Future Hawkeye Connor McCaffery discusses his freshman year plans, the MLB Draft. Matthew Bain/Iowa City Press-Citizen
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The home run race has officially begun in the McCaffery household.
Connor McCaffery smacked his first dinger of the year Monday — a sky shot over Iowa City West’s short porch in right field.
"Now you’re tied with Marit!" someone shouted from the bleachers.
Yep. It’s 1-to-1 now. Marit McCaffery, Connor’s rising-freshman sister who plays for new Liberty High, hit her first homer last week.
"She got the upper hand on me at first, but we’re tied now. I think I’ll end up with more," Connor laughed. "You’ve got to hold me to that."
McCaffery’s power makes him one of the state's most feared batters. And it projects well at Iowa’s hitter-friendly Duane Banks Field, his future home park.
Future Hawkeye Connor McCaffery spanked this home run during Iowa City West's 8-1 win over Regina. Matthew Bain/Iowa City Press-Citizen
The recently graduated Trojan will play baseball for Rick Heller's squad and basketball for his dad, Fran McCaffery, at Iowa. In late April, he tweeted that he'd redshirt his freshman basketball season and play baseball full-time.
In a conversation with Hawk Central on Monday, McCaffery elaborated on his decision and discussed how he'd balance time between both sports beyond his freshman year.
"I thought it was the best way for me to maximize my potential in each sport," he said. "I thought if I was going to be any help to the baseball team at all, then I would need to go one year all-in with them, because jumping in with them a third or a fourth of the way through their season would be so hard. Coach Heller came up with the plan and my dad agreed, and I think they’re going to work together. I thought it was the best for me.
"I’ll go to basketball stuff — practices when I can, games when I can. I’ll probably be at all games. I’ll just be in a suit on the bench like the rest of the redshirts. I’m still part of the team; I’m just playing baseball."
McCaffery said he'll become a "more traditional" two-sport athlete during his second year. He’ll play basketball full-time and will transition to baseball once any postseason play ends.
Iowa's basketball season overlapped with Iowa baseball's first 20 games this year.
"It’s really cool, thinking about (playing both sports); I don’t think it’ll be as cool, trying to do it," McCaffery joked. "Probably will be a little bit hard, but I’m definitely excited. There’s nothing better. I just couldn’t pick one, and both coaches presented me with great opportunities.
"I think, if it’s going to work, it’s going to work with my dad as one of the coaches, because he’s going to be flexible. He knows I love baseball and want to play baseball. I think Coach Heller (will know) that my dad is trying to be flexible, then in return he’ll try to be flexible, as well. I think they’ll work well together."
McCaffery was hitting .467 with the home run and seven RBIs through West’s 5-0 record, entering Tuesday. He hit .407 with eight home runs (tied for third-most in Class 4A) and 33 RBIs last year en route to his Des Moines Register All-Iowa selection.
He plays right field for West and said Heller sees him at first base or in the outfield. Underclassmen currently fill those positions for Iowa. But with his record-smashing season, first baseman Jake Adams could hear his name called pretty early in the MLB Draft, which begins June 12.
Unlike the more modest NBA and NFL Drafts, the MLB version has up to 40 rounds, plus compensatory picks. Nearly 300 high school seniors were drafted last year. So McCaffery could very well hear his name called, too — albeit likely later than Adams.
If he’s got a future in professional sports, it’s probably baseball. Six-foot-6 athletes are common on a basketball court. They are not on a baseball field. Especially ones who're lefty power-hitting athletes.
Future Hawkeye Connor McCaffery was impressive at the Eastern Iowa All-Star Game on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. He scored 16 points and was named MVP.
A late-round selection, however, offers little financial incentive for someone in McCaffery's shoes.
"It’d have to be a really good offer for me to turn down college," he said. "I’m not sure what the pro teams’ plans are for me, but I think a lot of them know that I’m leaning toward college, so that might keep them away. But maybe they take a chance and draft me and see if they can offer me something that I’d really be interested in."
McCaffery stood out at Perfect Game’s National Pre-Draft Showcase in Cedar Rapids in mid-May, and he was named to the showcase’s top prospect list. According to his Perfect Game profile, McCaffery’s top bat speed at impact (91.687 mph) and top exit velocity (92 mph) both rank in the top 6 percent the 2017 class.
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.