Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means, a Gardner Edgerton High School graduate, wasn’t sure if there was a mistake or an elaborate prank being perpetrated against him. He sat in stunned silence.
That’s how the 6-foot-3 rookie left-handed pitcher reacted when called into his manager’s office and informed he’d been selected to represent his club as an American League All-Star in the MLB All-Star Game at Progressive Field on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t that him reaching that level of accomplishment was unthinkable or impossible. It just wasn’t supposed to happen to him. He never seriously considered it. Asked when it became a possibility, Means said, “Probably when I was told that I was coming to the game.”
Means had long since concluded in his own mind that his teammate Trey Mancini, an outfielder/first baseman, was going to the All-Star Game for sure.
“I wasn’t even supposed to make the team out of camp, so to be able to do that and be an All-Star is unreal,” Means said, standing at his locker right next to Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman.
Means, an 11th-round draft pick of the Orioles in 2014, had made one appearance in the majors and thrown 3 1/3 innings prior to this season. A change to his off-season training program yielded eye-opening results in spring training, and before Means realized what had happened he found himself named an All-Star.
This season, he’s appeared in 18 games and posted a 2.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, struck out 69 batters in 82 2/3 innings and held opposing hitters to a .220 batting average.
Comparing Means today to the player who once suited up for Olathe East and then Gardner Edgerton, isn’t even a comparison. Initially, he really didn’t see pitching taking him past college.
“It doesn’t even feel like the same person to be honest,” Means said. “I had no idea. I was just throwing and hopefully it went over the plate back then.”
As a junior and senior, Means played alongside former Royals first-round draft pick (fifth overall) Bubba Starling. Starling earned selection into the Triple-A All-Star Game this season.
After high school, Means pitched for Fort Scott Community College in Kansas and went on to West Virginia University.
“Out of high school I was just trying to get college paid for. I went to junior college first because it was free, basically, and after that I got a scholarship and that was basically free. Just to get through school was my biggest motivation.
“After going to the Cape Cod League, I kinda realized I had a chance to further my career into pro ball. I still wasn’t a high pick, I was an 11th-round pick. I kinda just kept grinding my way up. I spent a year at pretty much every level, and I finally got my opportunity this year.”
This past off-season, Means decided to train in St. Louis with Premier Pitching Performance (P3). They focus intensely on biomechanics, and Means believed the program helped him “get the most out of his body.”
His fastball velocity increased from regularly 88 to 90 mph last season to 94 mph this season.
He also benefited from changing the way he throws his changeup in order to make it slower and create greater separation between his fastball and changeup.
“This is my first time doing all sorts of this stuff,” Means said of the P3 program. “They do a lot of the weighted ball type stuff. They also do the Rapsodo and all the new technology. I knew with the Orioles and their new staff coming in that they were going to be very analytically driven. To go there and learn all that stuff and learn what works for me, I came into spring training knowing exactly what I needed to do.”
On-field changes won’t be the only ones this year for the unsuspecting All-Star, who began last season pitching for Double-A Bowie in the Eastern League.
He’ll have an eventful off-season on the horizon.
“Last year, I was in my parents’ basement. I was living that Triple-A life and making $3,000 a month,” Means said. “It wasn’t exactly the most luxurious lifestyle, but I’m getting married this off-season I’ll probably get a place. I think I’m going to go back out to St. Louis and work out at that facility.”