SHANKS: I guess the last twelve months for you have been incredible.
GUNDERSON: I think it's every baseball player's dream to go through what I went through and not only for myself but with my teammates at Oregon State. We put together a good year and won a National Championship and I then was fortunate enough to get drafted by the Braves and start my pro career this year. These last twelve months have gone by really fast. There's been a lot of baseball memories that I'll obviously remember for the rest of my life.
SHANKS: It's one thing to be on the team that wins the College World Series, but you were on the mound when the final out was made. That had to make it even more special.
GUNDERSON: Oh yeah. To know that your teammates, and the coaching staff, and the University had confidence with you to go out there and pitch in front of 26,000 people with the National Championship game on the line, with guys on base, and one out... Obviously I think there are a lot of people who wished they were in my position. I was fortunate enough to be able to be in that position to get the job done for our team.
SHANKS: Have you always been a relievier?
GUNDERSON: Actually I started in high school. I started relieving my freshman year in college. I really never even got a sniff of starting. They wanted to put me in the pen my freshman year and I kind of rode it all the way through. Through summer ball I was a reliever and then all three years (at OSU) and now I'm a reliever here with the Braves.
SHANKS: Do you like that role?
GUNDERSON: Yeah I'm used to it. It's a lot different starting with body preparation. You have to be able to be ready to throw six or eight innings. As a reliever you come in some of the most pressured situations. You either get the job done or you don't. It's that simple. The biggest thing as a reliever I've learned over the years is to have a short-term memory. You're not going to do the job every time you go out there. You can't be perfect. You're human. So I just try to stay focused. I know what it takes when I have to go into a ballgame - more than likely I'm going into a pressure situation so I have to get the job done. If I don't, it's not like I was trying to fail. I just didn't have my stuff that day. More times than not you're going to get the ball the next day, and that kinda how it works. So if you do that and have a short-term memory and be ready to go that next day.
SHANKS: And is just being out there in that environment how you development getting the experience as a reliever?
GUNDERSON: Experience and just have the mental compacity to be able to deal with that. A lot of people may say certain things about you, but my response to that is, 'you can have my uniform and I'll put you in the eighth or ninth inning and see how you do. It's not the easiest situation to get yourself into. But have a big heart and a strong mental will and just go out there and get the job done. You have to be focused. You have to be focused every single time you go in. One small little hit could cost your team the game.
SHANKS: What were you thinking going into the draft as far as where you would go, what round, etc.?
GUNDERSON: I had high expectations for myself throughout the whole year. The biggest thing I wanted to do was to focus on my career at Oregon State. It's definitely in the back of your mind having scouts there all the time. But I thought I did a pretty good job with staying focused with what I was doing in college. I tried to tell myself to just let the draft take care of itself. Pro ball would be there down the road whether it was my junior year or senior year.
SHANKS: Did you feel you were ready?
GUNDERSON: Yeah, definitely. I thought I had just about every thing I could accomplish in college. I was very lucky. I've been blessed with some good teammates. Without them, if they don't have the lead, being able to come in at the end of the game, I don't get the accolades I got or the recognition I received. The majority of times I came in was when we had the lead. That makes it much more easy for people to recognize me as the closer.
SHANKS: What were you being told as far as the round you might go in?
GUNDERSON: Anywhere from third through the sixth, so I was right on the cusp with the Braves.
SHANKS: Did you know they were looking at you?
GUNDERSON: I did not. There were about three or four teams that I had not talked to the whole, entire year - no questionaires, no scout. I didn't know Kurt Kemp at the time, when he was on the west coast. He had a good relationship with our coach from being at Oregon State prior to that. I saw a Washington phone number on draft day in the fourth round and I was thinking it was Seattle or another area scout. It was Kurt Kemp and he said he was with the Braves, and I was completely shocked but completely happy. This is one of the best pitching organizations in the big leagues.
SHANKS: Who did you grow up watching?
GUNDERSON: I kind of followed my uncle (Eric). I had an uncle that pitched in the big leagues with the Giants, Mariners, and Rangers. I didn't really have a favorite team. I kind of went for where he went. I spent a lot of summers with him.
SHANKS: How much did that enter into your development?
GUNDERSON: Probably all. Just being around big league guys, I know how it is in the clubhouse. My brother and I would go to Texas for two weeks at a time and go in the locker room at 1 or 2 in the afternoon and go out there with them on the field and work with pitching coaches. My uncle was left-handed too, so it was an easy transition for him to work with me because our motions are pretty similar and we have the same pitches. It's real easy for him to work with me because he knows exactly what I'm doing. It's exactly what I did.
SHANKS: Did you get that from just watching him or did he teach that to you?
