Reuniting with his pitching coach from last season at short-season Vermont has been just what Beloit Snappers' reliever Koby Gauna needed to get his season in order. As a result, the Oakland A's 2014 20th-round selection from Cal State Fullerton has become a force in the Snappers' bullpen during his first full professional season.
The 6'3'' right-hander, who opened the season at extended spring training while serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse, began his 2015 campaign earlier this month in the Midwest League. That meant reconnecting with pitching coach Steve Connelly, who coached Gauna in 2014 with short-season Vermont.
“When I first got out here, my mechanics weren’t in sync and we went over some video we had from last year,” Gauna said. “Ever since we did that, he has helped me straighten it out and get smoother. It had to do with my hand-timing in the stretch. My hands were messing up the way my arm was timing up with my body. Now I’m on time and everything is where it should be.”
Gauna has pitched well of late for the Snappers, posting a pair of scoreless relief appearances during the team’s road series at Burlington. During the final game of the four-game slate, he came on in the ninth to pick up the save.
Beloit manager Fran Riordan has enlisted Gauna’s services at various points in games this season. It’s a role the Torrance, California, native has enjoyed.
“They like me in the 'pen and I like coming out of the 'pen late in games when everything’s on the line,” Gauna said. “I used to just pitching the back-end of games [in college] and now I’m just coming in whenever they need me. That’s a little bit of change, but I like it because it keeps me ready to go.”
Through 16.2 innings in the Midwest League, Gauna has allowed just four earned runs on 13 hits while striking out nine and walking just one. His 0.84 WHIP and 2.33 GO/AO bode well for future success as he moves up the organizational ladder.
Gauna said he has sharpened up one of his off-speed pitches, which has served him well against the more advanced hitters in Low-A ball.
“At extended I was working on improving my slider, because I needed that in my pocket,” Gauna said. “The coaches that were there and Conn[elly] that’s here have really helped me develop that and made me a better pitcher overall.
“I’m mixing up my pitches pretty well and establishing a fastball, which is what they preach. The hitters are definitely better here than they were in Arizona and are a lot more disciplined, so that’s challenging me on a daily basis.”
After a brief stint with the AZL A’s in 2014, Gauna made 12 relief appearances with Vermont and posted a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 innings. He was a groundball machine and he didn’t allow many base runners, as evidenced by his 0.93 WHIP.
Moving up to full-season ball this summer, Gauna has handled the adjustment well by featuring the more complete arsenal of pitches. In games, he is currently flashes his fastball that has a lot of sink, a splitter and a slider.
“The hitters are more disciplined than I’m used to seeing and they definitely hit every mistake,” he said. “That means I really need to have a sharp slider, so they can’t cancel that out of my arsenal. I have confidence in that now, too.”