Freshman Cade McGee shines for nationally-ranked Bulldogs

First-year third baseman Cade McGee leads the No. 12 Zags in home runs, batting average and on-base percentage.

For most college baseball prospects, junior college represents an opportunity to improve a player’s craft before facing off against the stiff competition that is  Division I baseball.

However, Cade McGee is not most college baseball prospects. 

McGee eschewed the junior college route and jumped straight to the D1 level from Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. McGee played for the Western Nebraska Pioneers of the Expedition League between graduating from high school and enrolling at Gonzaga University.

“[Nebraska] was a really big jump. Especially because I had never played that many games in a row,” McGee said. “It really helped me understand that there's failure in the game because in high school, it's not as difficult and once you get into collegiate baseball, you're gonna fail. That's the game. It was a really good experience for me to just basically learn how to fail and understand how to get myself back up and keep working.”

McGee hit .306 with 31 RBI and three homeruns to help guide the Pioneers to a playoff berth, but his contributions didn’t stop there. McGee posted a 3-4 record as a pitcher with a 2.14 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched.

That’s right. Not only did McGee catapult straight to D1 baseball, he did so as both a position player and pitcher. Thirty-one games into his freshman campaign, McGee boasts an average of .342 with 20 RBI and four homeruns to complement his eight innings pitched with nine strikeouts and an ERA of 6.75.

GU’s coaching staff has developed a penchant for recruiting players skilled in both pitching and hitting, with preseason All-American Gabriel Hughes doing both until this year where he has focused primarily on pitching. Current Seattle Mariner and former Bulldog Marco Gonzales marked the start of this trend, hitting .311 with 26 RBI in addition to racking up a record of 7.3 with 2.80 ERA in 106 innings pitched in his junior season after winning the WCC Co-Player of the Year as a freshman.

“Coming out of high school, we thought we had somebody that not only can help us on offense, which he is as a freshman right now, but potentially, you know, going down the road and helping us on the mound as well,” said GU Assistant Coach Sean Winston.

McGee admits that he came into GU as more of a thrower than a fully-formed pitcher. As a high schooler, McGee ranked in the 92nd percentile of Perfect Game's fastball velocity rankings at 92 mph. Hughes threw 90 mph for Perfect Game as a high school senior.

McGee hasn’t been heavily relied upon as an arm due to the depth of GU’s pitching staff. The Bulldogs had four pitchers named to the Top 150 Midseason Rankings released by D1Baseball.com, including Hughes, William Kempner, Trystan Vrieling and Brody Jessee. However, McGee has pitched the most innings (8.0) of any freshman pitcher on the team, indicating his future lies as much at third base as it does on the mound. In a sport that requires such a high skill-level, McGee has leaned on the team’s veterans for guidance.

“[Gabriel Hughes] taken me under his wing and told me about a lot about time management and just getting the hang of things and being able to manage your workload,” McGee said. “That's something he really helps me out with. He was more of a pitcher who was able to hit, I think I'm more of a hitter who's able to pitch.”

McGee is top 10 in the WCC in batting average and has made a strong case for WCC Freshman of the Year as the Bulldogs have sole possession of first place in the conference. Despite being a star freshman, McGee is still a first-year player that makes youthful mistakes.

In the Zags’ last series against the University of Portland, McGee got caught frozen on the basepaths after a hit to the shortstop. Unsure whether to stay at second or advance to third, McGee waited too long to make a decision and was thrown out at third after he started the inning with a standup double with no outs. In the decisive game three of the series, McGee had an error at third that allowed the Pilots an additional baserunner in a tie game.

An occasional mistake is simply a reminder that McGee is still in his first season playing collegiate baseball. It is not a reason to keep him out of the lineup. McGee has featured prominently in some of the crucial moments of GU’s season to date.

In a series sweep over current No. 3 Oklahoma State, McGee hit a go-ahead homerun in the top of the 10th to put GU up 2-1. The Bulldogs wouldn’t relinquish that lead on their way to a marquee series clinching win over one of the consensus top programs in the country.

“Individually, he seems to get better when the big moment shows up. It just seems like he’s continuing to put himself in a good spot. He just seems to kind of rise to the occasion when the game is on the line,” Winston said. “I think he’s going to be a really special player down the road.”

McGee’s talent was widely recognized in recruiting circles as he had a number of suitors from the PAC-12 and the WCC in hot pursuit. Ultimately, McGee chose GU because of a connection with head coach Mark Machtolf over hunting and fishing.

“The thing that really stood out most to me was the family environment that coach Machtolf talked about,” McGee said. “It was something that I really wanted to be a part of. I didn't feel that way about any other program.”

With his spot as the team’s everyday third baseman and cleanup hitter secured, McGee is free to focus on improving individually as one crucial piece to the Zags’ quest for a repeat WCC championship. The Bulldogs are projected to host a postseason regional due to their hot start, and the road to the College World Series has never been clearer for the Zags under Machtolf.   

“We always talked about protecting our championship because obviously before my time they had won several WCC championships, and that's something we have in our sights and are continuing to work towards,” McGee said. “We all have the same vision in mind of making it as far as we possibly can. In order to accomplish that, we all have to be brothers and come together and get it all done.”

Tommy Conmy is a copy editor. Follow him on Twitter: @tommyconmy.