Orioles make Gausman 1st pitcher taken

In the stretch run of a fabulous 11-1 season, the LSU sophomore goes to Baltimore with the No. 4 pick int he 2012 MLB Draft.

Preparation for just about anything that is going to happen to him is a strength for LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman, a trait he understandably takes a lot of pride in.

So when he got caught ever-so-slightly off-guard Monday evening during the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft, he even surprised himself a little.

The Tigers' sophomore ace was grabbed by the Baltimore Orioles with the fourth overall pick – at least one spot sooner than most prognostications.

That wasn't the stunner for the Grandview, Colo., native. Being the first pitcher selected in the 40-round talent grab, now that was a surprise.

Leading into the draft, most of the chatter was about Stanford junior Mark Appel and University of San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer being the top pitching prospect on the board.

Instead, after the first three teams snatched position players, it was Gausman who earned the distinction of being the first hurler taken.

"I didn't expect it so I'm still kind of in shock," Gausman said after a gathering of his teammates and handful of family members watched the draft in the LSU players' lounge.

"Obviously I'm very excited. It's an honor to be taken as the first pitcher in the draft."

Gausman said he hadn't much from Baltimore during the pre-draft process. But it didn't hurt to have an in-house connection to the Orioles franchise.

First-year Tigers pitching coach Alan Dunn spent the last five seasons with Baltimore as a bullpen coach and his last year as a minor-league pitching coordinator.

Because of his relationship with the team, Dunn was tapped into for a recommendation.

"I got some questions about him, obviously people dong their background as far as getting information," Dunn said. "I was so happy for him. This is a great day for Kevin and LSU. I think he's going to an organization as everybody says is a great opportunity. He has a chance to do some good things quickly."

That certainly seems to be the expectation from the top of the organization.

Baltimore Scouting Director Gary Rajsich pegged Gausman as the first pick of the first draft of his tenure.

"Everything we have heard is he's ready to go out there and begin his pro career," Rajsich said in a story published on the Orioles' official MLB site. "What we have for him is an opportunity to move through our system very quickly and pitch in Baltimore very soon.

"Kevin Gausman is one of the premier power pitchers in all of college baseball. He's pitched at a high level in front of a lot of people every Friday night for the past two years, and very successfully. He has a power arm and power arsenal that he commands, and we're excited to have him."

Right after Gausman was taken, MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds talked about the LSU pitcher being a good fit for hitter-friendly Camden Yards, the Orioles' home ballpark.

Former Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers GM John Hart said he sees Gausman as a top or middle of the rotation starter in a short period of time.

"The type of pitcher he is, with power but great life down in the zone, that fits there," Dunn said. "You need to get a lot of ground balls in Camden Yards because the ball tends to fly out of there. With the angle he gets and the life that he gets, I can see exactly why they're talking about him being a guy who fits at Camden Yards."

The notion of Gausman taking the mound at Camden Yards is a ways off in the future. Especially considering where he and his LSU teammates find themselves as the college season hits another level this week.

The Tigers (46-16) will entertain Stony Brook (50-12) in a Super Regional starting at 11 a.m. Friday at Alex Box Stadium. After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, LSU is two wins away from its 16th trip to the College World Series.

With the draft out of the way – for Gausman at least – he can focus on the task at hand.

"Right now I've still got the same focus: Leading this team to Omaha," Gausman said.

"I feel like there's a huge weight that's been lifted off my shoulder. Now I can just focus on baseball and focus on leading this team."

The timing worked out well for Gausman and the Tigers, the draft starting on their off day since they sewed up a Super Regional berth on Sunday night.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri said now that the drama is past, his ace can hone in on what lies ahead.

"I'm glad it happened on a day we're not playing glad and that it happened on a Monday so Kevin can kind of digest it all and get himself back to being focused this weekend and help us win a ballgame," Mainieri said.

Kevin Gausman: 11-1, 2.72 ERA, 128 strikeouts this season

Gausman has done that a lot this season, with an 11-1 record, 2.72 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 115.2 innings pitched. Those stats are a significant upgrade from his freshman campaign when he was 5-6 with a 3.51 ERA and 86 Ks in 89.2 innings.

That one-year-to-the-next jump is what Mainieri had in mind when LSU gambled on the hard-throwing 6-foot-4 Gausman when he was coming out of Centennial High in 2010.

Los Angeles snared Gausman in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, but he priced himself out of their signing bonus range – especially after the Dodgers threw $5 million at Tigers quarterback signee Zach Lee, a first-round pick. Lee was a late first-round pick that season and this year Gausman's wait was a lot shorter, which Mainieri said was not a surprise to him.

"I had no doubt about it," Mainieri said. "When we signed Kevin I thought it was about a 20% chance he would ever show up on campus.

