AJHS Grad’s Road to Oakland Far Off the Usual Path Taken by Pro Baseball Prospects
By Daniel Dullum
Aiden McIntyre got the baseball bug at age 8, and with it the dream of many young players – getting to The Show.
“We lived in Pennsylvania before and baseball wasn’t really that big. Nobody in our family was really big into baseball,” the 2014 Apache Junction High graduate said. “We moved out here when I was about 10 and started playing Little League – we lived just a few minutes from the Little League fields.
“Mom and Dad got me registered for Little League and it took off from there. Mom thought it would be a good idea.”
After signing his first professional contract on June 10 with the Oakland Athletics, that decision now looks even better. Especially at the end of what McIntyre calls “an interesting journey,” if not an unlikely one.
“Now, they’re thrilled,” McIntyre, 22, said. “They were never not thrilled to watch me play baseball at any point, even when it wasn’t good. For me, it’s obviously more fun to perform well in front of them. But they loved the game and it’s part of our family now. We’ve embraced it. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
McIntyre, a starting pitcher for Division II Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif., was selected in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. After signing with the A’s, he was sent to the club’s minor league minicamp in Mesa, where he will likely be assigned to the team’s short-season Arizona Rookie League squad.
Four years ago, McIntyre was on no one’s professional or collegiate radar. Four years later, nearly half of Major League Baseball’s organizations expressed interest in his late-developing pitching talent.
On hearing from the A’s on draft day, McIntyre said, “I wasn’t thinking for a little while. It was a really cool feeling and I embraced that. I was just really excited. All of my family was able to be there, and it was exciting just to be with them and see their excitement.
“Once I calmed down a little bit, I was just grateful that the A’s took that shot.”
McIntyre said he filled out “about 15” questionnaires from other MLB teams expressing interest, besides the Athletics.
“That all came within the last month of the season. I got some attention early and was able to finish strong.
“The last three weeks, I wasn’t contacted. Then, after the last game, I got contacted by a lot of teams. I knew I was on a handful of team’s boards, so it was a matter of who went first.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound McIntyre, the 653rd overall selection, is the first Holy Names player ever drafted by a MLB organization. In 2018, McIntyre (2-9) led the Pacific West Conference with 105 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings while walking 55.
As a junior, McIntyre was an All-PacWest Academic selection while leading the Hawks with five wins. In his career at HNU, McIntyre was 7-15 with a 5.13 ERA and a team-record 155 strikeouts.
McIntyre transferred to HNU from San Diego City College, where he was 5-7 in 15 games – 10 starts – with a 3.82 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 41 walks in 2016.
McIntyre finished his HNU career with a flurry. After a disastrous start against Point Loma, he won two of his last four starts, striking out 34 batters in 26 1/3 innings with an ERA of 3.08.
“All year, I knew the chances of getting drafted was a possibility. Once it got closer to the draft, I got a better sense of interest from teams. I didn’t expect much, and honestly, I didn’t need much. I told the A’s I was just looking for the opportunity..”
“Aiden has all the tools to be a big league pitcher someday,” Holy Names Coach Esteban Contreras said. “Nobody improved more over the last two years here at HNU. He really dedicated himself and his body to the game, and it is really paying off for him.
“The scary part is, I believe his best baseball is still in front of him, which is a big reason why, I think, the A’s were so high on him.”
ROAD LESS TRAVELED
In two varsity seasons at AJHS, McIntyre – then 6-foot, 180 pounds – played third base and pitched. In 2013 and 2014, he was a cumulative 0-4 while striking out three and walking 18. His earned run average as a senior was 7.87; at the plate, he hit .134.
McIntyre said he pitched occasionally in Little League and club ball. “I didn’t really pitch my first three years of high school. As a senior, I threw 10 innings, but it wasn’t a very good 10 innings. Looking back, I find it more intriguing, I think it’s funny, in a way! But it’s cool to see the progress.
“I threw a bullpen before my senior year and my fastball topped out at 78 (mph). Now my off-speed is faster than my fastball was back then.”
The interest in his potential, McIntyre believes, came from being a late-bloomer.
“I started pitching mostly after high school. After my senior season at AJ, the club team I played with knew I wanted to play college baseball and I had no offers coming out of high school. No interest, really,” McIntyre said.
“I was told my best shot was to be a pitcher, which sounded crazy, but I thought it was my best chance. People saw the potential with my size. At the time, I wasn’t that big. Some of it was seeing potential, but a lot of it was, they need players. I was an arm, and I was able to progress a lot faster than most people did. Especially when everything kind of came together.”
From there, McIntyre attended three junior colleges in two years – Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Otero JC in La Junta, Colo., and San Diego City College.
“I found San Diego through a coach that I played for after my freshman year,” McIntyre said. “Then San Diego helped me get exposed to a different state, a bigger state. They set the table for Holy Names finding me.”
Contreras learned about McIntyre from Chris Brown, the SDCC head coach who Contreras had once played for.
“Chris said nothing but good things about Aiden during the recruiting process,” Contreras said. “McIntyre’s pitching coach at that time was a former teammate of mine, Sergio Mitre (who played eight years in the majors for the Yankees and Cubs). All those guys thought Aiden would be a great addition to our program.”
McIntyre was 5-2 in his freshman year, grew to 6-foot as a senior, then 6-4 at San Diego City College. His fastball is hitting the low 90s on the radar gun, topping at 95 during the past season. “I hit a handful of 94s. Usually 91 to 94 on a good day. The challenge is to locate it.”
After his junior year, McIntyre spent time at Driveline in Kent, Wash., a noted training facility for baseball players.
“My mechanics cleaned up a lot this past year, mostly just mentally maturing, changing the mindset a little bit, and the big jump physically. Even in my junior year at Holy Names, I wasn’t in nearly good enough shape to get to what I wanted to do.” McIntyre explained. “In my junior season, I ran it up to 91 in one game, but in most games I would down around 85. I didn’t have enough strength and endurance for the season.
“Driveline is where players go to maximize their potential. In a way, it’s the last stop to see how much you can do. Honestly, without Driveline, I wouldn’t be here at all.”
THE NEXT LEVEL
McIntyre said he thinks the A’s are projecting him as a starter. “Outings will be pretty much short innings, so you don’t get too stretched out. Right now, it’s getting command of the strike zone, getting people to miss or make weak contact, and we’ll move from there.”
His repertoire includes a four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, a “spike-curve” and a changeup.
“The spike curve is a little like a knuckle curve,” McIntyre said. “I developed it over winter throwing with my brother (Ian, a former Prospector who plays for San Diego CC), and I watched videos on it. That’s a little unconventional, but I needed another pitch. My splitter is my most effective pitch.”
On the challenge of playing professionally, McIntyre said, “Everybody knows the percentages of players drafted to make it. I wasn’t expected to play college baseball, in high school, I was never expected to get drafted. So it’s not a different situation for me. I’m used to it. I’m comfortable.
“It’s another challenge. It’s fun. The baseball field is a good fit for me.”
Grateful for the opportunities he’s had along the way at San Diego and Holy Names, “teams that allowed me to progress and to get here,” McIntyre said, “Our parents made sure we had what we needed, allowing me to pursue my dream, even when it wasn’t, from a parent’s perspective, very clear for a long time.
“They allowed me to be me, and guided me to do that.”
Photo above: Aiden McIntyre (left), a 2014 Apache Junction High graduate, along with his brother Ian, who graduated in 2017. Aiden recently signed with the Oakland A’s; Ian plays for San Diego City College. (Photo by Daniel Dullum)