2010 MLB Draft Q&A: Kevin Gausman

Possessing some of the best stuff the Colorado HS baseball world has seen in many years, pitcher Kevin Gausman is seeking to make his mark in a draft class deep in RHP. We sat down with the LSU commit to talk about his stuff, the draft, and the complexities of being a first-round draft prospect from a state so far from the national baseball scene.

I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2010 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.

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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you still 6'4", 185?

Kevin Gausman: Well, I play basketball and I lose some weight from that, and I'm also coming back from a cold that I lost twelve pounds from. I'm about 178 lbs right now, but I'm sure I'll be back fully soon.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Tell me a little bit about you and other sports – you just mentioned basketball, but are there any more?

Kevin Gausman: When I was younger I played football, tried some other sports here and there, but I kind of settled down to baseball and basketball. I've always been more serious with baseball, but just Iove playing basketball and it's fun because a lot of my friends play it, too.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When was it that you realized that you were pretty good at baseball – that you could actually do something in the future with your talent?

Kevin Gausman: You know it was kind of weird. Growing up, I was never the best player on my team. I did play on some really good teams when I was younger, we won the national championship when I was nine. I was more of an outfielder than a pitcher when I was younger, but I wasn't a very good hitter at all. I was an okay pitcher, but I was never really the best player on my team. I think I kind of set myself apart from people just last year, my junior year. I started hearing people talk about me, got some interest from schools, and pretty soon I get out there on the showcase circuit and it got kind of crazy – I was right there with some of the top guys in the country and it hit me. I said to myself "whoa, you're just a kid from Colorado and you're out here with guys from Florida holding your own." I really didn't think I was anything special until then. I actually wasn't on the map at all until I went to the Perfect Game showcase in Minneapolis this past June, and that just opened a bunch of doors for me college-wise. Everything took off from there.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you remember the first time you hit 90 MPH?

Kevin Gausman: Yeah, I actually do. I was going into my sophomore year, I remember I had been in the high 80s for a while. We were playing a game at my high school, and we have an old beat-up radar gun. I really didn't believe it, but my dad runs the scorebook and he told me after the game "I hope you know you hit 90," and I was doing backflips – it was pretty crazy!

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Colorado isn't known as a hotbed of baseball, so do you feel like you've had to work harder to get the recognition you've gotten than kids that can play year-round ball in California or Florida?

Kevin Gausman: Oh definitely. Growing up in Colorado you know that you have everything against you, especially if you're playing travel-ball. You see these guys from other states and they're always bigger, they're always stronger, they always run faster, and they always have better arms, so if you really want to be great you're going to have to work pretty hard to get where those guys are, or maybe even better than them.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What has all that travel been like for you?

Kevin Gausman: It's been pretty crazy. This summer I think it felt like I was gone from Colorado for a month and a half. I'd get home for two or three days here and there, but if you really want to get seen, especially being from Colorado, you've got to go places. That's just the way it is.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: As long as we're on the subject of your homestate, who's your favorite player from Colorado?

Kevin Gausman: Definitely Roy Halladay.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You must be pretty excited about college and going to LSU. It's a great program and you get the chance to play for Coach Mainieri. What is it specifically that drew you to them?

Kevin Gausman: Honestly I really wanted to play where baseball was rich in tradition. I wanted a place where, if I do go there, every year that I'm going to be there we have a chance to win a national championship. I really liked all of the guys that are going there with me in my class, I met most of them and they're great baseball players and great guys. Coach Mainieri is just a first-class guy, he treats you like you're one of his kids, it's ridiculous how well everyone treats you down there. If you're a baseball player they fall head over heels for you, and when I went down there I fell in love with it.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you though much about the draft at all?

Kevin Gausman: I try not to think about it – it's a long way away. I try just to focus on high school ball right now and hopefully getting the chance to win a state championship this year. Whatever happens, happens, a lot of things can happen between now and then.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you even considered turning pro? When you think about it, what do you picture – what's your dream?

Kevin Gausman: Well, I know that the first couple of years aren't going to be very exciting. My brother went through it – he played two years of single-A ball with the Royals – so I've been there, seen their parks, and know that the minors aren't anything glamorous. When I think about it I don't think about that though, I think about me throwing in Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and just being THE guy. That's what I like to think about even though it's far-fetched right now. Being a starter or a closer I'd just love to be in the big leagues, and that's what I dream about.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Why did your brother stop playing? He seemed to being doing well enough to hang on.

