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Sunday, June 02, 2013

McCullers' PG road show lives on

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There were plenty of McCullers' in the house at the former Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex this weekend, something Perfect Game personnel have gotten used to ever since Lance McCullers Jr. played in his first PG event in July, 2008.

Fraternal twins Ryan and Austin McCullers are the two more recent additions to the lineup, although the two members of the high school class of 2014 have been around a few years. Their appearances at this weekend's PG National Academic Showcase was Ryan's 16th PG event and Austin's seventh, all since 2010. Lance Jr. attended 22 events from 2008-11, including the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic and the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase.

And all along the way, at just about every tournament or showcase stop, parents Lance Sr. and Stacie McCullers have been there for the boys.

"It's been very interesting," Lance Sr. said Sunday from the hot and humid but nicely breezy 5-Plex. "It all started with Lance with all the publicity he got from it and everything, and now with the twins; it's just been great for the kids and everything."

Ryan and Austin, who will be seniors in the fall at Jesuit High School in Tampa, are finding their own way and so far Ryan, a catcher, has been the more accomplished of the two. He came into the National Academic ranked among the top-500 prospects nationally in his class, the top-100 in Florida and as the No. 13-ranked catching prospect in Florida.

"With Ryan, in all the showcases he's done he's been in the top two or three guys catching in Pop time and he's always hit the ball pretty well everywhere he's gone," Lance Sr. said. "He doesn't have the arm that Lance has but he's a really good hitter and he's a great defensive catcher."

Ryan's Pop time of 1.80-seconds was second best this weekend's showcase and his velocity of 78 mph was tied for fourth best. A one-line scouting report noted that he has "a quick transfer with a good release with a quick arm, throws that are accurate and on-line, as well as good footwork."

Austin is unranked but, according Lance Sr., is making strides.

"Austin has been a little bit of late bloomer," his dad said. "He's really gotten a lot stronger and lot bigger this year and he's done very well so far."

Neither will reach the standard Lance Jr., a right-handed pitcher, achieved during his high school and Perfect Game careers. He was the recipient of the 2011 Jackie Robinson Award -- given to Perfect Game's National Player of the Year -- and was a first-round compensation pick of the Houston Astros (41st overall) in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The Astros awarded Lance Jr. with a $2.5 million signing bonus, double the suggested slotted amount for a 41st pick.

He is now pitching for Quad Cities in the Class A Midwest League where after 12 appearances (seven starts) he stood 1-4 with a 1.90 ERA, and 45 strikeouts and 21 walks in 42 2/3 innings.

"He's thrown very well and, obviously, his ERA is very good," his dad said Sunday. "He's been a little bit of a hard-luck pitcher ... but I think developmental-wise he's done very well. He's developed a pretty good changeup that he's starting to throw a lot, his breaking ball is still the same and his fastball has been sitting 94-96 (mph) consistently.

"It's a learning process and I don't think they're looking at wins and losses in the minor leagues. It's been fun, he's having a great time, he's enjoying it and he's glad he did it."

Lance McCullers Sr. pitched all or parts of seven major league seasons from the mid-80s to the early 90s with the San Diego Padres, N.Y. Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, almost exclusively as a middle-reliever. He said the advice and mentoring he's passed along to all three of his sons did not change from son to son.

"I tell them all the same thing," Lance Sr. said. "You've got to know what you're doing on the field and people will see what you do and that's how you will get monitored as to how good you are. My name is going to only carry you so far and so is your brother's, and what you earn you have to earn on your own."

It's important to keep in mind that Ryan and Austin are fraternal twins and their father called them "completely different." That applies to their goals and ambitions on the baseball field as much as anything else.

"Ryan has had a lot of fun with it," Lance Sr. said. "He started this year for the high school team and is having a lot of fun and he's getting some interest from colleges. Ryan really wants to play college ball and whatever he can do to go where he wants to go, that's what he plans on doing.

"Austin has a lot of fun in the summer; he hasn't gotten to play a whole lot in high school yet," he continued. "I think if the right fit for Austin came along that he would play college ball; he would really like to continue his baseball career at a high-academic school, possibly even in the Ivy League."

Regardless of how it plays out, the Perfect Game experience for the McCullers family will likely end this fall. Ryan and Austin will graduate from Jesuit High about a year from now and move to the next stage, whatever that is.

"I'll miss all the tournaments we get to go to with them," Lance Sr. said. "Hopefully they both keep on going and I can go watch them in college, and I'll still get to go watch Lance, too."

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