Better late than never for Gac

SAN JOSE, CA - Ian Gac has always been known for his outstanding power potential, but he entered the 2008 season with a career .222 batting average. This year, the 22-year-old has flashed both average and power, batting .308 with 25 homers and 83 RBI between the two Single-A levels. Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with the first baseman for a Q&A session.

First baseman Ian Gac entered the 2008 season with a career .222 batting average over five minor league seasons.

Gac, who was the Rangers' 23rd round pick in the 2003 MLB Draft, had played just 55 games above the Low-A level. Those games came in 2006. Gac spent his 2007 season between Low-A Clinton and short-season Spokane.

Most minor league hitters that bat .222 over five professional seasons would be released, regardless of their draft position. But the Rangers remained patient with Gac, largely because of his phenomenal raw power.

The Rangers sent Gac to Single-A Clinton – for the fourth year in a row – to open up the 2008 campaign. It didn't take long for the Rangers to see that their patience was finally paying off.

Gac wrecked the Midwest League's pitching at a record pace, batting .395 with nine home runs in 86 April at-bats. While Gac eventually cooled down, he still wound up batting .310 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs in 67 games in Clinton. The LumberKings home run record – for an entire season – sits at 22.

In late-June, the slugger earned his second promotion to High-A Bakersfield. Gac had previously put up a .188/.242/.346 line with 97 strikeouts in 208 at-bats with the Blaze in 2006.

Once again, Gac is proving himself to be a completely different hitter. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound power-hitter has batted .304 with six home runs in 29 High-A games this season.

In the past, Gac had strictly been a power hitter. This season, he has developed into a hitter with plus game power. Although he still strikes out quite a bit [113 in 95 games], Gac has been more selective at the plate, leading to 45 walks. He has also begun to take the ball the other way. Gac has slugged outside fastballs for opposite field home runs in each of the last two nights in Stockton.

The 2008 season may be Gac's sixth [fifth full] in the minor leagues, but at 22-years-old, he is technically age-appropriate for the High-A Cal League.

If Gac keeps hitting at his current pace, he may even be young for his league – the Texas League – within the next month.

Jason Cole: Now that you have gotten to Bakersfield, how do you feel about the way you've performed so far?

Ian Gac: I feel like it has gone alright. I've had some ups and downs – it's a little tougher here for sure. I think the pitching is a little tougher. There are definitely more guys throwing stuff with some movement, some sink, cut, or whatever. But I feel like I've done pretty well. It's not quite the hot start I had in Clinton, but overall pretty well.

Cole: Home run-wise, it took you a bit to get going here, but you've started hitting them again over the last couple of weeks. Do you feel there's a reason for that?

Gac: Not really. I've been a little late on some fastballs early in the count. I've been missing a lot more pitches than I had been in Clinton. I'm getting pitches early, but I've been fouling them off instead of squaring them up. I think that is a little bit of a reason why. But lately, I've had three or four in the last week I think.

I'm starting to feel a little bit better now. I had a couple – they have a big wall, or a green monster in Lake Elsinore – where I kind of got robbed there. There was another one somewhere else. There's no real reason, I would just say that I was missing some balls earlier that I hadn't been missing in the past.

Cole: When I spoke to you in Clinton, you pointed out that this year was your fourth season there. What has been the difference for you this season?

Gac: I can't really point to one thing. I think for sure, last year being in Spokane with the manager there – Tim Hulett – he helped me a lot with the mechanics of my swing, shortening my swing. He helped me with a better approach at the plate. That was something I was able to work on all season with him last year.

I went to Hawaii and hit pretty well over there and then came out of the gates pretty well this season. I think that for sure, and also learning the strike zone a little bit better. I have been able to lay off some bad pitches that I wasn't able to in the past, although I still chase my fair share here and there. But it's a lot less than I have in the past.

Gac has a much improved approach in 2008.
Cole: What was that experience like, getting to play winterball in Hawaii?