GUNDERSON: A little bit of both. A lot of days were spent on the side working on different stuff and working on the mental part of the game. I think that was the biggest part. Physically my size is obviously is different than a lot of guys out there. I'm one of the smallest guys probably in our organization. But that's something I've never let affect me. It's about going and getting people out. I've watched him do it. I've watched other guys in the big leagues get it done.
SHANKS: Your delivery is a little different. Did you feel you had to do that because you're not a tall, hard-throwing lefty?
GUNDERSON: I've always thrown like that. I've always had the little wrinkle in my arm with the little whip in it and my high leg kick. It's just something I've done since day one, since I started pitching. I've never changed anything. It's just natural. I guess it's just in the genes with my family and obviously my uncle.
SHANKS: Is it real similar to the way he pitched?
GUNDERSON: Very similar. Same arm whip and motion. It's kind of scary when you think about it and see the two videos side by side. It's very similar.
SHANKS: It's almost like a sling action. Is that fair to describe it that way?
GUNDERSON: I would say so. I'm just below a three-quarters delivery, but I would say I kind of sling it or whip it in there with my arm. It's just something that has always come naturally to me. I'm definitely not changing it, and the Braves have not said one thing about it.
SHANKS: What all do you throw?
GUNDERSON: Fastball, changeup, and slider. I'll get up there to 86-89 with my fastball. My key is to work the ball in and out. I would say I have good movement from where my arm slot is with all my pitches. I change speeds on fastballs and get more sink. I just try to mix it up, go up and down, in and out, and keep them off balance.
SHANKS: The Braves are going after more college relievers. Is it better for you knowing that they want people who know how to handle this role?
GUNDERSON: I think it's huge. I don't know how many guys that went to college and were strictly relievers. I don't want to say I have an advantage over anyone. I'm going to work just as hard. I'm not going to be handed anything to me. But I do think in the back of my mind that being a reliever for three years in one of the nation's best conferences, day in and day out pitching against some of the best players with aluminum bats in a relief role and in pressure situations helps. Coming here, in my first season of pro ball, it wasn't that much of an adjustment for me. I didn't have to worry about throwing more innings than I was used to. I didn't have to worry about being extended. I was in the same exact role that I had in college. So it was about putting a different uniform on and lacing up the same cleats and putting on the same glove and doing the same thing I did at Oregon State. They told me to do the same things I did at Oregon State. Get up, stretch, throw, and be in the game. It's baseball. It's at a higher level, but it's much the same. There's really nothing different to do.
SHANKS: You got to Danville and Rome last year. Can you make the jump to Myrtle Beach?
GUNDERSON: I want to obviously come out here and have a good spring training. I think I'm off on the right foot. I've had two really good bullpens. Obviously I want to be at the highest level possible. If they think it's necessary for me to be back in Rome for a little bit and then jump to Myrtle Beach, then so be it. In the back of my mind, I would love to be in Myrtle Beach. I think I proved to the organization I could throw in Rome. I think I threw 24 innings there and did pretty well for my first summer out.
SHANKS: Do you think Myrtle Beach would be a challenge to you?
GUNDERSON: I think any level is a test. I've talked to some guys in the Carolina League. You only have seven other teams, so they get use to seeing you. I think that would be a real good test. As a reliever, I could be in three or four times a week. So I could be facing the same team over and over again. I'm just going to go out there and do what I've always done - and that's trying to get people out and not do anything different. If my name is on the Myrtle Beach roster, I'll pack my bad and do it there.
SHANKS: We saw Will Startup come from college and zip up the farm system last year. A college reliever can make a quick jump.
GUNDERSON: I met Will on Wednesday on my first full workout and talked with him for about ten minutes. He's a real nice guy. I think I would love to follow what he's done. It's a slow process though. You have to take it one day at a time.
SHANKS: Do you want to be a closer in the big leagues, or do you think you can be a good lefty specialist?
GUNDERSON: To be honest, I just want to make it to the big leagues. I'm definitely not a prototypical closer. I'm not going to go out there and hit 95 and just blow fastballs by people. I'm just not going to do that. Occasionally I can get a fastball by someone, but that's not what I'm trying to do out there. So if the Braves give me a callup in a year or two years or three years and say I'm going to be a lefty specialist and face one or two hitters a game - fine with me. I know from experience, being near my uncle, how much fun it is up there. It's unbelievable to be there and know that you're in the major leagues.
SHANKS: How often do you talk to your uncle?
GUNDERSON: Very often. I just talked to him yesterday. I keep in close contact with him. It's funny when I'm struggling and he sees that, he almost knows exactly what I'm doing wrong - without even watching me. It's scary to think that, but it's true. He knows because he use to do the same exact thing. He gives me good advice.
SHANKS: It must be great to have that resource.
GUNDERSON: I'm sure not many in these locker rooms have that luxury to be able to say you have a relative that played professional baseball. He's one phone call away.
SHANKS: Is he going to come see you?
GUNDERSON: I think he's going to try. He's still out west.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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