Buchholz, Cashner ... Gardeck?
Dayton transfer emerges as top JC arm at Angelina
Jeff Livin has had a hand in producing a few hard-throwing pitching prospects in his 16 years as coach at Angelina College. Future major leaguers Clay Buchholz, Andrew Cashner and Josh Tomlin all passed through the small, east Texas town of Lufkin on their way to brighter lights.
Now, Livin has another young, hard-throwing righthander. Ian Gardeck, BA's preseason junior college pitcher of the year, transferred to Angelina this fall after spending his freshman season at Dayton. His profile rose while pitching for Danbury in the New England Collegiate Baseball League thanks to a fastball that draws scouts to any game in which he appears.
"He throws real damn hard," Livin said.
Gardeck topped out at 98 mph last fall, but he says he was tired after pitching 53 innings for Dayton and Danbury and is sure he can throw harder. Livin said Gardeck is throwing in the mid-90s now, but expects him to reach 100 mph soon.
"He's going to have a triple-digit fastball at some point," Livin said. "I expect it this year."
As Gardeck works to add the last few miles per hour to his fastball this spring, he is also making the transition from closer to starter. Livin asked him to make the change in fall ball, and Gardeck readily agreed, for the good of the team.
That kind of attitude, as well as his mid-90s fastball, has scouts taking note.
"He's a good kid," a National League area scout said. "He's the kind of guy you want to make it."
After his first two starts, Gardeck said there are things he likes about starting, but he thinks his mindset is better suited to closing.
"I like being able to start in the aspect you really set the tone for the game," Gardeck said. "Closing has to be my favorite though. I grew up a hockey player and closing gets back to that intensity."
The transition hasn't been all smooth. Gardeck struggled with his control in his first two outings, walking 11 batters in eight innings. He knows his command is important and said being able to locate his fastball is more important to his development than improving his slider or split-finger.
"I really feel like at this level, working on fastball command and working it in and out is the key," Gardeck said. "I'm nibbling a little bit. It's not where I want it to be. I feel like I'm right there, I just need to attack a little bit more."
An AL area scout said that while Gardeck's arm strength is his biggest asset, he needs to cut down on the walks, even if his fastball regains its 98 mph velocity from fall ball.
"Obviously that number would change some things," he said. "But he would still have to improve his command of the baseball no matter how hard he throws."
One of the advantages of going to Angelina is the advice from former Roadrunners who have proven to be successful at the next level. Gardeck said former players often come back to the school and have been a valuable resource to him.
Buchholz, who set Angelina records for ERA, complete games and strikeouts in his 2005 all-America season, made a stop in Lufkin before heading to spring training with the Red Sox.
"I talked with Clay (in February) and he said, just go right at it and attack it," Gardeck said. "All those guys are great. They're really supportive and I've been able to pick their brains."
While Livin is wary of comparing his current players to his former stars, he said Gardeck belongs in a group with Buchholz and Cashner.
"I've been blessed over the years to have some good arms come through here," Livin said. "I think at this stage of development, (Gardeck's) got a livelier fastball than Andrew had on a more consistent basis."
With reviews like that, Gardeck could be joining the former Roadrunner stars in the professional ranks soon. Gardeck enters the season ranked No. 85 on BA's Top 100 list of college prospects, but it remains too early to determine exactly where he will fall. Gardeck is committed to play at Alabama next season, but has not ruled out signing if he is drafted in June.
"I think if I go out and pitch how I'm supposed to pitch and relax, I think things will take care of themselves," Gardeck said. "I haven't said for sure I'm going to school. If I'm drafted I just ask to be treated well. I think I'm mature enough and mentally and physically able to handle that."