Gac: It was unbelievable. It was one of the best experiences of my career. Playing every day in a tropical island and getting paid to be there for two months, it's pretty nice. It's a good experience and there was a lot of good talent over there that I was able to compete with.

Cole: Two years ago when Jose Vallejo, John Whittleman, and a few others were in Hawaii, they were in the middle of an earthquake. You didn't get caught in something like that, did you?

Gac: I remember that. We didn't have any earthquakes or anything like that, but I did go boogie boarding with some 15-foot waves that almost swallowed me up.

Cole: What has been your main focus at the plate, especially since you've been here?

Gac: Putting the ball in play consistently. That is definitely the big thing for me. I've had a few too many strikeouts, especially lately. That's always my main focus this year in general. If I'm putting the ball in play, I'm hitting a lot better than when I'm striking out. I think I have over 100 strikeouts right now. That's my main focus, putting the ball in play hard and consistently. That's my main focus always.

Cole: You played pretty well in Spokane last year. Did your season there help to clear your mind a bit and prepare you mentally for this year?

Gac: Yeah. I didn't hit for the best average there, but I did hit for a lot more power than I ever have in the past, in a short season. I was definitely able to go there and feel like I stood out. I gained a lot of confidence. I was actually kind of the same age, but I had already been in pro ball for four years, so I felt like I was a little bit older. I was a more experienced player than all the other guys.

That kind of gave me a lot more confidence for last year and then coming into winter ball. I did well over there and it gave me more confidence. That was a big part of it too – feeling the confidence. In past years, I had struggled real bad, so the confidence was definitely kind of an issue for me.

Cole: How do you feel you've improved defensively over the course of this season?

Gac: I feel pretty good in the field. I haven't improved a ton, but over in Clinton, I was working with Jason Hart, the first base coach over there. He's an ex-first baseman. He was working with me every day on picks and stuff like that. I've been better at picking the ball this year. They worked with me on my throws to second. I'm always a little shaky on that, but I think I've definitely improved this year for sure with turning the double play. Also pop-ups – they definitely worked with me on that in Clinton too. I think those things have definitely improved overall. It's just kind of like everything has improved a little bit.

Cole: You had a little bit of time at third base in Clinton this year. Had you ever played there before?

Gac: Yeah, I played five games in 2005. I remember [Emerson] Frostad got ejected a couple of times, so I had to come in and fill in. I think it was Casey Benjamin or Tug Hulett – one of those guys had back spasms, so I had to fill in over there for a few games. I definitely had kind of a rough time over there. This year I did a little bit better, although I only had one ball hit to me the whole time this year. That made it a little easier.

Cole: How much different is third base from first?

Gac: As far as fielding – it's the hot corner or whatever – there are probably more balls hit hard to you. The biggest difference is having to make the throw afterwards. At first, I have to make a throw once every five games or so – going to second base – if even that much. At third base, there's always the throw element to it. And you have to play in a lot more with the guys that bunt. You have to know the speed of the runner a lot more. At first base, you just knock it down and flip it to the pitcher. You don't have to worry so much about the speed of the runner. My job is to cover it.

Cole: Now that you have reached Bakersfield, what are you looking for personally from now until the end of the season?

Gac: Putting the ball in play consistently and definitely getting more consistent with runners in scoring position. I definitely want more RBIs. I have a personal goal of getting to over 100 RBIs and maybe 30 home runs. That would be nice too. I just do what I can in putting consistent swings on the ball. The rest will take care of itself.

Cole: After the call-ups of Chris Davis and Max Ramirez, Frisco doesn't really have a first baseman right now. With you being a guy that has been around the organization for a few years, have the Rangers mentioned anything about you possibly getting a late-season or playoff promotion to Frisco?

Gac: Before I moved here, there was some talk that I might jump straight to Frisco. They weren't real sure what the situation was. When I moved up, they said that there is a possibility that I might move to Frisco at the end of the year depending on how I do here. Hopefully I can keep doing pretty well here and force the issue a little bit.

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