Gilmore Flourishing "Under the Radar"

EVERETT, Wash. - Quick trivia question: how many 31st round draft picks can you name? Nothing? Not one? If you're drawing a blank right now, you're probably not alone. Late round draft picks aren't exactly the cream of the baseball crop, generally speaking. These are the guys that end up either putting their college degrees to good use or making a career out of playing minor league ball.

Every now and then, though, one such player will slip between the cracks and prove to be a lucky find for a pro club. Hiding between the cracks in 2005 was current AquaSox pitcher Jeff Gilmore.

Gilmore is every bit as unsuspecting in person as his position in the 2005 draft would suggest. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he isn't exactly as intimidating as say, a Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez. This isn't much of a problem, however, for the Stanford grad who seems to relish his coy appearance.

"I knew because I don't throw really hard and I'm not really tall that I wasn't going to be a top draft pick for any team, including the Seattle Mariners," says Gilmore. "But I love the sneak attack. I love people thinking I'm not very good and then beating [their expectations] in spite of it."

Beating expectations has been Gilmore's specialty since walking onto the field with the Cardinal for the first time in 2003.

"I went to [Stanford] and I was the worst pitcher, in my coach's eyes, my first year," the right-hander recalls. "I only threw two innings [that year] and sooner or later, they figured it out and I threw over 105 innings the next two years in college and won 10 games in both those [years]."

The 2005 season was arguably the best of Gilmore's college career. Along with going 10-3, he posted a career low 3.76 ERA in 117 innings of work. He struck out 80 while walking 26 and hurled three complete games in his 18 appearances.

You may be wondering at this point how a guy like Gilmore gets it done.

Much of the Huntington Beach native's prowess on the mound comes from being a student of the game. Born in 1983, Gilmore was a full-fledged baseball fanatic by the time he was five, idolizing Dodger great, Orel Hershiser.

"Orel Hershiser's a guy who had three good—not great—pitches as a big league pitcher and he had an outstanding career," says Gilmore. "His 1988 season is kind of a blueprint for my life. The way he handled himself on that team and what he did—he threw 60 consecutive scoreless innings when the Dodgers needed it the most and with an offense that could only give him one or two runs a game. He could go out there and shut down the other team and I just think what he did on and off the field that year was nothing short of phenomenal."

Hershiser isn't the only baseball great that Gilmore has latched his studies onto. During his three years at Stanford, Gilmore had the chance to rub elbows with another Stanford alum and potential Hall-of-Famer, New York Yankees' starter, Mike Mussina.

"All three years I went to Stanford, he came back to the field and talked to everyone, position players and pitchers alike," says Gilmore. "He taught me how to throw his knuckle-curveball; it's a pitch I still throw today."

There's no shortage of respect from Gilmore when it comes to Mussina, but the youngster doesn't just idolize the ace for his pitching acumen.

"He's a remarkably sharp guy," says Gilmore. "[He's also] a remarkably talented guy, but what's most impressive is that he composes himself like anyone else walking down the street. The fame and the success of his big league career really haven't had an impact on the guy's personality and that's very impressive to me."

It's no surprise that Gilmore conducts himself in the same way. Though he hasn't exactly risen to the superstar status of his fellow Stanford alum, you get the feeling Gilmore works just as hard at polishing his off-field disposition as he does at honing his on-field performance. And while he may conduct himself as his idols do, he's careful not to compare himself to them. He's almost overly modest when critiquing his own work, but remains completely confident in his ability to realize his potential.

"I see myself as a guy who has to master multiple pitches on both sides of the plate in any type of count," says Gilmore. "I need to develop a cutter I can throw for a strike and sinker I can throw for a strike. I've got a good changeup I can do that with and I've got a good curveball. I think I'm two pitches from being in complete command of being able to move to the highest levels of this game."

For now, however, Gilmore is being cultivated in one of the lowest levels of the game, not that that bothers him. It hasn't bothered AquaSox fans much, either, who have seen Gilmore go 4-1 so far in 10 appearances and 44.2 innings of work. His 47 strikeouts rank second highest on the team and are even more impressive when contrasted to his mere 10 walks. His 4.84 ERA ranks highest among the starting rotation, though Everett Memorial Stadium has never been entirely kind to its host team's pitching staff. Still, Gilmore refuses to make excuses and prefers to stay mindful of the advantages of the park.

"It's a short park, but the reality is the other starting pitchers pitch in the same park as you, so it wouldn't be wise to lean on that as an excuse as a starting pitcher here," says Gilmore. "You may give up a long ball that wouldn't go out of many other ballparks in this league if you're pitching here but, by the same token, your hitters are going to hit balls out of there with a lot more ease."

Because of the small dimensions, Gilmore has been forced to modify his pitching style, though he doesn't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

"I pitched less than five percent inside when I was in college and here, you make a good pitch away to a right-handed hitter and if he's got power, [he can hit it] over the wall in right," says Gilmore.

He adds that the help he's received from pitching coach Marcos Garcia and manager Pedro Grifol has been invaluable to him in his continuing development.

"Pedro was a catcher and I've always believed that if you're a good catcher in this game, you can teach any aspect of the game because you're looking at the entire field when you're behind the plate," says Gilmore. "Marcos is a guy who threw a forkball when he was a pitcher and my changeup is nearly a forkball, so he knows what I'm doing when I pitch and I threw that changeup because it's so similar to the forkball that he threw.

"Right away when I threw my first bullpen and he saw that he said ‘you're just like me and that's exactly what I did because the hitter sees the ball up, but the ball sinks down because of its slow rotation and I know exactly what you're doing.' So right away we hit it off on pretty similar pitching philosophies and strategies."

One of the most effective strategies Gilmore and Garcia have put together has been the high frequency of Gilmore's off-speed pitches. Given his frame and lack of sheer velocity from the hill, Gilmore has had to mold himself into more of a Jamie Moyer than a Felix Hernandez.

"The changeup's my best pitch because I can throw it for a strike when I'm behind in the count," he explains. "When I get to a 2-1 count, 3-1 count—most pitchers have to go to their fastball because it's their highest percentage strike—I've got the luxury of throwing that changeup, which hitters don't like to swing at in fastball counts. That's what I would say my best attribute is in a mid-count pitch, but for a strikeout, I always throw a knuckle-curve."

Clearly, teachings from "The Moose," Mussina, have served Gilmore well. They will concurrently serve the AquaSox well as the team races for their first ever NWL pennant in the waning days of the season. Postseason or no, Gilmore has had a great year and feels optimistic about his chances of moving up in the organization…he just prefers to do so under the radar.

"Back to what I said earlier, I like being in the position to sneak attack people," says Gilmore. "I'd almost feel a lot more pressure if I was a higher pick. I'd rather just lay low in the shadows and play to the best of my ability.

"Sooner or later someone's going to say ‘who is this kid over here—he's doing well, let's take a look.' That's what I think about when I go to bed every night and when I come to the ballpark everyday. I try to find a way to get better so that people will turn their head and say ‘who is this Gilmore kid' that much faster."

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