Brandon Finnegan faced first-round draft picks in his final collegiate game last June and pitched against first-round picks in his major league debut in September. He couldn’t tell the difference.
Less than four months after pitching eight innings and allowing no earned runs for Texas Christian against Virginia in the College World Series and after being drafted No. 17 overall, Finnegan made his debut for the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium.
In his first appearance, Finnegan recorded back-to-back strikeouts of Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter. Ellsbury and Jeter had a greater pedigree than the Virginia draftees Finnegan opposed, but their reputations may as well have been similar.
“It didn’t really matter who I faced,” said Finnegan, a 21-year-old left-hander who participated in the Royals Caravan’s Wichita stop on Wednesday at Academy Sports and Outdoor along with outfield prospect Lane Adams. “I wasn’t going to worry about the batter I faced, I was more worried about just doing my job.
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“That’s kind of how I looked at every person I faced. I didn’t really look at the names, because it didn’t matter. It was just about me playing catch with Salvador (Perez, Kansas City’s catcher).”
Perhaps Finnegan’s Bronx debut barely registered because it was hardly the highlight of his first professional season. He joined Kansas City’s bullpen in September, just after turning 21, and struck out 10 batters in seven appearances.
Those gaudy numbers weren’t the highlight, either. Finnegan became a bullpen stalwart during the Royals’ run to the World Series, emerging as a trusted member of a relief corps that included dominating right-handers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland.
Before Finnegan’s first rough outing in Game 4 of the World Series, Finnegan surrendered two earned runs in six postseason appearances.
Finnegan experienced so much high-leverage baseball between June and October that it could become difficult to adjust back to the grind and occasional mundane nature of a 162-game season.
Except this is the same guy who was unmoved by Jacoby Ellsbury and a farewell-touring Derek Jeter.
“Either way, it’s still going to be my job,” Finnegan said. “I’m doing something I love, so it’s always going to matter, it’s always going to mean something to me. It’s just going out there and having fun. Anything less than having fun, that’s when you get in trouble.”
Finnegan pitched so well from the bullpen that the Royals may keep him there. If he remains a starter, he might spend more time in the minors, where he made five starts last season before transitioning to the bullpen to prepare for the big leagues.
Finnegan, as could have been guessed, is hardly rattled by his uncertain status.
“They said they wanted me as a starter, but where I break with the team, nobody knows,” Finnegan said. “It just depends on how I perform and what they need.”