Rob Vaughn traveled to New Jersey last spring to watch Kyle McCoy’s first start of his senior season. The left hander was committed to Maryland, but Vaughn grew nervous the pitcher would never make it to College Park and would bypass the college ranks entirely.
“That guy ain’t showing up,” Vaughn recalled thinking.
McCoy racked up strikeouts and impressed as Vaughn watched closely. The coach knew players of his caliber rarely make it to college and instead chose to go directly to the MLB draft.
But the pitcher wasn’t chosen in that summer’s draft after a detrimental arm injury. Instead, he has become a fixture in the Terps’ weekend rotation, currently their No. 3 starter.
Vaughn believes the freshman will soon be Maryland’s No. 1.
“He’s the face of our pitching staff moving forward after this year,” the coach said. “That’s the guy that’s gonna be pitching on Fridays.”
McCoy’s left arm that led Hunterdon Central High School to the postseason in 2022 was growing overused. The senior sprained his UCL in May, sidelining him as the team progressed through the initial rounds of the state tournament.
With no tear, the ligament only needed rest to heal. McCoy worked back slowly on a throwing program and rejoined Hunterdon for the state championship game.
He stumbled, allowing five runs in 3.1 innings in a season ending loss.
“He was having a storybook season,” Hunterdon coach Kevin Cuozzi said. “He was just on his final thread come that game. He just wasn’t at his best … You could tell it just wasn’t the same kid that was on the mound earlier in the season.”
Vaughn guesses McCoy would have been at least a second round selection if not for the hurt elbow. Going undrafted pushed him to Maryland, but the road back to pitching began at home.
The Terps connected him with New Jersey-based trainer Christian Lee — the same specialist Nick Dean worked with previously. McCoy drove an hour from his home to Lee’s facility daily to strengthen his injured arm.
He was ready to begin throwing again in the fall. Vaughn and pitching coach Mike Morrison were already aware of the pitcher’s talent. They didn’t need to see him throw much and wanted to limit his time on the mound. The freshman threw three innings in scrimmages and about 10 bullpen sessions all fall.
“When I was conservative, I was conservative as can be,” Morrison said.
Building him up to handle the workload of a starter was the trio’s next challenge. That’s the role Maryland’s always envisioned him in.
His first appearance came in a three-inning relief outing in a win at USF. He next entered a week later, struggling and surrendering three runs in one inning in a loss to Ole Miss. He then got a midweek start, albeit as a one-inning opener.
McCoy and Vaughn met during the week leading up to the Terps’ series against Maine. The coach believed it was time to insert the southpaw into the weekend rotation.
“It’s about time to switch you back into that starter role and get you back into what you’re comfortable doing and ultimately what you came here to do,” McCoy recalled Vaughn telling him. “It pumped me up hearing that.”
McCoy went three innings in the win. The following week, he stretched out even further to five frames and 76 pitches, both career highs, in a victory against Albany.
The coach sent his pitcher a text after that start, alerting him it was time to be unleashed. The show of confidence revealed the freshman’s time had arrived.
“We’re getting ready to take the training wheels off,” Vaughn said after the five inning outing. “That guy’s ready to go.”
McCoy then turned in the best start of any Maryland pitcher this season. UCF hitters flailed at his changeup and sweeping slider, hit into weak ground and flyouts and shook their heads in confusion as they trotted back to the dugout after staring at strike threes.
“With the way my fastball plays, it tails away,” McCoy said. “I have that slider that overlays in the opposite direction, it’s hard sometimes to see. It comes out of the hand, originally looks like it’s gonna be a strike and then it dies at the last second.”
He completed eight scoreless innings with three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts as he took a perfect game into the fifth frame in a series-clinching win over the Knights. It earned him D1Baseball and Big Ten pitcher of the week honors.
The left hander has mastered his three-quarters arm angle, one that’s ultra-deceptive and a rare sight to opposing hitters. The unique throwing motion is something the 6-foot-5 lefty said he’s always felt comfortable with.
McCoy particularly hides the ball well until his final release point, which gives hitters even more trouble. His breaking pitches benefit most, as do his contrasting two and four-seam fastballs.
“It’s probably the most uncomfortable left-on-left at bat,” Morrison said. “He’s throwing two seams and four seams in and away. He sticks the fastball in … if you can do that at a high level, you’re going to be dominant. And he happens to be doing it out of a low, three-quarters slot, across body into righties. It’s really, really, really hard to hit.”
Vaughn handed the Sunday starting pitcher role to Nate Haberthier to begin the season in an effort to save McCoy’s arm for a postseason run. The coach was ultimately forced to change his plans, needing McCoy sooner than he anticipated, and handed over the No. 3 starter position with all restrictions now lifted.
“That’s a guy that’s going to really lead the charge for us as we move into the future here,” Vaughn said. “He’s starting to grab ahold of that now.”
Maryland’s rising star closes out the weekend rotation now. Soon, it’ll be his to lead.