When thinking of the St. Louis Cardinals’ left-handed pitching prospects, the words that come to mind are pitchability and guile. Springfield Cardinals left-handed starter Austin Gomber fits the mold.
Gomber, 22, has been one of the most consistent starters in the Cardinals organization since being drafted in the fourth round from Florida Atlantic University in 2014. The former Owls standout is armed with the traditional fastball (sits high 80s-low-90s, can touch 93-94), change (80-82) and curve mix (76-77), and possesses the ideal workhorse build, standing a wholesome 6-foot-5. Better yet, Gomber has the results to back up his imposing figure on the mound.
The southpaw, who is currently on the disabled list with a finger injury, has logged 120 2/3 innings (averages over 6 1/3 innings per start) pitched between Springfield and High-A Palm Beach in 2016. Gomber has a 7-8 record with 2.69 ERA with an outstanding 109-29 strikeout to walk ratio in 19 starts. He also has a 1.04 WHIP in his back pocket while holding opposing batters to minuscule .219 average.
After getting a brief taste of the Texas League, The Cardinal Nation’s July Co-Minor League Pitcher of the Month returned for seven one-hit innings against NW Arkansas (KC) on July 30th before landing on the DL with a finger issue three days later. Gomber is said to be back throwing this week, but a specific timetable for his return is still uncertain.
In the exclusive interview, Gomber reflects on his breakout season with Peoria last year, discusses his time in big-league spring training camp, his arsenal of pitches, and goals.
Derek Shore: How do you look back on 2015, a year in which you were named Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year (with Alex Reyes)?
Austin Gomber: "I've got fond memories of last year in Peoria in what I was able to accomplish, but I've moved past it. It was great (time) in Low-A. In grand scheme of things, I haven't accomplished much. I just try to move past it and focus on my next outing."
DS: What made you so consistent throughout last year with Peoria?
AG: "I think I was just comfortable and just hit that groove. I figured myself out - what I wanted to do. I was able to consistently go out there and do it."
DS: What did you take away from big-league spring training camp?
AG: "That was awesome to be able to be around the veteran guys like that and just learn from them. It was more mental stuff. Physically, they harped on 'Everybody is different.' 'You don't need to try to be like me because you're not.'
"Mentally, it's all the same, and you just try to pick their brain and understand mentally what gets them into situations in which they are able to maintain success at the highest level."
DS: Two guys who are similar to you as fellow lefties are Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney. Do you kind of model your craft after both those two guys?
AG: "I wouldn't say model, but I definitely recognize the similarities between them and us. They have been able to pitch here and at the highest level. I would love to learn from them to just find out what it takes to get there (big league level).
"I wouldn't necessarily say I model what I do after those guys.
DS: To cap off your spring training you pitched against your alma mater Florida Atlantic What was that experience like for you?
AG: "That was awesome. Like I said at the time, that was probably the most fun I've ever had on a baseball field to be able to go out against those guys. I probably knew about half the team and the coaching staff.
“It was game one of spring training in big-league camp and to be able to start game one of spring training - you put all that together, and it's going to be a pretty good day. To have a good outing was awesome.
DS: You were nothing short of consistent for Palm Beach. How would you characterize your time with the Beach Birds?
AG: "I felt like at the beginning of the year, I wasn't able to get into a groove. I was struggling a little bit, and I think I was pressing a little bit to have a good year. I felt like I could pitch here (at Double-A) and that I needed to be here. However, in all reality, I just needed to work on what was going to help me in the long run.
"I was able to realize that about a month, a month and a half ago. I turned the corner, and once I came here and got a taste of what it was like, I went back there (in Palm Beach) hungry with the mentality of "Alright, I got to do whatever I got to do to get back up.'
DS: Could you talk about the challenges of pitching in the Florida State League this summer?
AG: "It's just like everywhere else. It's baseball, man. It's a little bit different because you don't get the fans and the weather is a little bit different. It's my home state, so I'm from there, and I'm pretty comfortable with the area.
"For me, it was just figuring out what I had to do in my game to get to here and then do it."
DS: It seemed you have really progressed with efficiency and pitching deep into games this season. Has that been an area you've emphasized in 2016?
