Nolan McLean was a two-sport star at Garner High School in Garner, North Carolina, dominating on the baseball diamond and on the football gridiron. As a football player, he lettered three years and threw for 6809 yards and 62 touchdowns. He lettered for three years in baseball and hit a cumulative .381/.589/.719 in 53 games with 11 doubles, 0 triples, 12 home runs, 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts, and 64 walks to 28 strikeouts. McLean also spent considerable time on the mound and posted a cumulative 2.05 ERA in 54.2 innings over 26 games with 38 hits allowed, 25 walks, and 88 strikeouts. He did not play much in his senior year due to the cancellation of the baseball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic but would have likely been drafted by a major league team if he had signaled his willingness to sign. Instead, he signaled that he was going to honor his commitment to Oklahoma State University and went undrafted.
Part of McLean’s interest in going to college was the ability to star for the OSU Cowboys as their quarterback. That fall, he joined the OSU football team as a walk-on quarterback but did not appear in a game for them. In the spring, he appeared in 39 games for the Cowboys, missing some time from a back injury, and hit .263/.410/.526 with 10 doubles, 1 triple, 8 home runs, 1 stolen base in 2 attempts, and 27 walks to 50 strikeouts. In addition, he appeared in a pair of games on the mound, giving up 4 earned runs in 2.0 innings with 2 hits allowed, 4 walks, and 3 strikeouts. That summer, he played for the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod Baseball League and hit .261/.469/.522 in 8 games with 2 home runs, 0 stolen bases, and 9 walks to 12 strikeouts. That fall, when he returned to Oklahoma State University he decided to hang up his football pads for good. A draft-eligible sophomore due to his age, he decided to focus on baseball to give himself the best opportunity to go pro.
McLean’s new focus on baseball paid off, as he excelled at a hitter while also getting the opportunity to show off his ability to pitch. Splitting time at second and third base, spending most of his time at third, he hit .285/.397/.595 with 16 doubles, 1 triple, 19 home runs, 2 stolen bases in 4 attempts, and 37 walks to 107 strikeouts. On the mound, he appeared in 23 games and posted a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings with 20 hits allowed, 13 walks, and 39 strikeouts. The Baltimore Orioles liked what they saw and selected him with their third round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, the 81st overall pick, designating him a pitcher. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement after Baltimore saw some post-draft physical results they were unhappy with, and McLean ended up being the highest selected played in the 2022 MLB Draft to go unsigned, and one of two third round selections to not sign with a team along with New York Mets third round pick Brandon Sproat.
McLean returned to Oklahoma State University for his junior year, his primary defensive position moved from the infield to the outfield. He appeared in 43 games, missing time in April after crashing into the outfield wall attempting to make a play and injuring his MCL, and hit .250/.379/.532 with 6 doubles, 1 triple, 9 home runs, 4 stolen bases in 6 attempts, and 27 walks to 57 strikeouts. On the mound, he appeared in 14 games, making 3 starts late in the season, and posted a 3.30 ERA in 30.0 innings, with 30 hits allowed, 17 walks, and 34 strikeouts.
At the plate, McLean has a physical presence, standing 6’4”, 215-pounds. He stands slightly open, holding his hands high and his bat angled up at 2:00. He swings with a slight toe tap and very little load or weight transfer. His right-handed stroke is smooth through the zone and has a bit of loft. He has above-average raw power, generating power through exceptional upper body strength and logging exit velocities over 110 MPH, but has demonstrated contact issues throughout his collegiate career, registering just a 55% contact rate in 2023 and similar low numbers in his freshman and sophomore seasons as well- he set the NCAA Division 1 record for strikeouts in his sophomore season, in fact, missing 44% of all the pitches that he swung at.
Defensively, he has more time logged at third base than anywhere else on the diamond. A below-average runner with a thick body, he is not particularly rangy at the hot corner nor does he have much quick-twitch muscle explosiveness, but does have above-average arm in terms of strength and accuracy. In the outfield, he has below-average range, but can improve with more refinements to his ability to read the ball off the bat and learn the best routes to take to the ball.
On the mound, McLean throws from a three-quarters arm slot with a simple, repeatable delivery. His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper-90s, averaging 94 MPH and topping out at 98 MPH with some arm-side run. It is easy, effortless velocity out of his hand, and McLean really leans on of the pitch. He complements it with a slider that sits in the mid-to-high-80s, an upper-80s curveball, and a high-70s-to-low-80s changeup. His slider and curveball both have excellent spin rates, regularly approaching 3,000 RPM, but his control and command of both needs work. His changeup is rarely used but has generally been used as a get-me-over pitch to sneak one by batters who are not expecting it.