday that he’ll continue his baseball career at Boston College. He’s one of four Eagles from last season’s team to commit to a Division I program, joining Tyler MacGregor (Columbia), Mike Yarin and Jake Sanderson (both UConn).
What sets Gieg apart is how quickly it came together. The Lynn native spent his entire freshman season on the freshmen squad, and due to some arm issues, wasn’t among the first choices to join varsity.
“I was kind of on the lower tier for varsity looks,” Gieg said. “But I strengthened over the winter so my fastball velocity increased, my arm got stronger, and when varsity tryouts came around, coach (Dan) Letarte was so accepting of me. We had a long talk about how the program would work.”
Initially, Gieg was looking to gain strength and experience as a sophomore, ramping up for a big 2018. But things progressed quickly. A big reason was the jump in velocity Gieg experienced; he started his sophomore season at 85 miles per hour, and finished at 92. A seven mph jump over the course of four or five months certainly turned heads, both on the Eagles and beyond.
“I didn’t expect to be anywhere near 90,” Gieg said. “I was extremely happy.”
Gieg says he owes a lot to JV coach James Baker, whom he’s working with on a strengthening program.
In June, Gieg set foot on the biggest stage in Massachusetts high school baseball: the Super 8 tournament. Gieg, who finished the season 3-0 in 10 appearances with two saves and a 1.40 ERA, pitched well in the tournament. Gieg credited his coaches for his successful season.
“We had at least three or four meetings with the coaches, going over statistics and how to attack different batters,” he said. “The coaches stressed pitching is as mental as it is physical.”
The Eagles take a different approach to pitching than most schools. Instead of having a starter go as long as he can, Letarte uses his pitchers for a couple innings at a time. That way, they’re not overworked.
“That’s one of the things I love about the Prep,” Gieg said. “That method really works well. In the losers bracket, there’s such little time to rest. (Letarte) also did that throughout season…the older guys would pitch five or six innings, and underclassman pitch 2-3 innings as relief. That really helped build and protect my arm.”
Gieg said he threw less than 40 pitches each outing.
“It’s a great idea. Every time I pitched in Super 8, I felt no discomfort, everything was clean,” Gieg added.
St. John’s Prep’s system goes beyond pitching format. The Eagles coaching staff focuses on arm care for its pitchers, Gieg says, and have a system in place to help players reach their potential at an appropriate pace.
Gieg started garnering attention from BC coach Mike Gambino early on. Letarte was told of the interest in the righty even when he was throwing 85. As Gieg’s fastball velocity increased, so did interest from other college coaches. But Boston College and Gambino were a constant through the process.
“The whole time, BC made its presence very known to me and my family,” Gieg said.
Another factor that helped the decision was that Prep baseball alumnus Jacob Yish is entering his sophomore year with the Eagles. Between Yish and the advice of fellow DI commits Sanderson, a pitcher, and Yarin as well as seniors Zach Begin and Casey Bussone (who is bound for MIT), Gieg was able to navigate through the process.
“They helped me as far as how to approach things, like what I should ask the coaches,” Gieg said. “This process is completely new to me, but that’s another thing I love about the Prep, everything builds off everything. (Bussone and Begin) are some of the best mentors in general, they helped me when I had tough outings. I really value that system of upperclassmen passing that along.”
In the end, it was the attention from BC, the connection with St. John’s Prep, the culture of baseball at the college and of course, the academics, that contributed to the decision for Gieg. The location was a big plus as well.
“I wanted to stay local. It may not be the best for pitchers because of the cold weather, but I like pitching in the cold,” Gieg said. “And it’s close to family. My dad has been watching me play since I was four.”
“I view academics as a main priority,” Gieg added. “When I talked with Gambino, he said academics is a huge part and they want to better you as a person. I also just want to evolve as a person.”
Gieg still has two more season with his high school Eagles, and work to do. That includes working on reducing walks and improving efficiency, as well as developing a changeup and fine-tuning his curveball, since his fastball is his strength.
However, he won’t have to worry about his college baseball future when the Prep gathers to make another state tournament run.