By: Brad Krause
Baseball has been in Chris McFarland’s blood since a young age.
As a standout high school player in Lufkin, Texas, McFarland played for the USA 18U National Team, saw action in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, CA, and was picked to play in the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field in 2010.
The following summer, the Brewers selected him in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB draft. Many assumed the athletic infielder, who showcases all five tools at times, was ticketed for Rice University, but Milwaukee was able to sign him away from college and start him on his path towards Miller Park.
“It was a tough decision” said McFarland. “I look back at it now, and I don’t have any regrets. I think I made the right choice. I feel like I’ve improved a lot from just the two years I’ve been out of high school, with professional coaching. It’s always been my dream to make it to the Major Leagues. I felt for me, it felt right.”
A shortstop in high school, the Brewers converted McFarland to second base after signing him. He embraced the position switch, but noticed some definite adjustments he needed to make.
“It was a whole different angle, coming off the bat, and it took me a while to get used to” McFarland said. “The biggest things were double plays. Turning it from that side, and not being able to see the runner, and throwing across your body, that was my biggest problem.”
McFarland credits the Brewers coaching staff with helping him make the necessary adjustments.
“We have a great infielding coordinator, Bob Miscik, and he’s been working with me ever since. We’re cleaning up some things. But it’s going well. I really enjoy it.”
After signing late in 2011, McFarland began his pro career in the Pioneer League with Helena in 2012 and enjoyed a successful first season, leading the team in hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, runs scored, and stolen bases.
“Going in to Helena, I didn’t know what to expect. I found that the game tempo was better, and you’re probably facing every high school ace. I was just trying to have fun and it turned out (to be) a pretty good year.”
At 20 years old, Milwaukee promoted the young second baseman to Class-A Wisconsin to begin the 2013 season, but things didn’t go as smoothly in his first year of full-season ball.
“I feel like I put too much pressure on myself. I just really had my goals set high, and just a lot of pressure was involved with Wisconsin” McFarland explained. “First of all, last spring training I came in kind of heavy. I tried to hit for more power, tried to hit more home runs. And that wasn’t really my strength to begin with. Speed was my strength. So that kind of hurt, just putting on some pounds.”
Early season bad weather in Wisconsin was an adjustment for McFarland as well, as the Timber Rattlers battled rain and snow for the first month of the season. He soon found himself in a platoon at second base with Alfredo Rodriguez and Adrian Williams.
“Not playing every day was something new because I was used to playing pretty much every day at Helena” said McFarland. “It was tough because I feel like, the more you’re in there, even if you are going through a little slump, you can make adjustments easier. There’s only so much you can do in practice.”
Always upbeat and positive, McFarland is quick to credit his coaches, his teammates and his faith with helping him through challenging times.
“Matty (Erickson), he was a great coach, a great mentor. He talked me through it. Helped me with my swing, brought me out for early work. Even if I wasn’t in the game, he had us group of guys doing infield drills, or I’d be able to talk to him about my swing and he was always there to kind of help me.
Max Walla as well. He came at just the right time. In Wisconsin I wasn’t doing as well and I would just kind of ask him a lot. What I got from it was the peace that I know I’m going to be fine regardless. I’m giving it my all. I was probably a baseball player first, and then I had God on the side. Baseball was my identity. That was me. But now, I’ve just kind of changed, but at the same time, that’s not putting baseball down. Because Colossians 3:23 ‘Whatever you do, do so heartily, as for the Lord’. So now I’m taking my work, everything I’m doing this offseason, weightlifting, baseball drills, everything I’m doing for God. So I’m doing it 100 percent. It’s not, ‘hey I don’t care about baseball anymore’. It’s helping me in every area of my life, to do everything to glorify God.”
Another adjustment the young infielder had to make with full-season ball, was the time away from his family, including his four-year-old son, Teagan.
“It’s really tough. I missed my guy. I had him back in high school. I’m very thankful for Skype and FaceTime. Because after a game, if it’s not too late, or even before a game, I can FaceTime him and talk to my son. I feel like I’ve grown so much, just with the difficult times I’ve had in my life. I don’t see any problem that could throw me off my track, because I faced so much at a young age. I’m 21 years old now and there’s not too much I don’t think I can handle because I’ve been faced with that. So it’s really been a blessing.”
McFarland is working hard this offseason and looking to build upon the lessons he learned last year. He’s eager to get back on the diamond, has been focusing on his speed, and is coming in to spring training lighter than last year.
“I’ve had a great mentor, Ralph Thomas” said McFarland. “He played baseball at Oklahoma State. He was drafted in high school, from Lufkin. He’s one of the best athletes to come out of Lufkin and he’s been working with me on my speed. Every day we work out. So going in to this year, I’m looking to steal a lot more bags.
As for other key areas that McFarland has been looking to improve this season, he mentions his defense and plate discipline.
“Backhands. Backhands. Backhands” he said. “Even if it’s just a tennis ball bouncing off the wall. That was probably my weakness this past year in fielding. Fielding balls right at me and to my left were pretty manageable, but the backhands, it took a while for me to get some of the angles. So any time I can, I’m bouncing a tennis ball off the wall, getting ground balls, getting more backhands.
Another thing is plate discipline. I want to choose better pitches to swing at. That will help a lot. So those are the two main things that I’ve been working on as well.”
McFarland is still young, having just turned 21 this past November, but is mature beyond his years and has worked hard to improve his game this winter. “I feel like I matured tremendously from failure, and it’s helped me so much this offseason to put in the work. Failure can be a great motivation.”
That hard work and motivation will go a long way towards helping McFarland reach his goal of playing in the big leagues one day, but for now, he’s not stressing about it.
“I’m just going to have fun, play my best, and I feel like whatever happens, it’s going to turn out for the best. My goal is to be in the Major Leagues, and I feel that if I just play hard, it will take care of itself.”