Kevin Gausman: My brother seemed to have a lot against him. He was a small guy, 5'10", 170 lbs, but he had the stuff. I think it really came down to a decision between him and a high school kid that they had given a bunch of money to, and he really didn't expect to play pro-ball, so everything that he did was an honor for him. He had already graduated from college so having his degree made baseball just something fun that he did.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How does his experience color your approach?

Kevin Gausman: He's taught me a lot – some grips and those sort of things, but mostly just about pitching in general. When he was in college he would talk to me about pitching to certain hitters and all of that, and I was just kind of dumbfounded by all of that stuff, I would just throw hard, let it go, and wherever it went, it went. He's helped me prepare mentally and physically, and everything he got in the minors he brought back and taught me. He's actually the varsity pitching coach at one of our rival high schools, so he's teaching them now.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Wow, your rivals? You can't be too happy with that, can you?

Kevin Gausman: Yeah, there's a lot of talk across the dinner table.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you heard from all 30 teams?

Kevin Gausman: I'm almost there, I've been busy with basketball, but I've been trying to get in all my in-home visits as soon as possible so I can just play in the spring and not have to worry about any of that. I remember my first one, which was with the Twins, and I didn't really know what was going on, what to expect, or anything.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you had any contact from the Yankees?

Kevin Gausman: Yes, I have.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Tell me about your arsenal. What do you throw out there on the mound?

Kevin Gausman: I throw two different fastballs - a two-seam 91-93 MPH and I also throw a four-seam that's usually 93-95 MPH. All of my fastballs have natural sink on them. My slider is probably 77-81 MPH and I kind of throw from a different arm-slot with my slider. I like to grip it, think fastball the whole way, and throw it as hard as I can. I wish it was a little bit harder, but that will come. I also throw a curveball, and it's probably not one of my best pitches, but I just like having that with my slider, you know being able to change levels on the hitter. It's usually 75-77 MPH and more of a 1-to-7 break. I throw kind of a splitfinger changeup – I use a split grip and bring up my other two fingers on the side, just something that I came up with on my own.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Which of them is your out-pitch?

Kevin Gausman: I'm a fastball pitcher, I love to throw fastballs, and if I could throw a fastball every pitch I would. I love my slider, and I just finally fine-tuned my changeup to the point where I'm comfortable throwing any of those three pitches whenever I want. I'd say the only pitch that's not a go-to pitch is my curveball, but I'd rather throw fastballs to everybody.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your personality when you're on the field?

Kevin Gausman: I'm mostly calm. At points in the game I get really hyped up, but in big situations I'm usually calm. I've learned that when you're trying to muscle-up and gun it by someone, then you tend to grip the ball harder, which does nothing except make the ball go slower and straighter. So I just take a couple of breaths, calm down, and just let it go. Most of the times I get hyped up are when I'm throwing a slider or changeup because that's when I'm trying to throw the heck out of it and just let the grip do its work.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What was it like pitching in Petco for Aflac, and then traveling to Venezuela with Team USA's 18U team?

Kevin Gausman: It was amazing. Petco is unbelievable, once you get out there in a big league park it's amazing just how big these places are. I mean they look HUGE with nobody even in the seats! You just imagine people packing the park and actually playing against some of the Major Leaguers that play there – it's pretty crazy. Going down to Venezuela was something that I will never forget. It was a completely different world down there from the general lifestyle to the way they played the game. They're such raw talents – they'll miss a pitch you throw right down the middle, but then hit a pitchout 400 feet. Hats off to those guys though, they have to grind through that lifestyle. You come back and look at what you have here in the states and you just kind of shut your mouth, you know?

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Being a guy who pitches primarily off his fastball, did you find yourself having to pitch differently when playing against the best US players at showcases or international competition?

