How Giants prospect Murphy has gone from D-II to dominant


It was the longest commercial of his life. Ryan Murphy had never wanted to hear Matt Vasgersian's voice more. 

The 2020 MLB Draft already was enough of an emotional whirlwind for Murphy. Division II prospects from schools like Le Moyne College are in a hole during a normal draft. They don't receive the same kind of attention as prospects from schools like Vanderbilt, UCLA or Texas. They take a backseat to top high school prospects, having to hope a team falls in love with them, willing to draft them in the mid or later rounds. 

But this was a much different draft than we've ever seen. We all know 2020 was a year unlike any other, for countless reasons. The same goes for the MLB draft. In 2019, the draft was 40 rounds long and had several compensation picks and Competitive Balance rounds. There were 1,217 players selected. 

That number fell to 160 players over five rounds last year, due to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"When I got the news that it was only five rounds, I'm not gonna lie ... I was a little devastated," Murphy said in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area. "I really thought that I maybe had a shot of sneaking in a 20-round draft or maybe even a 10-round draft I had a chance of sneaking in.

"Then I heard it was five rounds. I remember my buddy calling me and he's like, 'That sucks, man.' I'm just like, 'Hey, ya know what, we'll see what happens.' "

The Wappingers Falls, N.Y., native isn't shy about this: He thought he would go undrafted. He also had a good idea he could still sign with the Giants. 

Murphy figured, even hoped, the Giants would call after the draft. Area scout Ray Callari was in constant talks with Murphy's college coach, Scott Cassidy, who spent three seasons in the majors as a reliever. The Giants watched Murphy at his scout day but didn't even talk to the eager pitcher. As the draft neared, San Francisco's interest became more clear.

Still, being selected was far from a reality. Murphy watched the draft with his parents and brothers in the family basement, praying to hear his name called. 

Then came a text and that dreaded commercial he'll never forget. 

"I get a text around the fourth round from my agent and he just goes, 'Yo!' I'm just like, 'Hey, what's up?' And he never texts me back," Murphy remembers. "Doesn't answer me back and then we go into the fifth round. The Giants pick comes up, I'm watching it on TV and then it goes on commercial right when the Giants had their pick. I'm like, 'OK, interesting. Of course, the team that might draft me would go to commercial.' My parents are just laughing. The commercial then goes way longer than all the other commercials than they had during the draft. I'm talking like the draft tracker was at the bottom and then that went away because it was going on for so long.

"Next thing you know, it comes back on, Matt Vasgersian stepped to the podium and announced my name. My family jumped up, went crazy. I was just sitting there shocked. I got the chills, you know ... all that cliche stuff.

"But it was so true. I was speechless. It's just like, 'Holy cow!' "

Murphy could have gone the Division I route. His choice came down to the University of Albany, a D-I program, or Le Moyne, a D-II school in Syracuse, N.Y. He put his trust in Cassidy and Le Moyne, and the decision to take a different path couldn't have gone better. It isn't the first time the odds have been against Murphy, and it won't be the last. He's just fine with that. 

After all, Jacob deGrom didn't have it easy, either.

What do a 21-year-old former D-II pitcher currently in High-A and deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball, have in common?. There's always an explanation for the madness.

Murphy grew up a New York Mets fan and even tried to mimic deGrom's mechanics at one point in college. "I just couldn't do it," Murphy said, laughing at the memory. 

Before he was a superstar for the Mets, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick who never was seen as a top-100 prospect and didn't make his MLB debut until he was 26 years old. Murphy was the first D-II prospect selected in the 2020 draft and just recently cracked the Giants' top-30 prospects, coming in at No. 22 for Baseball America and No. 21 by MLB Pipeline.

It isn't deGrom's mechanics, his multiple Cy Young awards or even historic seasons Murphy really is interested in. Sure, as a fan he pays attention to all that. 

Whenever he toes the rubber, it's deGrom's demeanor and mindset that Murphy wants to emulate with each pitch. 

