Ryan McNeil fit the bill for a starting pitcher. He was big, strong, athletic and confident.
McNeil turned that immeasurable talent into a dominant high school career that can stand against just about anyone's.
McNeil was so good, in fact, that he was drafted right out of high school by the Chicago Cubs in 2012.
Yes. He was that good.
McNeil was one of the top varsity players the moment he stepped on the Nipomo High campus as a freshman. By his senior year, he had developed into a 6-foot-3, 220-pound ace that could also play shortstop and lead the basketball team. (Though the coaches certainly wanted the school's best athlete, he never joined the NHS football team).
The former Nipomo ace is the next Player of the Decade nominee. Our last nominee, 5-foot-8 Lucas Martin of Lompoc High, didn't have quite the physical gifts McNeil had. Though, they both worked equally hard to perfect their crafts.
McNeil was a pure power pitcher. He threw hard and knew his stuff struck fear into batters' hearts. Though, with that velocity and power, his control had to be harnessed at times, when McNeil was on, his stuff was some of the best this area has ever seen.
Let's look at some of his high school numbers. McNeil threw over 217 innings in four seasons of varsity baseball, throwing 45 as just a freshman. (He struck out 42 batters that year with a 3.09 ERA).
The righty finished his career with a 16-15 win-loss record that belies his 2.06 ERA. McNeil went 7-1 with eight complete games and four shutouts in nine starts as a junior in 2011. He had a 1.40 ERA that year with 84 strikeouts in 65 innings.
In his senior year, McNeil dropped his ERA to 1.10 in 57 1/3 innings. He went 4-4 with two complete games and a shutout. He struck out 94 batters in those 57 1/3 innings, walking just 21.
For his career, he allowed 157 hits, walked 99 and struck out 269 batters in 217 1/3 career innings.
“It doesn’t matter if you throw 95 or 85, if you can locate your stuff and you know how to pitch, you can get guys out,” McNeil said after his first season of pro ball. “We had guys rehabbing from the majors, we had a guy who threw 100 (mph), but he got hit pretty hard. He didn’t really know what he was doing with it. You got to know what you’re doing with your stuff. Trust your stuff.”
Don't forget, though, that McNeil was an athlete. He was also Nipomo's top position player and clean-up hitter. He hit .400 over 23 games in his junior year, recording 28 hits and 20 RBIs.
For his career, McNeil hit .350 over 94 games, with 60 runs, 99 hits, 68 RBIs, 24 doubles, three triples and three home runs.
After his prep career was finished, McNeil was drafted in the third round by the Cubs in 2012, though he had already signed with Long Beach State, where his brother Jeff, now a starting utility player for the New York Mets, was playing. Ryan McNeil signed with the Cubs and pitched for their organization through 2018.
The former Titan underwent Tommy John surgery not too long after getting drafted and didn't pitch at all in 2013 after playing some rookie ball in 2012. He made it to Double-A in 2018. His best season in the minors came in 2016 when he had a 2.23 ERA and 22 saves in 24 chances with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
In six minor league seasons, McNeil accumulated a 3.73 ERA in 190 innings.
McNeil has spent the past two high school seasons working with the Nipomo team as a pitching coach for head coach Samm Spears.
"It's been huge having Ryan on the staff," Spears said in 2019. "I didn't have a pitching coach and I told him, 'Dude, until you get picked up, do you want to be my pitching coach?' And he said, 'I'll be here every day. Let's do it.'"
The Times is polling current and former coaches to develop its list of nominees for Player of the Decade. A tournament-style voting contest will be held to determine the Player of the Decade. Readers will be able to vote online at santamariatimes.com; lompocrecord.com and syvnews.com. Players from Northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County whose final seasons where between 2010 and 2020 are eligible.
McNeil joins his brother Jeff as a Player of the Decade candidate. The other nominees are Martin, the left-hander from Lompoc; Pioneer Valley grad Chad De La Guerra; Santa Maria High grad Trevor Garcia; Santa Ynez grads Tommy Rowan and Zach Torra; Righetti grad Troy Prober and former Arroyo Grande star Ryan Teixeira.