'Fire in the belly mentality': Chicago Cubs 2nd-round pick Jackson Ferris is a strikeout machine with upside

IMG Academy pitching coach Steve Frey always tells people that Jackson Ferris has that “factor.”

The Cubs selected the 18-year-old left-hander in the second round on Sunday, an impressive high school pitcher who can rack up strikeouts. MLB.com listed Ferris as the No. 19 prospect in the draft and Baseball America had him at No. 34. The Cubs, who took him No. 47, added a high arm.

Ferris struck out 189 batters in 105 innings over two seasons as a starter at IMG Academy. He finished his senior year with a 1.33 ERA and a 6.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 starts.

“When he’s out of the lines, he’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet,” Frey told the Tribune. “And inside the lines, he has that fire mentality in his stomach where he wants the ball. He wants to win.”

Ferris always told Frey that he was available between starts if it meant helping his team win.

“He’s a really good pitcher, but he’s got that little bit extra that some guys don’t have,” Frey said. “And the coaches are going to love that.”

IMG Academy’s national schedule pits them against high-quality opponents. Ferris’s ability to use all four pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup and slider) in game situations stood out for the Cubs. Ferris’ fastball can range from 93 to 95 mph with a curveball and changeup considered above average. Many elite high school pitchers are so dominant that they only need two pitches to shut down opposing hitters. While Ferris would sometimes rely on a two-pitch combination against the bottom of a lineup, that wouldn’t work against a team’s best hitters.

Ten Cubs scouts evaluated Ferris this spring, led by area scout Tom Clark.

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“This wasn’t someone who just threw two pitches in two innings,” Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said. “I mean, he’s throwing complete games and showing four pitches and going over the order several times and showing the ability to make adjustments to the game, so he went beyond the typical two-pitch high school pitcher.”

Frey knows what it takes to make it to the big leagues. He spent eight years in the majors with five teams, finishing his career with a 3.76 ERA in 314 games in relief. Frey sees something special in Ferris. The young pitcher played different slow-speed grips, and once he found that feeling, “there was no going back.” Working on the mental side of pitching was a common theme during his bullpens and he carried over to games.

Frey described Ferris as a pleasure to work with.

“I would just go after him,” Frey said. “He’s not a guy who overprocesses. It’s seeing the signal, committing to the pitch and going after it.

“I mean, obviously we’re talking today because of the gift that he has, but over the two years, he developed as a complete pitcher.”

Ferris will need to add strength to his lanky 6-foot-4 frame. To take the next step in his development, Frey said it’s important to keep an open mind, something the academy preaches to all players before moving forward. That could mean testing new grips or delivery tweaks as the Cubs use their throwing technology and infrastructure, including their throwing lab.

“You want to continue to be successful at every level and it’s baby steps,” Frey said. “And that’s what he’s going to have to get used to.”

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