Wake Forest prides itself on its player development system, especially in developing pitchers in its state-of-the-art pitching lab. Four years after unveiling its lab, Wake Forest has become an elite performing program with premium pitching talent.
The Demon Deacons had four pitchers selected in the first three rounds of the 2023 MLB draft, with the Cincinnati Reds drafting right-hander Rhett Lowder seventh overall. It marked the program’s third pitcher picked in the first round since 2020.
This year, the Deacons boast a loaded pitching staff with three potential first-round picks. Right-handed pitcher Michael Massey will move into the starting rotation this spring after pitching out of the bullpen last year. Scouts are intrigued to see how Massey performs as a starter at the Power Five level.
Expectations are high for Massey. He projects to be Wake Forest’s No. 3 starter. He also boasts a ton of potential and can enhance his draft status with a strong junior season.
“We have heard a lot of stories from past teams about how it was their draft year, and they were so concerned about the results that you quit having fun with the game,” Massey said. “It will be important to stay present. I’m really strong in my faith, so whether I go nine shutouts with 20 strikeouts or one inning and get shelled, it doesn’t impact my worth or value. That is something very important.”
Massey is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-handed pitcher who started his college career at Tulane. He recorded a 5.03 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 16 walks allowed in 68 innings primarily as a starter his freshman season.
After a coaching change, Massey transferred to Wake Forest. He wanted to pitch at college baseball’s highest level and for a program with a strong track record of winning and developing players for the pro ranks.
The decision has paid off for Massey. Massey made all but one appearance out of the bullpen in his first year at Wake Forest. He posted a 2.59 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 16 walks allowed in 41 2/3 innings.
“I wanted to go somewhere I could develop,” Massey said. “When I stepped on campus for my visit, it was a no-brainer. They gave me a full development plan. It worked out. A lot of my stuff went through the roof in just a few weeks.”
Massey said the plan is for him to pitch in the starting rotation this spring. He throws a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup from a high three-quarters arm slot and deceptive delivery. He boasts starter traits and is passionate about the analytics of pitching.
Last year, Massey dominated hitters with his fastball and slider, striking out 47.2% of the hitters he faced. His four-seamer is a mid-90s offering that touches 97 mph with natural movement.
Massey’s slider is a nasty strikeout pitch. The mid-80s pitch is an above-average offering that features impressive late movement.
He primarily relied on his fastball, slider combination last year. His changeup flashes potential and has served as a focal point in preparation for his junior season. His goal is to use his changeup about 15-20% of the time this spring, he said.
“My biggest strength is knowing my identity,” Massey said. “Freshman year, I thought I knew my identity. I had good command. It wasn’t perfect, but I kind of just pitched off that. But I didn’t know where to throw my pitches with their characteristics. Now, I know usage and how to read swings better. I also have developed a ton of confidence. Once you believe in yourself, it starts compounding.”
Wake Forest had a notable season last year, advancing one game shy of the College World Series championship series. The Deacons didn’t lose two straight games until the CWS and finished with a 54-12 record.
This season, the Deacons hope to reach the CWS and capture their first national title since 1955. They boast a loaded roster headlined by first baseman Nick Kurtz, second baseman Seaver King, right-handed pitcher Chase Burns, lefty Josh Hartle and Massey.
“We are definitely hungry,” Massey said. “We have a lot of big goals. The returns got a little bit of a taste of Omaha. But it’s also a bitter taste because we know we had the talent to win it. We know we have the talent this year. We want to have our identity this year and not latch on to last year’s team identity.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for nine years. He has interviewed 518 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.