AG: "Yeah, that just part of maturing as a pitcher. Just trying to throw more first pitch strikes. That was one of the things they wanted to see me do. Attack more hitters early. Over the past month, I've been able to do that and as you've seen - it's allowed me to get deeper into games.
"I think it comes along with just maturing as a pitcher, player, and as a person. Hopefully, I can just keep building on that."
DS: Has there been a noticeable difference in competition in the Texas League compared to FSL?
AG: "I've had two pretty good outings. There's definitely a difference. There's better players every time you go up. Just because I've had two good outings doesn't mean that this league is any better than the Florida State League. It's better just by looking around at the guys in our clubhouse, so you've got to assume it's better for other organizations.
"For me, I'm confident in what I'm able to do, my ability, and I feel like if I execute to my plan - I'm going to be able to have success in whatever league I'm in. That's kind of the way I look at it."
DS: You mentioned during the Winter Warm Up that your off-season focus was to get stronger and in better shape. Now that we're in the dog days of summer, do you feel that paying dividends?
AG: "Absolutely. I feel like I'm in better shape right now than I was at this point last year. I'm able to hold my velocity deeper into games and hold my velocity throughout the season; I still feel strong. At this point, I have about 15 more innings than what I threw last year.
"Last year, I was kind of dead. I was dragging a little bit, but I feel stronger, and I feel like I could go for a couple of more months. For me, that just proves what I did in the offseason helped, and I just try to continue to build on that."
DS: You have a fastball, change, and curve in your arsenal. What improvements have you made with each of these pitches this year?
AG: "My fastball command has gotten a lot better this year. Even more than last year; I was able to have success last year, but when you're in Low-A, you get away with a lot of mistakes. For me, my fastball command has probably been my biggest improvement throughout this year so far.
"I'm still working to throw my curveball earlier, earlier in games, and earlier in counts for strikes to build that respect and when I bury it in the dirt, I'll get the respect of the hitters, and they'll be swinging at it. (Getting swings and misses) is still probably the thing that is hit or miss for me.
"I feel like this year my changeup has gotten more consistent. I'm able to throw it behind in the count, kind of equalize, and get myself back into counts. It all comes down to fastball command. That's been the biggest step for me and that's allowed me to get here."
DS: You added the curveball to your fastball/change arsenal last year. According to a lot of folks, it has taken huge strides. What has been your focus in your second full season of throwing it?
AG: "Last year, I solely used it as a strikeout pitch because I didn't throw it for strikes a lot. It was always a buried 0-2 pitch, and it worked for me there. Getting in the higher levels, the competition gets fiercer and just being able to throw that for a strike early in the count. That's what I've been focused on with that.
"Now, I still feel like I have the putaway curveball when I'm ahead in the count, but throwing it early in the count shifts the hitter's focus and shows them something else."
DS; I understand you just throw a 4-seam fastball, but have you ever considered incorporating a sinker or cutter down the road?
AG: "It's been talked about, but right now we are just working on what I have. The way I look at it, I'd rather have three above-average pitches than have two of them be below-average. I'm focused on not mastering, but I'm focused on making the arsenal I have right now as good as I can possibly have it before I focus on start adding things."
DS: I noticed you have been busting hitters inside with your stuff lately. Could you explain that strategy?
AG: "I feel like, for me, being a left-handed pitcher and a lot of lefties throw away and throw off-speed away. I want to own that side of the plate. That's always been, for my whole life, a big part of my game and dominating that inside part of the plate - opens up the outside part of the plate and obviously for off-speed pitches or what not.
“(Luis) Cruz came up to me before the game (his most recent start) because I had never seen these guys. I was like, 'Well that's what we want to do, anyway.' That was the game plan, and we stuck with it.
"That's what I pride myself on - being able to dominate that half of the plate."
DS: Do you have any particular goals for the remainder of this season?
AG: "Help this team win a Texas League Championship. Every year I've been on a team - they've gone to the playoffs, so it's been fun. With this place and the crowd support, it gets - it would probably be pretty cool in the playoffs.
"Just continue to keep getting better every day. Learn from Simo (Springfield pitching coach Jason Simontacchi), the staff, and the other guys who have experienced this level. Guys like Weave (Luke Weaver), Mo (Andrew Morales), and Ponce (Daniel Poncedeleon). Then just at the end of the day, help those guys win in any way I can do it."
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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