A two-sport star in baseball and basketball at Henderson High School in West Chester, PA, Chas McCormick has always been a competitor. After four all-conference selections at the high school level, he enrolled at nearby Millersville Universty, which plays at the Division II level in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. In recent memory, the PSAC has produced numerous major leaguers including Matt Adams, Joey Wendle, Ryan Vogelsong and Lou Trivino.
A day one starter as a college freshman, McCormick immediately showed high-level contact ability with Millersville, posting a .335/.413/.419 line with nine steals and just eighteen strikeouts in 236 PAs. As a sophomore, McCormick drove the ball a bit more, collecting six home runs, and continued to put the ball in play in over ninety percent of his trips. The following year, however is when McCormick said he first started to garner interest from pro teams: “We went 53-7, and we had four kids get drafted that year, and I played really well... Division II teams, you don’t see much scouts all the time to watch your games, but we had such a good team that scouts were coming- not necessarily to watch me play, but our pitchers, and our shortstop- and I thought I could maybe get a shot.”
McCormick certainly did his part to garner interest, slashing .412/.488/.525 with 33 stolen bases while contributing to great team success. McCormick said further of his junior year: “I played really well down the stretch and we went to the World Series, we won a regional championship... I think scouts saw me perform. After that year I got a call from the Astros, they said ‘we’ll draft you in the 25th round’... and they never did.”
Despite things not going quite according to plan after a terrific junior campaign, McCormick managed to keep a good outlook: “that’s where I was like, okay, at least they have interest. As long as I stay focused my senior year, I think I should get drafted as a senior sign, and that’s exactly what happened.” McCormick was focused indeed as a senior, hitting .384 while picking up another 23 steals in 25 attempts while socking a career-high nine home runs. A year after his draft day disappointment, the Astros selected McCormick in the 21st round in 2017.
When asked if his path as a day three pick who signed as a senior gives him a different perspective than a player who has been on the radar longer, McCormick said: “One hundred percent. A senior sign like me, I think you have to play with a sense of urgency, because you don’t have all the time in the world to be sitting in A-ball, or on the DL, so personally, I’m making sure I stay healthy every year so I can play every single day, and play my butt off. There’s less room for error for guys like me.”
With his hard-nosed mentality, McCormick has risen quickly through the Astros system, covering three levels in his 2017 debut and then earning a midseason promotion in 2018. His most persistent skill, dating back to college, is his contact ability. “For me, making contact is easy.” McCormick said of his game. “I can put the ball in play whenever I want.” And, at every level he’s faced, he has done just that. Paired with his advanced defensive ability, McCormick’s bat-to-ball skills have carried him from Pennsylvania D-II play to within arm’s reach of the big leagues.
In the Astros system, McCormick isn’t the only player to have taken such a path. In 2016, the team drafted Mercyhurst senior Colin McKee, whom McCormick played against in the PSAC. McKee has moved up the ladder alongside McCormick as a strikeout-heavy reliever, and the two are currently teammates in Corpus Christi. When asked about having a teammate with so much shared history, he said “It’s good to talk, it’s good to reminisce about when we played against each other in college, we were big rival schools. We stay close, we talk about how our college teams are doing. We’ve had a similar path, and it’s fun to see both of us succeed.” It has without a doubt been a strong year for PSAC alumni in the Astros system, as McKee has struck out 29 in 19 innings for the Hooks and McCormick currently owns a .475 OBP.
While it’s still somewhat early in the Texas League season, that on-base figure should stand out. It’s partially fueled by a .300 batting average, a step forward in its own right, but the big change at the dish for McCormick in 2019 has been a more patient approach. As of this writing, McCormick’s 20.8 BB% is second in the league to only 31-year old MLB veteran Chris Parmelee, who is pacing the league in several categories with the Tulsa Drillers. It’s a sizable jump from the 8.5% mark he posted in his first run at the level in 2018, and McCormick says that’s by design: “the Astros had a focus on it for me, and I kind of came into this year focusing on it, also... I’m looking to drive balls, they want me to drive balls into the gap, so I had to just take more strikes, basically. Not swing at pitchers’ pitches- if a pitcher throws a great pitch, on the black. And I’m a good two-strike hitter, too, so I’m getting in deeper counts, which is helping me a lot. [I’m not] so focused on just putting the ball in play.” when expounding on the plan he had for this season, he said: “they actually told me to swing and miss more. And that’s tough for me, because usually if I’m swinging, I’m going to make contact.” While his extra base hit rate has remained mostly level, he’s taken well to his adjusted approach thus far and his stock only stands to rise further if he’s able to get balls to the gaps with more regularity.
While McCormick and the Astros have to be pleased with his early offensive returns in 2019, the outfielder has found himself in the news recently for his glove. A career outfielder, McCormick has had several catches make the rounds since joining the Hooks including this from last year:
But really gave himself some name recognition when he leapt over the wall in Tulsa to rob a home run last week:
When I asked McCormick when he became accustomed to laying out for balls, he said “I think I kind of have a natural feel for it. And it’s also my competitive nature, I love taking away hits, I love taking away home runs.” He also credited strong preparation, adding “in spring training we nail down our pre-pitch first step... I take that stuff really aggressively. Basically, every single pitch, it’s hard to stay locked in every pitch with your pre-pitch, but I try to stay focused every single pitch just in case a ball comes at me.” On the subject of his over-the-wall grab, McCormick said “I knew the hitter, a left hand hitter (the aforementioned Chris Parmelee), was a good hitter and I knew he liked to pull the ball to the right field line, so I was anticipating a ball to come my way. What helped me the most was Ronnie from center field, as I’m hitting the warning track, I hear ‘fence!’ So I knew exactly where the fence was, it was an easy catch I thought, but being ready to impact the wall, falling, changing direction really fast... I wasn’t surprised at making the catch, I was surprised I held onto it.”
McCormick’s defense has been an asset all over the outfield in Corpus, where he’s split time between the three spots fairly evenly. When asked about his preferences on which outfield spot he slots into, he said “I don’t really have a preference, because I like to be known as a guy who can play all three spots,” and also added that an outfield assist is his favorite play to make on the diamond. His combination of defensive prowess, contact ability, speed and budding on-base skills have made him an intriguing find for the Astros as a day three senior sign, and he’s seen his stock rise an incredible amount in the last couple of years. His heady play style and competitive, confident attitude appear to have been great assets for him in his rise up the ladder, and it’s not hard to envision him helping to fill out a 26-man roster some day.
I took the opportunity to ask McCormick about what he might like to do after his playing days, be it in baseball or otherwise, and he said: “I graduated with a social work degree, and my mom was a social worker kind of close to my school, I did a bunch of internships. My mom works around that area, knows a lot of different facilities. I could get into that, work with the disability, group, so I could do that after baseball, but I also kind of want to run my own business. Social work can be an option for me [at any time.]” For now though? McCormick is riding a six-game hitting streak for the Hooks and producing at career-best levels on both sides of the ball. For a player who hadn’t garnered much attention until his junior year in college, it has been quite an ascent, and it looks like McCormick still has further to rise on the field.
You can follow Chas on twitter @Chazzyfizz.