"The way he goes about his business is very calm, collected and fierce at the same time," Murphy said. "Very dominant. He wants to just go out there and dominate the game. That's been my kind of game plan as well. Just to go out there and absolutely dominate. Make hitters look silly, that's always been my goal.

"I feel like I kind of watched Jacob deGrom go through his career and I've kind of tried to emulate that same kind of aggression -- quiet aggression."

Quiet aggression. Can it be said much better? 

How does deGrom make headlines? By dominating and making professional hitters look silly. Just like Murphy has in the minors this season. The Giants prospect uses a simple, quiet windup before firing forward and striking out batters by the bunches with his low-90s fastball that carries a high-spin rate and improving off-speed pitches.

Murphy is a keen observer. In college, he paid close attention to Josiah Gray on a daily basis. He watched how he competed, attacked hitters and took care of business. 

Gray, 23, was selected out of Le Moyne by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft, made his big league debut this year and was a key piece in the blockbuster trade in which the Dodgers acquired Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals.

Murphy also isn't shy about watching games and certain pro pitchers like deGrom, always looking for little things to improve his game. But at the end of the day, he knows he can only be one person -- himself. 

"I don't really try to be anybody that I'm not," Murphy said. "I learned that in the past. I'm not trying to be someone else. Just be myself. But at the same time, you can always take bits and pieces from guys that you watch. And that's kind of what I do." 

There's no doubt Murphy took advantage of his time off last year with the minor league season canceled. He studied pitch metrics and even completely changed his whole windup from the fall Instructional League last October to spring training earlier this year. Speaking with Murphy, it's clear how thoughtful and introspective he is with his words. The same has to be said for his training. 

And still, the game comes down to the simplest form for him: Throw strikes and trust what you have on any given day.

"I wholeheartedly believe that stuff definitely helps," Murphy said of his offseason training. "But at the same time, you can have great stuff but if you can't command it or control it, then it's kind of useless in my opinion."

Murphy has used his pin-point control to deliver a historic season this year between the San Jose Giants in Low-A and upon his promotion to High-A for the Eugene Emeralds. Even after being pulled Thursday night with a minor back issue before his scheduled start even took place, Murphy still leads all of the minor leagues with 156 strikeouts over 103 1/3 innings, with only 26 walks.

Coaching staffs in both San Jose and Eugene have helped Murphy immensely with pitch sequencing and reading hitter's swings. Really, though, Murphy's mindset dating back to when he was a kid, through his high school days and his time at Le Moyne always has been in line with the Giants' teachings. Pound the zone and good things will happen. Murphy has five starts where he hasn't walked a single batter this season, he's striking out 13.59 batters per nine innings, walking just 2.26 batters per nine and has a 6.0 strikeouts to walks ratio.

Opposing batters are hitting a measly .193 against Murphy, and he has a 0.94 WHIP. He was named High-A West Pitcher of the Month for August on Friday morning. 

If Murphy keeps it up, his big league debut should come much sooner than deGrom's did. He's a believer in big goals and high expectations. Murphy also knows his eyes can't just be fixated on the majors. Along the road, he must clear a handful of hurdles before crossing the finish line. 

"I believe in manifesting your dreams and stuff like that," Murphy said. "You think about it so much that it kind of just happens. At the same time, you also have to put in the work. But if you're really goal-oriented like I am -- I would say I'm pretty goal-oriented. Like they say: Reach for the stars and if you don't fall, land on the moon.

"I always set goals. Obviously, a goal of mine would be to get to Double-A. And if I don't get there, at least I tried my very best. At the same time, I do envision myself in those situations, in those spots. I never put a negative thought in my mind to make me doubt myself.

"I always really, truly believe that it can happen and I just work really hard and good things will come."

With the same quiet aggression as the man he grew up idolizing, Murphy's hurdles should be nothing more than mirages, just like they always have been, as he controls and manifests his Giants dreams.

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