Barnegat Pitcher Is Groome(d) for Success

Nov 20, 2015
Courtesy of: Barnegat High School YOUTH IS SERVED: Jason Groome II (seated, at left) is accompanied by baseball teammate Jared Kacso and family members and coaches in the Barnegat High School media center during a special ceremony last week.

In the spring, many Major League Baseball scouts will be looking for directions on how to get to Barnegat High School. They’ll be descending into town on days when Jason Groome II pitches. A senior, the 17-year-old Groome has vaulted himself into one of the highest-rated high school prospects in the country. In fact, Perfect Game USA has listed the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder as the Number 1 ranked scholastic player in the country, saying he has “just a special, special arm.”

A leading resource on amateur baseball that tracks the top high school and college prospects, Perfect Game USA has hit on the mark with previous predictions, as the top scholastic player it rated in 2011 was Bryce Harper, and the next year its choice was Carlos Correa. Harper and Correa were the first players taken in the draft those years, by the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros.

In addition, Perfect Game USA recently presented Groome with the Jackie Robinson Award as the organization’s National High School Player of the Year. It’s an award that was also given to Harper, as well as major leaguers Justin Upton, Lance McCullers Jr. and Daniel Norris.

The publication Baseball America said Groome had “first pick potential” and has “separated himself as an elite prospect.”

“He has a devastating curveball that had older hitters flailing,” it said.

Last week at the Barnegat High School media center, Groome announced that he was going to attend Vanderbilt University on a full baseball scholarship. But that commitment, which is oral and nonbinding, might fall by the wayside if he gets selected high in the draft. A seven-figure signing bonus may be too hard to turn down.

“That will be a family decision,” said Groome.

Bengals head baseball coach Dan McCoy said he can’t see Groome slipping far down in the first round.

“That kid was born to throw a baseball,” he said. “I honestly think he could be the number one selection in the draft. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t in the top five.”

If he was the number one pick, that would create some extra buzz in this area since that selection is owned by the Philadelphia Phillies.

McCoy said Groome was pitching varsity ball as a freshman, but it was in his sophomore season when he began flashing enormous potential. He had a 6-2 record with an 0.57 ERA. In 61 innings, he struck out 107 batters.

In his last game that year, he lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Buena in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 championship game. He went the distance, striking out 17.

Groome spent his junior year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a private school that combines a rigorous academic schedule and intensive athletic training. For IMG’s varsity team, he was 5-0 with an ERA of 0.98. Batters had trouble making contact there, too, as he fanned 77 in 43 innings.

McCoy expects Groome will continue to put up gaudy numbers for his senior year.

“In Florida, he clocked as high as 97 miles an hour,” the coach said. “I don’t think many kids around here will be able to get around on a fast ball like that.”

Then there’s also the added pressure of expectations; Groome can bet that scouts will be in the stands analyzing every pitch.

“I don’t think that kind of pressure will get to him at all,” said McCoy. “He is very focused and mature. He has a lot of poise. Jason has such a smooth delivery, it looks like he’s pitching batting practice.”

Dan Simonds and Steve Frey, who are the IMG director of baseball operations and pitching coach, respectively, think the projections are right on the money.

“When it comes to pure stuff, he’s got one of the best arms I’ve ever seen,” said Simonds. “And he just recently turned 17, so it’s amazing to see someone so young have this exceptional talent.”

A former minor league player, minor league manager and major league coach, Simonds has devoted more than 30 years to the game. When asked if there were any players Groome reminded him of, he thought of Ben McDonald. McDonald was the first player chosen in the 1989 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, out of LSU.

“Ben was a righty,” said Simonds, who caught McDonald when the prospect was pitching in the Orioles minor league team in Hagerstown, Md. “But like Jason, he was quite tall (6-7) and also had that loose delivery.”

McDonald’s career, though, never blossomed as injuries kept him from reaching his potential. After the 1997 season, he was out of baseball with just 78 career wins.

“Health is certainly going to be the key,” said Simonds. “But I think if he (Groome) does stay healthy, he will be something really special.”

Frey said that along with an explosive fastball, Groome has a sneaky curve and off-speed pitch.

“Batters in Florida had a hard time hitting him, and considering the schools we play down here in the South, he was going up against tougher competition that he’d see in New Jersey,” said Frey, a former Phillie who was a relief pitcher in the majors from 1989 to 1996. “There are a lot of kids who can throw hard. But Jason knows that there’s more to pitching than throwing a fastball. He has the total package.”

Frey said high school players who get drafted usually begin their careers in low-level minors.

“He could have a fast track to the majors,” said Frey. “Considering his size and stamina, he looks like someone who could pitch 200 innings a year. Because of his easy motion, I would think he has a better chance of avoiding arm injuries.”

Frey added, “He may seem like a laid-back kid, but underneath he is a very intense competitor.”

The prospect’s father, Jason Groome I, said he could see his son’s pitching potential as early as age 10.

“Even then, when he was throwing the ball, he had clean mechanics,” he said. “Everything came so natural to him.”

The teenager said right now, he’s concentrating on finishing his senior year and hoping to help bring a state title to Barnegat.

“I’m going to work on getting better,” he said. “I’ll be working out a lot to get stronger. I’ve learned that while you need a good fastball, my curveball seems to be my best ‘out’ pitch.”

He added, “Since I was a little kid, I’ve thought about wanting to be a pitcher in the major leagues. I’m working very hard at getting there.”

— Eric Englund

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