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Kevin Gowdy Among SoCal’s Top Prospects

Kevin Gowdy found that baseball grabbed him at an early age. Yes, he played soccer, basketball, basketball, flag football and also fell in love with Taekwondo, in which he earned a black belt.

But there was something about baseball, and especially pitching, that just clicked for Gowdy at a young age. As an 8-year-old, Gowdy started taking pitching lessons. For many 8-year-olds, a pitching lesson is an exercise in trying to stay focused long enough to get something out of any given session. But for Gowdy, those lessons were always serious business. To get to the big leagues, you have to work, and even at that tender age, Gowdy wanted to work.

He asked important questions and learned drills that he could do on his own. By the time he was a teenager, he’d decided to focus on baseball.

A decade after those first pitching lessons, Gowdy is one of the most polished pitchers in the 2016 high school class. He has a mature delivery and demeanor on the mound, and he’s already got a three-pitch mix that can make even the best hitters look foolish. Gowdy could develop into a major league rotation cog, and it might not take him as long to develop as it takes most high school prospects.

Gowdy’s story begins in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he’s grown up and spent all his life immersing himself in baseball. Santa Barbara hugs the Pacific Coast and runs alongside Los Padres National Forest. The city is a popular tourist destination, known for its beach culture and Spanish architecture. It’s a well-coordinated city, with a strong education system and a strong track record of executing a well-thought out urban plan.

Gowdy represents Santa Barbara well. In conversation, he’s confident and convicted, and clearly engaged, but he also maintains a cool, laid-back approach. He casually talks about his mechanics and his desire to tweak little things about his game, but he knows that he’s built the foundation for success. Gowdy openly discusses what little things he needs to improve on to be the best player he can be. He has taken this approach since his youth, and there’s little indication that he’s about to take his foot off the gas pedal.

When Gowdy takes the mound now, there are a few things that stick out, beyond his electric stuff. Gowdy takes a long stride toward home plate, but manages to land online, with his toes pointed right at the catcher. The length of his stride, as well as his ability to get his torso over his front leg, allows him to release the ball closer to home plate than most pitchers, meaning that his low-90s heater is even more difficult for opposing hitters to see.

Gowdy found a specific drill when he was eight that has helped lay the foundation for his mechanics today. It’s a simple drill, where Gowdy sets up a plank of wood and strides onto it.

“I would have to stride onto that, just to make sure I would stay online,” Gowdy said. He says the two biggest things for him have been aiming to continue landing online, and “staying back” to balance himself before his explosive stride starts his kinetic chain.

“This offseason, I’ve worked on staying back a little more. I have more power in my back side,” he said. “Staying back and staying online are big for me.”

As Gowdy has learned to gather himself, he’s gained velocity. As a rising senior last summer, Gowdy showed flashes of velocity, but it was clear to the amateur scouting community that he was just scratching the surface of his potential.

Gowdy’s summer kicked off with an impressive performance at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June. In his first inning, his fastball sat at 91-93 mph, once reaching 94, and he mixed in a late-breaking slider with darting action away from righthanded hitters. In his second inning of work, his heater worked at 90-92. Over two innings, Gowdy struck out four and generated one ground out and one fly out. His name had entered the minds of scouting directors and national crosscheckers as a potential first-round pick.

While PG National was where Gowdy established himself as one of the best righthanders in the class, he started to realize that he had a future in baseball a couple years prior, when he started to receive interest from high-level Division I colleges.

“I had always been pretty good, but I never thought that I’d play at a top college or have a chance to get drafted,” Gowdy said. “After my freshman year, I attended a showcase, and that’s when colleges started contacting me.”

The ball quickly began rolling. Gowdy remembers that UCLA was one of the first schools to show interest, and he is proudly committed to join the Bruins and coach John Savage, well-regarded for his handling of pitchers.

“I just kind of knew that’s where I wanted to go,” he said of his commitment to UCLA. “Coach Savage is one of the best coaches in the nation.”

While UCLA would be thrilled to have a player of Gowdy’s caliber, the righty appears likely to be selected with a first-round pick this June and could forego his education.

As a pro prospect, Gowdy is closer to the big leagues than most high school pitchers, but he has a long way to go to reach his ceiling.

Gowdy has a lanky, 6-foot-4 frame with wide shoulders and room to fill in both his lower and upper halves. Physically, Gowdy could be a very different player by the time he’s knocking on the big league door.

What Gowdy has going for him is his exceptional command and pitchability, and a potent pair of offspeed pitches. Because of his long stride, Gowdy leans slightly to his glove side. While his arm comes through a natural low three-quarters slot, that lean gives it the appearance of a higher arm slot. Throwing from a lower arm slot allows Gowdy to generate late sinking action on both his fastball and changeup.

Gowdy’s slider is a true weapon that has the potential to develop into a plus pitch. He repeats his mechanics well with the pitch, and he’s comfortable throwing it in any count. With his changeup running in the opposite direction and the upside of his fastball, Gowdy has a chance to develop into a three-pitch starter.

Gowdy isn’t the first player to show potential with three pitches. What makes him different from other players of his ilk is his work ethic, something coaches around him speak highly of, something that could allow him to maximize his tools and reach his potential.

Over the course of this past summer, Gowdy’s fastball velocity was not as overpowering as it was at PG National, but he continued to perform well, retiring some of the nation’s best hitters at the Tournament of Stars and at the Area Code Games. This spring, however, with more balance and a stronger base, Gowdy’s fastball has more consistently sat in the low 90s and reached 94 more often.

While he has potential with all three pitches, Gowdy recognizes what differentiates him from major leaguers.

“This offseason I’ve been working on the consistency of my offspeed stuff,” Gowdy said.

As long as Gowdy sticks to the plan and continues to follow along the path that he’s chosen, he will have a chance to be a special player. If the consistency of his mechanics leads to more consistency in his offspeed stuff, Gowdy could race through the minor leagues relatively quickly.

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