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Columbia's Matt McPhearson passed on football and became baseball draft target

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Matt McPhearson is the outlier of his family, the ugly duckling of sorts.

With a family of football players, the gridiron seemed like the obvious choice. Instead, McPhearson chose baseball, and Thursday night the speedy center fielder could become the first high school or college player from the state to be drafted in the first or second round of baseball's amateur draft since 2007.

"It's a blessing," said McPhearson, who lives in Columbia and just finished his senior year at Riverdale Baptist School in Prince George's County. "It's good that people see good in you."

McPhearson's father, Gerrick Sr., played football at Boston College and older brothers Gerrick Jr. (Maryland), Derrick (Illinois), Emmanuel (New Mexico) and Jeremiah (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) also played football in college. His brother Josh was an All-Metro running back at Annapolis Area Christian School as a senior in the fall of 2011 and also received Division-I interest.

Like his siblings, Matt participated in multiple sports as a child. In addition to baseball, he played football, basketball, and ran track. Baseball was his main focus, though, as he started T-ball at the age of 4 and worked his way up through youth teams and travel circuits.

When he got to high school, McPhearson told his father he wanted to concentrate on baseball.

"The game was very fun to me, and I wanted to be different," he said. "My heart wanted me to play baseball. I fell in love with the game."

McPhearson has been ranked the No. 62 overall draft prospect by ESPN's Keith Law, and Baseball America lists him as the No. 13 center fielder in its draft preview.

McPhearson's speed is what entices scouts the most. He's rated a rare "80" on the 20/80 scale (where 50 is major league average), and he can reach first base in less than four seconds. He set the Riverdale Baptist record for stolen bases in 2012, when he stole 68 in 72 attempts.

Though his speed comes naturally — he said he inherited that from his mother, a track star in high school — it took a lot of work to perfect his base running.

"You can be very fast — Matt is extremely fast — but [that] doesn't mean you're a good base runner," said Riverdale Baptist head coach Terry Terrill. "[Assistant coach] Ryan [Terrill] worked with him, getting reads from pitchers, getting a good jump, how to steal third as well as second. … Without the speed, I think he'd be a really good ball player, but that's what sets him to the next level."

In addition to his speed, McPhearson has an explosive bat. Though he's not a power hitter, Terry Terrill has worked on grooming McPhearson to have more patience at the plate to draw more walks and become a more dangerous leadoff hitter.

His batting average went up almost 100 points between his sophomore and junior seasons, and his on-base percentage rose to over .500 as he's become more disciplined at the plate.

"He originally was striking out a little bit more. We got him to have better approaches at the plate," Terrill said. "As the leadoff guy, walks are extremely important and help as far as team ball goes. He has better pitch selection now. Going the opposite way, spreading the ball around — he's not a big power hitter, but we want him to hit the gap."

Riverdale Baptist is an independent school, which allowed Terrill to run year-round practices. With three years of instruction from Terrill and the opportunity to play in numerous tournaments, McPhearson received plenty of national attention. He was one of 38 players selected for the Under Armour All-America game at Wrigley Field last August and attended both the Perfect Game WWBA World Championships in Florida and the Area Code Games in California in 2012.

McPhearson had 35 offers from college baseball programs across the country before signing with Miami.

Though he plans on honoring his commitment to Miami and pursuing a degree in construction management, McPhearson says that if the right team comes calling in the draft, things could change.

"Our focus has just been getting Matt to college," Gerrick McPhearson Sr. said. "We have kids that have played at a high level, and it's very difficult to make it to the highest level and become a professional athlete. And even if you get there, the life of a professional athlete is short-lived.

"We've been focused on education and making sure Matt goes to college and gets a degree. As of late, the interest really took off and teams have expressed an interest, and at Matt's advice, we've just decided to give them a closer look."

cnthomas@baltsun.com
twitter.com/colleenthomas_

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