Name: Koby Gauna
Height/Weight: 6’3’’, 225
How Acquired: 20th round pick, 2014 (Cal-State, Fullerton)
The Oakland A’s used their 20th-round pick this season on a right-hander from Cal-State Fullerton, Koby Gauna. Gauna doesn’t possess an over-powering fastball, but he quickly established himself as a weapon in the back-end of the bullpen during his professional debut.
"The velocity isn’t over-powering, but the movement and the command of [Gauna's sinker] make it overpowering." - Oakland A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson.
The Southern California native played a key role on the Fullerton pitching staff during his three seasons in college. As a freshman, he made nine starts and 10 relief appearances and posted a 2.85 ERA. He struck-out just 31, but he only walked eight. His sophomore season was much of the same. Gauna had a 2.60 ERA and a 33:7 K:BB in 55.1 innings for the Titans.
In 2014, Gauna racked up five saves for the Titans and posted a 1.64 ERA. He saw his K-rate jump from 5.37 per nine in 2013 to 8.06 per nine in 2014. Gauna also walked just eight in 60.1 innings. His 6.75 K/BB was one of the top K/BB rates in college baseball in 2014.
Gauna made his professional debut in Arizona on June 22. He appeared in three games in Arizona before being re-assigned to short-season Vermont, where he spent the rest of the season. Almost immediately upon arriving in Vermont, Gauna assumed a late-inning role for the Lake Monsters. He excelled in that role, saving 12 games in 12 chances. He posted a 2.08 ERA for Vermont and had a 14:2 K:BB in 17.1 innings pitched.
Vermont pitching coach Steve Connelly named Gauna as one of the standouts of his staff in 2014. Gauna doesn’t have prototypical closer’s stuff and that may not be his role throughout his professional career, but both Connelly and former A’s minor league pitching coordinator and current bullpen coach Scott Emerson point to Gauna’s mental make-up as a reason he is able to succeed in high-leverage situations.
“He really, really enjoys pitching at the end of the game. He’s very competitive,” Emerson said.
Gauna’s fastball generally sits between 87-91 MPH, but he gets a lot of sinking action on the pitch. He posted a 2.40 GO/AO with Vermont last season and he had a 55.1% groundball rate, a rate 10% better than the league average. Emerson compares Gauna’s sinker to one thrown by a former top A’s prospect.
“The velocity isn’t over-powering, but the movement and the command of it make it overpowering,” Emerson said. “He just has tremendous movement. I would compare his sinker to when we had Trevor Cahill. It’s from one side of the plate to the other side of the plate.”
Gauna also throws a solid slider and he has a good split-fingered fastball. All of his stuff has movement, something that allows him to succeed even without plus-velocity.
“When you have movement going through the ‘zone like he has, you have the ability to plate the pitch and trust the movement,” Emerson said. “His movement is that good. He has a tremendous sinker. All he has to do is be close to the plate and he’ll be successful.”
As a sinkerball pitcher, Gauna isn’t likely to be a strike-out pitcher in the pros, but he should be able to limit base-runners by keeping the ball in the strike-zone and on the ground. The A’s may have Gauna work on a change-up, but he already has a solid pitch-mix. He is highly competitive and isn’t easily rattled when things do go wrong. Gauna has a big frame and was durable for Fullerton. Because of his role with the Titans, he never threw more than 66 innings in a season, but his frame suggests he could handle a bigger workload without issue.
Although Gauna was primarily a late-inning reliever in college and in his pro debut, he could move into a starter or long relief role next season. A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota said in a post-draft interview that the A’s scouts who watched Gauna in college believe that he can start as a pro.
“We think he has a little bit above-average stuff and he does have good command,” Kubota said shortly after the draft. “I know he pitched mostly in a relief role at Fullerton or midweek starter, but we definitely see him as a starter. One of our scouts saw him throw a nine-inning outing in relief. He has stuff and command. I'm not going to say it's huge stuff, but he definitely has what we think is above-average stuff.”
Even if Gauna does move into a starter or more long relief role next season, he has established himself as a late-inning relief option down-the-road.
“Having that ability to pitch in the ninth inning is a good card to have in your back pocket,” Connelly said of Gauna.
Regardless of role, Gauna is likely to start the 2015 season with Low-A Beloit, where the A’s may decide to make him a tandem starter, at least at the beginning of the season. Gauna will be 21 throughout the 2015 regular season.