By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
There are more than seven billion people in the world, and nearly all of them will never know what it feels like to throw a baseball 100 miles-per-hour. Chase Petty found out what that was like before he even got his driver’s license.
Petty, now a senior at Mainland Regional High School, has been one of the better baseball players in the Cape-Atlantic League throughout his career, but he was injured for half his sophomore year and missed his junior year because of the Covid-19 outbreak. But this summer has vaulted the 17-year-old into the national spotlight, as he reached 100 m.p.h. in one of his elite showcase appearances, and has since shot up the Major League Baseball draft projection board. Major League Baseball’s website, mlb.com, has Petty — who already has committed to play at the University of Florida — ranked as the No. 5 high school prospect in the country, and there’s a real possibility he could be selected in the top 20 picks of the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft.
He spent this past summer hop-scotching around the country to compete in elite showcase events such as Perfect Game All-American Game and the Area Code Games. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder from Somers Point consistently throws his fastball in the upper 90s and mixes in a plus slider in the high 80s as well as a very good change-up. He completely dominated the competition he faced this summer, including many other high draft prospects.
“Going into sophomore year I just did local tournaments and my name wasn’t really out there, but the summer going into my junior year I really started getting some recognition starting with Georgia for the Futures Games and then San Diego for the underclass All-American game and Compton (Calif.) for the underclass Area Code Games. I was just trying to get my name out there, and this summer reminded me a bit of last summer because I was traveling all over the place, but these tournaments were a lot more meaningful for me,” Petty said. “Going into your junior year, if you’re not committed you’re playing for college coaches and you’re trying to figure out which school you want to go to, but going into your senior year, that’s when all the professional teams start coming out. I don’t want to say it was more stressful — it was actually more exciting because I’m past the college process, I’m committed to my dream school, and now I’m playing for my dream of getting drafted to come true.”
“He was poised to have a breakout season his sophomore season but trying to stretch a double into a triple in Florida (during preseason) kind of derailed his sophomore season. He was throwing tremendous toward the end of that year, though, and he carried that into that summer. He got stronger and bigger and was really explosive all fall, and even early on in March (of this year) before the coronavirus hit, so we were looking for him to have a really special year for us this year. I don’t want to say that we’re surprised because we were expecting big things, but the summer he had was really something special, and we’re happy for him,” said Mainland coach Billy Kern. “I heard some whispers when he was a freshman that the ball was really coming out of his hand nice and he was throwing well. He was more of an athlete for us as a freshman. We didn’t have him out there pitching too much until the end of his freshman season. What’s really jumped off the page to us about him is how athletic he is. He runs well, he throws well, he hits well — he can do some freakishly athletic things with his body, stuff that just isn’t common. That ability has always been there, and once he got serious about working out and lifting it’s all come together for him. At the end of his sophomore year he was throwing 88-92. He was about 84-86 as a freshman. So, he’s consistently up about five-to-six miles-per-hour over the past 16 months. I think seeing consistent growth was important for him. He got into the gym, cleaned up his mechanics and really started focusing on his craft. The thing that helped him was he saw immediate gains, and once he saw the numbers jump he started setting goals for himself. He had the 100 goal all summer and I was excited for him when I saw hit hit that in July. I knew it was in there because he had been dancing around it all year, but I didn’t know it would come that early in July because he hadn’t thrown a ton.”
Sometimes high level high school baseball players get a lot of hype, but Kern said what Petty was able to do this summer against the best prep competition in the country should solidify in anybody’s mind that the kid is legit.
“The opponents he faced this summer verified it for everyone else that he has the ability to be one of the best in the country. He’s had the No. 1 New Jersey ranking for a long time, but to go out and be all over the country and go against the other guys with those low numbers next to their name, and prove it, was nice,” Kern said. “I don’t think he gave up more than three hits all summer, and maybe one of those was out of the infield. It was nice to see that not only was he getting good outs, but he was missing a lot of bats and nobody was really getting solid contact against him.”
Topping it off was Petty hitting triple digits during an outing in July — something most Major League pitchers never accomplish during their careers. It still doesn’t feel real, Petty said.
“It’s crazy, it really is. It’s an amazing feeling. Growing up you watch pitchers throw in the mid-90s and there are teams with tremendous bullpens — and even starters are throwing in the high 90s and even touching 100. It shows how the game is really evolving with velo. The biggest thing in the game right now, when you look at a pitcher, is how they work and their velo. That’s the first two things that stand out. Hitting 100 is crazy, it really is, because the past few years I’ve been watching (Yankees closer Aroldis) Chapman and he hit 106, which is ridiculous. He sits 98 to 101 m.p.h., so seeing that and being able to compare myself to that and throwing harder than some major league pitchers at such a young age, it’s a crazy reality,” Petty said. “The biggest difference is whenever I throw hard, all my motion and everything that happens during my windup to my release point, everything feels so smooth and so clean. It feels perfect, almost. When I was hitting 95, it felt good but it didn’t feel perfect. But when I’m hitting 100, everything feels so smooth. I feel like that’s the biggest thing.”
When you’re 17 years old and you throw 100 m.p.h., a lot of people take notice. The next nine months are going to be a lot different for Petty, who now has a national profile in the baseball world, and his right arm could potentially be worth millions of dollars in the draft, depending on how high he gets selected. Petty is taking it all in stride, though. He said he has a great support system around him.
“I have my high school coaches, Ed and Mike from (Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville), my mom and dad, my brothers, they have truly kept me grounded through this whole thing and I would not be where I am without any of them. They have been my rock through this whole summer, and even still through this whole process. It’s crazy to think of where I am now because years ago this was just a dream,” Petty said. “I’m just going to stick to what I have been doing, and I trust Mike, he knows what he’s doing. I’m looking at it how I always have — it’s better not to look at it as something that has money involved. I’m not really focused on the draft right now, I’m just focused on getting better in the offseason and focused on hopefully bringing a state championship back to Mainland. When the time (for the draft) comes, then I’ll start thinking about it. I’m not going to change anything that has gotten me to where I am now.”
“At the end of the day, he’s an athlete and a baseball player, and we’ll approach this season like any other. When it’s his turn to pitch, he’ll pitch, he’ll play the field. He doesn’t want to approach it any differently. He’s a team player and one of our leaders. We’ll build up his arm just like anyone else’s. My brother is our pitching coach and he does a nice job building these kids up and we have a nice track record of taking care of our kids’ arms. Obviously, there will be a little more scrutiny and more outside influence on what we should do, but I’m confident we’ll keep Chase’s best interests in mind while also keeping the other 24 guys on the roster in mind as well,” Kern added. “We just try to keep him grounded. Even in my family, my wife and I try to talk to him about his friends group and his circle, and about how the people who have been there for him should be the people he keeps around him as this circus starts to happen for him. He’s an introvert by nature, so the attention is something new to him, but it’s deserved. Whether it’s the draft or Gainesville, we’re excited for him either way. We don’t really coach him on handling the media, he’s a smart kid and he handles himself well. He just doesn’t like to talk about himself, and that’s a good quality. We haven’t talked about the outside people yet because it’s still early. He’s young for his grade, he won’t turn 18 until April, so we just want him to enjoy his senior year. He finally just got his license because there was Covid-19 and he wasn’t around all summer, so now he’s getting a chance to do some of the fun senior year type of stuff. I’m happy with the support he’s gotten from our three towns, Millville, Atlantic City, Ocean City, Absegami — a lot of coaches have reached out in support of him and that’s a nice testament to the Cape-Atlantic League.”