DELAND, Fla.—Melching Field played host to a crowded stadium filled with fans and several dozen major league scouts, looking to watch Stetson host Manhattan, and No. 14 ranked draft prospect Logan Gilbert pitch on Opening Day.
Gilbert, the reigning Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year, didn’t have his best stuff in the opener—he gave up five earned runs—but did enough for his team to bail him out.
Senior righthander Brooks Wilson proved to be the hero of the night, hitting a one-out triple in the bottom of the eighth inning after pinch hitting in the designated hitter spot. He would come around to score the go-ahead run and then take the mound in the top of the ninth, sitting down the Manhattan lineup in order with an impressive three-pitch mix that included a 90-92 mph fastball, sharp 74-75 mph curve and a mid 80s changeup that was responsible for two of his three outs—and his sole strikeout.
“For us we’re trying to create the culture that as a team you’ve got to win in all different ways,” said coach Steve Trimper, who entered the season knowing his pitching staff would be the strength. “If we really want to be a top 30 program you have to do it. And you have to do it in those situations and our team had a lot of resiliency tonight where they didn’t go too high and they didn’t go too low… They just kind of grinded out a run, grinded out a run, obviously Brooks coming in and you couldn’t draw it up any better. Pinch hit him as a DH, he hits a triple, scores a run and then goes and gets the save.
“I think the biggest thing is resiliency of the team. We picked up Gibby and I tell you what: Gibby has and will pick us up a lot more as the season goes on.”
Gilbert has previously worked through multiple innings with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, as well as two breaking pitches that have been solid to above-average. From the beginning, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound righty knew he everything wasn’t there for him.
“From the get go I could see I didn’t have everything working,” Gilbert said. “I was fighting a little bit, battling out there.”
Gilbert opened the game with a 91 mph fastball and remained in the 90-93 mph range throughout his 5.1 innings of work, with the velocity dropping just a tick when he would work out of the stretch. In addition, Gilbert said that during his pregame bullpens he didn’t have great feel for his slider. He threw that particular breaking ball just twice, and spiked both of them into the dirt at 77-78 mph.
Without the slider, Gilbert relied a curveball—which he throws with a spike grip a bit further up the seams than his slider—which he spotted on the corners well during the early innings before becoming a bit more erratic with the pitch during the fifth inning.
It was a solid offering, but almost all of Gilbert’s swings and misses came via the fastball, a pitch he started relying on more and more as the game progressed.
“(I didn’t have) just a putaway strikeout breaking ball,” Gilbert said. “I could drop (one) in there when I needed to early in the count, (but) getting some swings and misses on breaking balls would have been nice.
“I felt like I controlled the fastball pretty well in and out, didn’t really get to the changeup today. I’ve been working on that a lot, so hopefully next time. Just fighting through it.”
While Gilbert’s fastball velocity may have been at his lower range for the duration of the outing, the pitch played up thanks to elite extension that would be above-average even at the major league level. That release point, combined with Gilbert’s willingness to go inside and elevate to any hitter, led to 18 swings and misses on the pitch.
“Yeah that’s part of my game, just attacking and going after guys,” he said. “If I can get swings and misses up in the zone and then that sets up breaking pitches as well I think that works out deeper in the ballgame.”
Without the secondary offerings where he wanted them Friday night, Gilbert may have become too reliant on the heater. Manhattan shortstop Matt Forlow did almost all of the damage against the Hatters starter when he hit an elevated 90 mph fastball over the left field fence with the bases loaded. Trimper takes at least part of the blame for that however, saying that while the game plan was to attack with the fastball, perhaps he should have been quicker to adjust the pitch calling when he saw Manhattan batters trying to sit on the offering.
“Maybe he lost his legs just a little bit, got him up in the zone and you put a ball up in the zone and anybody can run into one,” Trimper said. “They had a good approach. They were just going to time up fastballs and take a swing at them is what they wanted to do. I don’t think Gibby had his A stuff tonight, but he still pitched well enough to win and take out one pitch and we’re probably not even sitting here talking about this. So I think he’ll be fine.”
If history is any indicator, Gilbert will be more than fine—he’ll continue to get better.
After posting a 2.74 ERA pitching mostly as a reliever during his freshman season, Gilbert lowered that to 2.02 as a sophomore starter, striking out 107 batters and walking just 23. Then, last summer against some of the best collegiate hitters in the country Gilbert took another step, posting a 1.72 ERA in 31.1 innings in the Cape Cod League, with 31 strikeouts and four walks.
“It was a big learning summer,” Gilbert said. “A lot of stuff was the mental game that I took away, I got a lot from the coaches up there and of course just some of the other pitchers on my team, I mean great guys. Just learning how to compete. What that means day in and day out. Kind of got the professionalism that comes with it.”
In addition to learning on the Cape, Gilbert credits Stetson pitching coach Dave Therneau for bringing him along from his freshman season two years ago. At a program like Stetson—that produced two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom—perhaps that’s to be expected.
“You see those guys and it proves that you can come here and make it to the big leagues. And that’s the goal,” Gilbert said, standing a few hundred feet in front of signs honoring the two alumni on the outfield fence. “Just from day one coach Therneau has done a great job with me, working on the mental game first and then what it takes to be a well-rounded pitcher with the breaking balls, the running game, all that stuff. So it’s learning how to get guys out, not just try to blow it by guys all the time.”
“I give all of the credit, 100 percent of the credit to himself and coach Therneau,” Trimper said. “Our pitching coach has done a heck of a job developing him both physically and certainly mentally.
“But Gibby works extremely hard. He’s not a big emotional guy. He’ll go out there and keep grinding himself out. He prepares well. I think his preparation, he’s learned that really well the last 12 months, where he comes into a ballpark, he knows what his work is, he knows how to get after it… He’s going to have to pitch a little bit more, and he can certainly turn it up and do that.”