Mariners Prospect Adam Macko Has a Quality Curveball (and an Even Better Backstory)

First, a bit of history:

The major league annals include just two players born in Slovakia. One of them is Elmer Valo, an outfielder for six teams from 1940-1961 who hailed from the village of Rybnik. The other is Jack Quinn (born Johannes Pajkos), a pitcher for eight teams from 1909-1933 who drew his first breaths 333 kilometers away in Štefurov. Both came to the United States at a young age, their families settling in the Pennsylvania.

Adam Macko hopes to follow in their footsteps, albeit via pathways. A native of Bratislava, Slovakia, Macko moved to Stoney Plain, Alberta, Canada when he was 12 years old — a year in Ireland bridging the Atlantic journey — and then to the southern part of the province where he spent three years at the Vauxhall Baseball Academy before being selected by Seattle in the seventh round of the 2019 draft.

Profile-wise, Macko is more finesse than power, albeit not by a wide margin. The 20-year-old called himself “a command lefty” when offering a self scouting report, but that belies a velocity jump that saw him clocked as high as 97 mph in spring training. In his first start of the season, Macko sat 92-96 with his four-seamer while hurling four scoreless innings for the Low-A Modesto Nuts. Mixing and matching effectively, the southpaw set down seven Stockton Ports batters on strikes.

His curveball is his best pitch. Even so, it’s a work-in-progress.

“It’s a spike, and I’ll spin it up to 3,000 [rpm] every once in a while,” said Macko, who shared that he was first introduced to the nuances of pitching in 2014. “I had been spiking it with my index finger curled up on the ball, but this offseason I started taking it completely off. I’m trying to get comfortable with that. It’s hard to repeat, the less fingers you have on the ball, but the less fingers you have on the ball, the more it moves. I’ve been sacrificing some location to make sure the movement is there.”

Macko also throws a cutter-ish slider and a two-seam circle changeup that he grips with his middle and ring fingers split “just enough to take off some spin.”

That he’s playing baseball at all is, of course, the most-intriguing part of his story. Slovakia is far from a baseball hotbed — ditto the neighboring Eastern and Central European nations — yet the 6-foot, 195-pound southpaw fell in love with the sport. Being in the right place at the right time played a big role.

“Honestly, it’s crazy to me even now,” said Macko. “It was my first or second day of school, in Grade One, and we were hitting Ball-Pit balls off a tee into a mat. They told us, ‘There’s this game called baseball and you can sign up if you want to.’ It was a lot of fun for me — I enjoyed hitting balls off the tee — so I was like, ‘You know what? Why not?’”

Macko went home and told his parents that he’d signed up for baseball.

“They were like, ‘What the heck is that?’ Macko recalled. “I don’t think they had any idea that baseball even existed. It was always about soccer and hockey in Slovakia. Looking back, I think that might even have been the only school that had a baseball club connected to it. I was definitely lucky in that regard.”

He also played soccer, but not competitive hockey. Skating mostly outside on frozen ponds, Macko harbored no dreams of one day becoming the next Marián Hossa or Stan Mikita. What he wanted was to become the next David Price or Justin Verlander. Given where he grew up, that likelihood must have seemed like a million miles away.

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, and Macko’s family lived roughly 20 minutes away in “a village of about 30 houses.” The area is picturesque — mountains and castles dot the landscape — but with stop-watches and radar guns few and far between. Baseball exists, albeit only in the margins. As Macko noted, ‘There are some good players there, but it’s next to impossible to get any exposure. As hard as that is in Canada, it’s about 200 times as hard in Slovakia.”

The same is true in Ireland, where Macko’s family spent a year “getting a head start on being able to speak English” while waiting for their Canadian visas. It wasn’t a year without baseball. Already smitten with the sport, Macko was able to hook on with a youth team outside of Dublin. Portending his future in professional baseball, he suited up for the Greystone Mariners.

Macko is currently ranked as the 13th-best prospect in the Seattle system by Baseball America. Per Eric Longenhagen, he’ll slot in the 11-16 range when our our own list comes out in the not-too-distant future.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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The Ancient Mariner
2 years ago

Thanks for the story! I’ve been seriously intrigued by this kid since we took him; given his trajectory this far, I think he has the chance to be a special player.

Cale Greenmember
2 years ago

Lookout Landing’s last Midshipmen’s Log included a GIF of Macko’s curveball and it looked downright Zito-esque. Intriguing to say the least