"The day after they signed Zach Lee, (former Dodgers manager and Mainieri friend) Tommy Lasorda called and he said, ‘Are you upset with us?' And I said, ‘Upset with you? I'm happy with you. You gave $5 million to the wrong guy. You let us have the right guy, the sixth rounder.'

"Tommy was floored when I told him that. That isn't a knock of Zach Lee of course, but I felt that Kevin Gausman had the higher ceiling and had a chance to be a better pitcher and here he is now two years later and he's the fourth pick of the draft. I thought Kevin had a chance to be absolutely special."

There's no question Gausman has been that, and he didn't pass up an opportunity Monday to pass on a message to current and future high school players who are going to have to choose between college ball and jumping into the pro ranks as teenagers.

"In high school you're thinking about being one of those guys who gets a paycheck – start playing and not having to go to class anymore," he said. "Those two years flew by for me and school wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Playing in the SEC and playing here and getting to have the atmosphere that we've had the last couple of weekends is a dream come true.

"I think every kid should come to college. Having that college life is awesome. I've matured and I can't see myself not being here."

That said, there's little doubt that Gausman's LSU tenure will wind down some time in the next three weeks.

He has until July 13 to sign with the Orioles, and though he said "it may go right down to the wire," it's hard to imagine Baltimore would haggle that much with a pitcher the Scouting Director already seems enamored with.

Dunn was around minor league pitching for 20 years before Mainieri hired him last summer, and he sees Gausman's career arc on a fast track.

"There are things that Kevin needs to develop," Dunn said. "Obviously, he's not a finished product because if he was a finished product, he'd be leaving tomorrow to go to the big leagues. He understands that, and that's the thing that excites me so much about Kevin is he understands there's things he needs to do to get better and he's constantly working to do that. He's not satisfied."

Gallo, Valentin Diaz taken in supplemental round

Two members of LSU's 2012 recruiting class were drafted in the supplemental round Monday – neither a surprise, although one went a little lower than most projections.

Joey Gallo, a potential two-way player from the Las Vegas areas, and Jesmuel Valentin Diaz from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy were off the board before the first day ended.

Gallo was snatched by Texas with the 39th pick, while Valentin was taken by the Dodgers at No. 51.

The surprise was Gallo not getting grabbed earlier in the first round.

Joey Gallo

A left-handed hitter and corner infielder for Bishop Gorman High, the 6-5, 205-pound Gallo has also pitched extensively and has been consistently clocked in the mid- to high-90 mph range.

He has reportedly told most MLB scouts he wants to be a position player and not a pitcher in pro ball. Mainieri said Gallo could pitch and play a position if he wound up at LSU.

This spring Gallo batted .506 with 21 home runs, 66 runs and 80 RBIs. The 6-foot-5 standout slugged 65 homers in four varsity seasons, 46 the last two years.

There has been some chatter that Gallo priced himself out of a higher selection because of the desire to play a position, although the more rigid slot money could come into play.

"Hopefully, we can work something out (with Texas)," Gallo said in a story on the Las Vegas Sun web site (lasvegassun.com). "But I can go to college and raise my stock, and do this all over again in three years. Obviously, it will all depend on the money. We'll have to wait and see."

Under the new system, the Rangers are limited to giving Gallo a maximum $1.3 million signing bonus.

Mainieri said he expects Gallo to sign, but left a sliver of hope, saying the lure of coming to college where he could have some control over whether he is a position player, pitcher or both.

"We took a chance on him," Mainieri said. "He was a special talent and he really wanted to come to LSU. If you asked Joey Gallo right now, he really wants to come to LSU. But I don't know if he's going to be able to. The opportunity for him is going to be so significant. It's going to be hard for him to turn that down.

"I was holding out hope that coming to college might be attractive to him. Once they sign him they own him. They can say you're no longer hitting, you're a full-time pitcher. I don't think he wants to do that. He wants to hit."

The switch-hitting Valentin Diaz is the oldest son of longtime big leaguer Jose Valentin. He has been a middle infielder at the PRBA, where his dad is an instructor, for four years.

Because of his father's long connection to MLB (16 seasons), Valentin Diaz is expected to sign quickly with the Dodgers.

Who’s next

The draft resumes at 11 a.m. Tuesday with Rounds 2-15. The annual selection of talent wraps up with Rounds 16-40 on Wednesday, beginning at 11 a.m.

Besides seniors Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover, the LSU underclassmen expected to be taken include closer Nick Goody, first baseman/right fielder Mason Katz and left fielder Raph Rhymes.

Other signees who could get picked include infielder Alex Bregman from Albuquerque, N.M., and right-handed pitcher Mitchell Sewald from Rummel in New Orleans.

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