Solid Boomers season helps McDonnell's prospects

By Marty Maciaszek
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 9/21/2017 10:45 PM
  • Rob McDonnell, right, is joined by Schaumburg Boomers teammate Kyle Ruchim after they helped produce a Frontier League championship this summer. McDonnell, a Barrington grad, had a strong season out of the bullpen and hopes affiliated baseball gives him another look.

    Rob McDonnell, right, is joined by Schaumburg Boomers teammate Kyle Ruchim after they helped produce a Frontier League championship this summer. McDonnell, a Barrington grad, had a strong season out of the bullpen and hopes affiliated baseball gives him another look. Submitted photo

Lighting up a radar gun is an excellent way for a pitcher to land on the proverbial radar screen of a Major League Baseball organization.

It may be the way former Barrington star Rob McDonnell hooks up again with an affiliated team after helping the Schaumburg Boomers win the Frontier League championship over the Florence Freedom last Saturday.

Throwing left-handed from a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame helps open some eyes. Adding 6 mph to his fastball, to top out in the 94-95 range, is also a big plus for McDonnell, who was drafted in the 25th round by the Dodgers out of Illinois in 2015 and released after two seasons.

"I thought I threw the ball pretty well, probably the best I've ever thrown professionally," said the 2009 Daily Herald All-Area pick as a senior at Barrington of his summer with the Boomers. "The second half of the season was the best I've ever pitched. My arm was doing great, I was throwing hard, hitting my spots and getting a lot of strikeouts."

McDonnell got 59 of them in 40 innings. He allowed only 26 hits and overcame a rough two-week stretch early on to finish 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA and 1 save.

He was even better in the postseason as the Boomers won their third title in just six seasons in the Frontier League. He allowed only 1 hit and no runs with 8 strikeouts in 4⅔ innings.

Boomers manager Jamie Bennett used McDonnell in a variety of roles. One night it could have been getting a left-handed hitter out in a tough situation in the sixth inning and another it could have been closing out a game.

"You could tell in the first half he was going through some adjustments a little bit," said Bennett, who has been the Boomers manager since 2012. "He was a good guy all year for us out of the bullpen, but when he got his mechanics and command locked in and once he got everything in synch, in the second half he was a force for us coming out of the pen."

McDonnell had a strong senior season in 2015 as Illinois won an NCAA regional for the first time and finished 50-10. He was 7-2 with a 2.28 ERA and had 70 strikeouts in 75 innings.

He spent most of his two seasons in the Dodgers' organization in Rookie Ball -- with the exception of two Class A appearances -- and his second year was 4-0 with a 3.93 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 50⅓ innings. But the Dodgers no longer saw McDonnell in their plans.

"We had just got done with the playoffs and they called the day after I got home," McDonnell said of his release. "I was surprised by it. They said it was my age (24 at the time) and how I was throwing, 88-89 (mph), isn't overpowering stuff.

"I knew I still wanted to play another year."

McDonnell and Bennett started having discussions about the Boomers after his release. McDonnell was intrigued by the opportunity to play at home in front of family and friends and with an old friend in former Top Tier travel teammate Kyle Ruchim from Stevenson.

"One of the persuading factors to sign with the Boomers was I definitely wanted to play with Kyle again," McDonnell said of the Boomers' outfielder who had a slash line of .315/.390/.455 with 5 homers and 40 RBI.

"Rob was a big arm for us out of the bullpen and anytime you get a local player it's a plus," Bennett said. "But our first priority was, 'This guy is going to help us win ballgames.'

"He was the only lefty we had in the pen for the majority of the season and the only one we had in the second half."

McDonnell said making some changes with his arm angle and mechanics helped increase his velocity. The hardest he threw with the Dodgers was 91 in the 2016 spring training.

And a chat with Illinois pitching coach Drew Dickinson helped him turn around his season after his tough stretch.

"He talked about getting back to what you do best," McDonnell said. "I was able to keep improving and really put it together."

Will it lead to another shot at affiliated ball? McDonnell did pique some interest during the season.

"Rob's name has been thrown around a little bit," Bennett said. "Once he got going in the second half, we had a scout who was watching a couple of other guys. Rob happened to throw that day and he mentioned he liked him.

"He's a lefty out of the pen so he's still on the radar. It's one of those things you hope he finds a spot so he can keep moving forward in his baseball career."

McDonnell said the velocity increase was a good confidence-booster for the future. If he doesn't get an opportunity with an affiliated team next season, he would be happy to try and help the Boomers add to their Frontier League record of three titles.

"It was awesome to stay home and play baseball professionally and get paid for it," McDonnell said. "In all of the Frontier League, Schaumburg is the best place to play.

"It was awesome. It was definitely something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

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