Kevin Gausman: Definitely. In some of the showcases you could throw all fastballs and get away with it, but when you face those elite guys you can't get away with it. They see 94 MPH every other week, so it's like seeing 85 MPH to them. Especially for Team USA because we had tryouts for three weeks and then were gone for another two weeks in Venezuela, so for a month straight every single guy we threw in batting practice was 91-92 MPH, 96 MPH here and there. So it was definitely eye-opening, and some of the guys were just amazing hitters, but it was really fun.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who are the players that you look up to in terms of their skills or the way they play?

Kevin Gausman: I really look up to Papelbon, I think he's the perfect definition of a competitor. I think he can go from messing around in the bullpen, a goofy guy with the dances and all of that, to someone who is a bulldog on the mound with that intimidating stare.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Speaking of the pros, being from Colorado is it safe to assume you're a Rockies fan?

Kevin Gausman: Definitely, but it also depends on how they're doing, I'm not going to lie. [laughs]

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you ever heard scouts compare your game to anyone else, or say that something about you reminds them of another pitcher?

Kevin Gausman: Yeah a little bit, I think the most common thing I get is Pedro Martinez.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Wow, that's pretty serious praise!

Kevin Gausman: Yeah, it's kind of amusing [laughs]. Every once in a while I'll get "you're the best prospect to come out of Colorado since Roy back in the day," and I'm just like "whoa!" That's pretty amazing to hear that, and you just have to not let it get to your head.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you know of any other Major Leaguers from Colorado?

Kevin Gausman: Brad Lidge and Chase Headley are both Colorado boys, but there really aren't that many.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal any pitch from someone in your draft class whose would it be?

Kevin Gausman: I'd steal Jameson Taillon's hammer curve because it's big league status already and comes in 84-86 MPH.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What's the biggest thing you want to focus on going into this season, both for the team and individually?

Kevin Gausman: We have a lot of talent on my team this year, and we really should have a chance at a state championship so I've just got to keep them motivated. We need our young guys to step up and I think they're ready to, so I think we've got a pretty good chance. Individually I just want to be healthy. I'm going to be the go-to guy for my team, our success is going to rely a lot on my success because I'm the number one pitcher, so I'm going to have to pitch a lot of innings and that's something I've always wanted to do. The other day my coach told me that I better get ready because he's going to strap a saddle on me and ride me all the way to a state championship.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: That brings up an issue that is debated every year with regards to high school prospects. Very often we hear of pitchers racking up pitch counts that would be considered criminal in the Major Leagues, all in the name of winning high school games. How do you personally deal with balancing the desire for success now with the future you have considering your talent and career path?

Kevin Gausman: I personally have always been one to throw a lot of innings, so my arm is pretty rubber right now, knock on wood. I think some of the guys don't really care about what a kid's future is, they've got to win to keep their job and they're going to do whatever it takes. It's the same way in college, too. You have to look out for yourself in the end – I usually don't let my pitching coach let me go past 75 pitches for my first couple of starts unless I'm doing something amazing. Later in the season he lets us go a little further, but even then I don't think he'd let any of us go past 100 or 110 pitches.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you have any superstitions?

Kevin Gausman: We don't do anything as a team for baseball, but for basketball when we're in the huddle and they're announcing the other team's starters and all that, my best friend and I always have a thumb war. My record is pretty bad now, but that's something we always do. Individually for baseball I always do a crow-hop over the mound to start every inning and I also put a plus sign on the side of the mound with my foot. When I was younger I used to get really down on myself, so I came up with drawing a plus sign to remind myself to always be positive and look on the bright side of things, and that's really helped me a lot. I also do a little chest bump and look up, a little prayer, and I've been doing that since I was in seventh grade.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Finally, what's this whole process like for you as a recently-turned-19 year old? Is playing professional ball right out of high school something you would consider?

Kevin Gausman: It's going to be pretty tough. If I do stay healthy and everything goes well, I think it's going to be a really tough decision. I try not to think about it, but it's pretty scary sometimes you know, every once in a while someone in my class will say something like "you can pay for my lunch, don't worry, you'll have a bunch of money in a couple of years," and it's kind of funny, but at the same time you have to say to yourself "I'm not going to think about that until it comes." It's definitely kind of weird to get used to. My family has always said that after high school you go to college, that's just what you do, but now they're thinking I'm going to have to take another look at it. If it is something that isn't going to come around again, I may have to take it. So it's going to be interesting and I think it's going to be fun to go through all of this.

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