Former Bangor High School star and University of Maine Freshman All-American pitcher Justin Courtney said he had a productive first season in minor league baseball — even though the statistics may not show it.
He was signed by the Los Angeles Angels and was used as a reliever on the Low-A team for the first time in his career before being released by the organization. He then signed with the New York Mets and had a pair of solid relief outings for the organization’s rookie league team in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Courtney still feels pitching in the major leagues is an attainable goal and said he would love to pitch for the AA Eastern League Binghamton Rumble Ponies next season because it would mean he would get a chance to pitch in Maine against the Portland Sea Dogs.
He pitched 43 innings between the two teams, the Angels’ Low-A Inland Empire League 66ers and the Mets’ Florida Complex (Rookie) League team. Courtney was 3-1 with a 5.23 earned run average. He struck out 49, walked 11 and hit three batters while surrendering 49 hits, six of which were homers. Opponents hit .288 against him.
“For my first pro season, I would call it a success,” Courtney said.
He was 2-for-3 in save opportunities and had three holds, meaning he held the lead. He tossed three scoreless innings in two appearances for the Mets’ rookie league team.
“I made some mistakes in a couple of outings and things got away from me. I learned a lot. My velocity was back up to 93-96 mph and I’m healthy,” Courtney said.
Courtney underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow in 2018 and struggled when he returned more than a year later. He concluded his UMaine career with a 12-17 record and a 3.92 ERA. He was 5-6 with a 3.24 ERA as a freshman and was chosen to the All-America East second team and all-rookie team.
This season, he was used in high-leverage situations as a reliever, being summoned in the late innings of a close game. He enjoyed it.
“It’s so much fun. The game is in your hands,” said the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Courtney, who was also a standout soccer and hockey player at Bangor High School.
“To come in and get out of a jam is unbelievable,” he said.
Courtney is going to take a few weeks off to visit family and friends in Maine. He will head to San Diego in October to continue working with pitching guru Tom House and do some conditioning.
“I want to get my legs and shoulder stronger and sharpen up my pitches,” said Courtney, who will head to Port St. Lucie for minor league training camp in February.
He wants to work on his four-seam fastball and curve, and may also add a slider and cut fastball to his arsenal. He noted that as a short reliever, you only need two quality pitches.