Left-handed pitchers who hit 85 miles per hour or higher on a radar gun are a valuable commodity in college baseball and beyond.
So even though NCAA Division I programs have been slow to pick up on Cade McKee, the rising senior from Scott County High School has every reason to believe those dreams are alive and well.
McKee announced last week that he will continue his academic and baseball career at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee, after the 2020 season.
By playing a year or two at the junior college level, McKee will sacrifice some of his major college eligibility for what he hopes are long-term benefits.
“I’m planning to go there to get out of there. It’s like a stepping stone,” McKee said. “Hopefully one year, but if I’ve got to go two, I will. I’d like to go there and then hopefully move up to D1, but I’ll see how it pans out.”
Despite three solid seasons as a top starter on one of Kentucky’s best teams, McKee received minimal overtures from most of the schools on his wish list.
Eastern Kentucky offered him a walk-on spot this summer, he said, and Midway University (NAIA) showed interest.
“Other than that, no, but I think I’m at the best fit for me,” McKee said.
The last-minute buzz will continue next spring if McKee experiences a performance jump like the one he produced this summer.
While pitching for Kentucky Baseball Club of Nicholasville at the WWBA U17 national championship in Georgia, McKee’s fastball — which has ranged between 79 and 83 for most of his career — topped out at 85.
“That is way harder than I’ve ever (thrown) before. That was awesome,” McKee said.
He attributed the spike to conditioning work with Scott County athletic trainer Dan Volpe. McKee also noted that there was a different level of pressure pitching for the high school team, which had six seniors and a top-five preseason ranking in the state.
“I think I was just more relaxed (in Georgia), free and throwing,” McKee said. “There’s not as much on the line.”
McKee lost 1-0 on an unearned run in his only start of the tournament. He was one of the leading hitters, as well, for KBC, which went 5-2 in pool play at the national event.
At Volunteer State, McKee will join a roster of almost exclusively Tennessee players. Last year’s two Kentucky representatives were from Paintsville and Trigg County.
The Pioneers went 20-29 this past spring after a 30-18 record the previous season. They play in the same league as in-state rival Walters State, where SCHS 2018 graduate Sam Sutton still hopes to pitch after recovering from arm surgery.
“They play in a really good conference, so I’ll be playing against some good competition,” McKee said. “During the fall they play D1 (teams) on the weekends, stuff like that, so it’s going to work out pretty good.”
As a junior, McKee led Scott County in both innings pitched (53) and strikeouts (60). He fashioned five wins and a 2.77 ERA. That backed up a sophomore season in which he topped the Cardinals’ staff in wins (7), saves (3), innings (48) and strikeouts (56) while weaving an ERA of 2.04.
McKee, who will turn 19 during the school year and is listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, has been one of Scott County’s top power hitters since freshman year, as well. Of his 41 extra-base hits the past three seasons, 11 were home runs.
He also enters his second season as starting quarterback for the Scott County football team, where he calls the signals for his father and head coach, Jim.
With 30 seniors returning to a team that will drop into 5A football due to the opening of Great Crossing High School, McKee didn’t want any distractions from his “other” sport.
“That was the plan 100 percent,” McKee said. “I talked to my dad before baseball season even started. I said I’d really like to be committed before the summer’s over, just so I can focus on football with my guys and get that part of the way. So, big relief.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.