Two months ago, George Kirby picked up his life and moved across the country to Everett.
The Mariners’ 2019 first-round pick, a native of Rye, New York, who played three seasons for Elon University in North Carolina, wasn’t familiar with Washington or the West Coast and had barely heard of the AquaSox when he was drafted. But when the call came, he knew he’d have to give up his Yankee fandom and life on the Atlantic Coast for that of the Pacific Northwest.
“I’m used to being in Manhattan around the city,” Kirby said. “Seattle is somewhat similar. The weather here is nice, a lot less humid than New York. So, it’s been a pretty easy transition. In college, you’re working toward a goal of just to get drafted. I’m thankful for my teammates and coaches that helped me get here.”
In his first summer of professional baseball, Kirby was one of the AquaSox’s aces. Despite playing on limited innings, Kirby has learned how to take a step back and focus on his mental strategy, and it paid off. He played up to expectations during Everett’s season, which ended Monday, striking out 25 batters in 23 innings with zero walks and a 2.35 ERA.
“The first time I saw him, the first pitch he threw was a 97 and it looked like he was throwing an 88,” AquaSox manager Louis Boyd said. “His talent and, especially his fastball, is very effortless. That’s something you don’t see very often out of a pitcher and that’s why he’s a first-rounder.”
In his final season at Elon, Kirby amassed 107 strikeouts while allowing just six walks in 88 1/3 innings, winning the 2019 Colonial Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year award. Due to the quick turnaround between the conclusion of the college season in late May to the start of his professional career in June, Kirby was kept on a two- to three-inning limit in Everett to avoid overworking his arm.
“I think it’s helped him because even though he only has two or three innings to work with, he can work with a lot of intent and a lot of aggression, just really worry about development rather than just getting his three outs,” Boyd said. “I think in his shoes, that’s a really valuable position to be in because there’s not a lot of environments where development can be put first rather than the results.”
Though time off the mound only makes him want to get back on it, Kirby has taken advantage of the light load to focus on not only his mechanics but also his mentality.
“I think the biggest thing is to always keep grinding and just always be confident on the mound, even if you don’t have your best stuff,” Kirby said. “You just got to dig deep and figure out how to battle and beat the hitter. Just be confident and know you’re better than the batter in the box.”
The biggest difference he noticed in his three months of pro ball was the increased skill level. However, because the AquaSox rotate through a small list of seven teams in short-season Class A, he was able to pick up on individual batting habits.
“When we play a lot of the same teams all the time, I kind of picked up on some of the hitters’ tendencies and know how to pitch them well,” he said. “Their approaches are a lot better. You just got to be on your game and execute all your pitches pretty well. They just know how to go about the bat better than college players and you just got to beat them with your best stuff.”
Combining his walk-less AquaSox season with his last games at Elon, Kirby has a streak of 27 innings without allowing a walk, dating back to May 4.
“It’s unbelievable, and it’s what we look for as the Mariners so it’s zero surprise to me that we took him with our first pick,” Boyd said. “He’s definitely going to be a cornerstone of this organization, and I think he knows that. The guys around him know that. He carries an aura around him of excellence, and I think that is something that you can’t quantify, can’t measure.”