Pioneer notes: Naughton undaunted in Billings

Virginia Tech product finding rhythm in pro debut with Mustangs

Packy Naughton picked up Pitcher of the Week honors after a scoreless start July 14. (Paul Ruhter/Billings Mustangs)

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to MiLB.com | August 4, 2017 10:00 AM ET

Patrick Naughton was born April 16, 1996, and from the beginning, his brother James, two years his senior, couldn't quite pull off that first name.

Which is how Packy Naughton, who threw a scoreless inning in Tuesday's Northwest-Pioneer League All-Star Game, got his name -- his brother ballparked it, and it stuck.

The left-hander came to the Billings Mustangs as a ninth-round pick in this year's Draft by the Cincinnati Reds. In his first year of pro ball, there's been a lot to unpack. Smoke from forest fires is clogging a good part of Idaho and Montana, leaving less-than-fresh air at the end of a long bus ride. Then there's the occasional Minor League sideshow.

Take his July 14 start against Grand Junction -- Naughton threw six scoreless innings despite idling on the bump while the Zooperstars entertained fans at Billings' Dehler Park between innings.

"I was like, 'Seriously, is this ever going to stop?' " Naughton told the Billings Gazette afterward. "I was just so baffled."

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He stayed focused that start, scattering two hits and a walk while striking out six to earn Pioneer League Pitcher of the Week after just his fourth appearance as a pro.

Indeed, these are salad days for the 21-year-old, who the day after his 17th birthday suffered a UCL tear. Tommy John surgery was next, but Naughton considers himself fortunate. He'd already committed to Virginia Tech, and when he hit campus he was 16 months removed from surgery.

"Almost happened at the perfect time," said the Boston native, who didn't pitch his junior or senior year of high school. "I came into college with a brand new elbow."

Naughton said he was touching 88 mph when he was injured, and these days he can go 92 and up if he throws in relief. As a starter, where he's been used more commonly, he dials it back some.

He had an idea he'd end up starting for the Mustangs, who narrowly missed out on a first-half title for the Pioneer League's Northern Division, just as he started thinking last July he could get drafted.

"I had a really good summer in the Cape Cod League," he said. "And I had a few decent outings this past school year, and that seemed to solidify things."

He mixes in more changeups these days, to go with his fastball, curve and slider. He sits among the league leaders in strikeouts with 28, doing so in 26 innings while walking nine. He didn't envision pitching in an All-Star Game his first year of pro ball. In fact, he didn't count on anything the day after he turned 17.

At the time, he said, "I never thought about playing pro ball at all."

In brief

Maciel makes waves: Missoula center fielder Gabriel Maciel was a late selection to the Pioneer League All-Stars, but there was no doubting his credentials. The 18-year-old out of Londrina, Brazil, entered the break on a 17-game hitting streak in which he went 27-for-67 (.403) with 18 runs scored, two homers (one a grand slam) and 10 RBIs. Osprey manager Mike Benjamin said Maciel, who is hitting .368, became a spark upon moving to the top of the order. The league record is 30 games by Ricardo Nanita, for Great Falls in 2003. Maciel went 0-for-1 with a walk at the All-Star Game, played Aug. 1 in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Homer happy: Juan Araujo hit two home runs in Missoula's 11-7 win over Helena on July 29 that clinched the first-half Northern Division title. The Osprey began the season 5-8 and finished the first-half 19-19. Meanwhile, the defending champion Orem Owlz -- behind sluggers Jeyson Sanchez and Harrison Wenson, who have eight homers each -- went 26-11 to cruise to the Southern Division title.

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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