Adam Macko was selected in the seventh round of the MLB draft by Seattle in June and signed his first professional contract later that month. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Slovakia to MLB draft: Canadian resident Macko takes unconventional road to pros

Seattle Mariners prospect Adam Macko didn’t lack confidence when he shared his lofty goals on his first day at the Vauxhall Baseball Academy three years ago.

The Slovakian-born left-hander was aiming a little higher than his teammates back then — despite having less experience in the sport than they did.

“Most kids say they want to play Division I or pro ball, and Adam told us his goal is to be a Hall of Famer,” said Les McTavish, the head coach of the Vauxhall program in Alberta. “We kinda thought at the time, like ‘OK.’ This was back when he was in 10th grade, we had no idea if he was going be any good or not.

“He was throwing 80 miles an hour, at best, at that point, but that was always his mentality.”

Turns out that confidence served Macko well.

The 18-year-old was selected in the seventh round of the MLB draft by Seattle in June and signed his first professional contract later that month, foregoing a commitment to Purdue University.

He reported to the Mariners’ rookie ball team in the Arizona League three weeks ago, the latest step on the Bratislava native’s unconventional journey to becoming one of Canada’s top baseball prospects.

Macko, who has permanent resident status in Canada after living in Stony Plain, Alta., the past six years, was introduced to baseball in Grade 1 when he hit balls off a tee for the first time at his elementary school in Slovakia.

He was hooked almost instantly.

At 10 year old, Macko was teaching himself pitching mechanics by watching highlight videos on YouTube of David Price and Justin Verlander, setting up a camera to film himself throwing in his backyard so he’d have footage to compare it to.

“I’d watch myself to see if I was matching them and if I didn’t I would make adjustments until I did,” Macko said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.

Verlander was chosen after Macko Googled ‘best pitcher in baseball’ in 2011 — the year he won the AL Cy Young and MVP with Detroit. Price was picked when Macko decided he needed a fellow left-hander to study.

“I started to become more familiar with both of them, taking the best things from each and it moved from there,” Macko said. “It’s not like I’m really copying anyone anymore, a lot of different pitchers kinda contributed and made me the pitcher I am today.”

The Macko family applied for a visa to Canada when Adam was 11 and they spent 16 months in Ireland in the interim so he and his sister could get a head start on the English language.

The transition was tough, Macko said, but baseball served as his escape.

“I didn’t really have to talk much when I was playing,” he said with a laugh. “I just knew how to say ‘yes, no, hello, goodbye,’ that was basically it. So I was put in school and it was hard to not be able to understand anything, but we watched a lot of baseball movies and I kinda picked it up from there.”

Macko played bantam baseball in Spruce Grove when his family arrived in Alberta, then spent his high school days at Vauxhall, where McTavish said his potential stood out.

“He didn’t throw very hard but he was ahead of the curve as far as his ability to pitch,” the head coach said. “He was maybe behind the curve in terms of velocity and physical development. But considering his background and where he came from, he was ahead of most Canadian kids let alone someone coming from his background.”

McTavish called Macko’s fastball command his “most effective weapon” but he also has a ”really good breaking ball and a good feel for a change-up.”

Topping out around 92 miles per hour, Macko put up video game numbers at Vauxhall in his senior year with a 1.27 earned-run average and 76 strikeouts over 38 1/3 innings.

As impressive as Macko was on the baseball field, McTavish said his former player also benefited from an ability to learn from mistakes, like he did following a poor showing at the Tournament 12 showcase in Toronto last September — a significant event heading into his draft year.

“My velocity was down, my fastball had flattened out, everything had gone downhill, but I’m very thankful that happened to me,” said Macko, who explained the poor performance on unnecessary tinkering with mechanics. “I told myself that was never going to happen again and I woke up every day that off-season at 6 a.m. to do extra work.

“It motivated me, for sure.”

McTavish has been seeing that drive to improve from Macko for years.

“I think he was taught work ethic, desire, attitude at a young age, and my gut feeling with Adam is he thrives for perfection in everything he does,” McTavish said. “Whether he’s taking a biology exam or working on pitching, he doesn’t just do the work because he’s supposed to or because he wants to be great. He does it because he wants to be the best at it.”

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