Drew ReviewMay 15, 2012
If indeed we should heed the advice to never judge a book by its cover, then the chapters on Wisconsin Timber Rattlers pitcher Drew Gagnon (Gan-yo) are chock full of enough plot twists to keep any interested page turner guessing.
“I always thought I was going to be a hitter when I was growing up,” said Gagnon, a right-hander who played collegiately at Long Beach State before the Brewers tabbed him in the third round of the 2011 draft. “But when Long Beach came looking at me as a pitcher, I had to say, OK, I’m probably going to have to make it as a pitcher because no one is looking at me as a hitter.
“I was told by the pitching coach that I can make it, and they liked me not because I throw hard, but because I play the game and make it look easy.”
That’s where the 6-4 Gagnon (@Dgags24) can be deceiving. Baseball America rated Gagnon the 23rd best prospect in the Milwaukee system with a fastball that can touch in the mid 90’s at times. But there is no herky-jerky violent thrust with each pitch to the plate. Instead Gagnon goes about his business on the bump in almost robotic fashion, and what a hitter sees in the windup isn’t necessarily what he gets.
“I try to throw the ball pretty hard, and then I go back and look at video, and I’m an easy thrower,” said Gagnon. “I’ve been told that my whole life. That’s what keeps you out here longer. I try to throw the ball as hard as I can, then I go back and look and it’s soft.”
“Strikeouts are nice, but I like getting the outs and I’ll take any way I can to get outs,” said Gagnon. “The way I’m working right now is I’m pitching to contact and it’s keeping my pitch count down as well.”
The results in the stat column during the first six weeks of the Midwest League season are satisfying enough for Gagnon to realize the course he charted was the proper path. When he kick-started his season in Appleton, Gagnon was at about 75 pitches through five innings of work. Lately, he has stretched out his starting assignments to register about 87 tosses per eight frames.
“I’ll take that any day over a bunch of strikeouts,” Gagnon emphasized.
The sample size may be small to some, but Gagnon has delivered from the get-go during his Class A assignment with the Brewers affiliate. Considering the professional baseball baptism digits he posted with Helena during his Pioneer Rookie League season (0-3, 8.05 ERA in seven starts) in 2011, Gagnon has settled in and found his comfort zone in the Midwest League, cobbling together a 3-1 record in seven starts and an ERA just a tick above 2.00.
“You’ve got to come in and prove yourself regardless of what your talent is or how good you are or what round you were drafted in,” said Gagnon. “I just came out here and threw the ball and I’m doing what I was drafted to do.
“Help the team, pitch, show your weapons, do your stuff…that’s what I’ve been doing so far.”
That mental checklist approach has captured the attention of those who follow the big club in Milwaukee with one eye on anyone within the farm system flashing the potential when a call to arms is issued down the road. If and when Gagnon gets that call from the Brewers, he’ll be no stranger to the home team surroundings, after wowing the brass and those in attendance at Miller Park during a 3-0 win over Dayton on April 27th.
“Miller Park, hopefully that was just a glimpse of what’s to come in a couple years,” said Gagnon, who went eight innings and surrendered just four hits against the Dragons. “That was awesome, especially with the dome closed.
“When I first got out there, I’m looking around at the fans and I’m zoned in on that group of fans that are there, and it looks like there are 40,000 people in there. Then I turn around and there’s no one there. So I was a little nervous in the beginning with that environment, but then by the second inning I shut it all down, told myself ‘I’m pitching, let’s go…let it flow.’”
Heady stuff, but hardly uncharted waters for Gagnon, who was privileged to take the mound and pitch in showcase games during his maturing as a pitcher in such places as Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, Fenway Park in Boston, and AT&T Park in San Francisco, a bonus for a California kid who grew up a Giants fan.
“What was neat about Fenway was the day before I pitched, they cut off the mound to have a soccer match, then they rebuilt the mound and I was the first one to pitch on that mound,” said Gagnon, who was the starting pitcher for the East Division in the 2010 Cape Cod League All-Star Game. “At Fenway, my knees were buckling.”
There are no red flags warning of any semblance of a lack of composure for this 21-year-old. His game plan on the hill and the delivery to the plate may look cool and composed, but Gagnon still has a place deep in his gut ready to muster up the fire that burns in his belly.
“I want to have that bulldog competitiveness and be a competitor, which I feel like I have, but I could have more,” said Gagnon. “But right now, I’m doing my job, so I’m going to stick to what I’m doing out there and try not to overthrow or strike a bunch of guys out.
“Whatever I have working right now is what I’m going to keep on doing.”
The book on Gagnon can’t be judged by the version on or off the field. That calculated and calming approach on the mound is exactly the one that walks around the clubhouse and dugout when he’s dialed down between starts.
“I relax at home; wait for the next day to come, and every now and then I’ll go out with the guys,” said Gagnon. “I’ll be chatty off the field here and there with all the guys, but once I get on the mound, I’ve got more adrenaline kicking in.
“You have to do it every day, come out to the field and prepare and take it step by step until you get to that next level.”
Drew Gagnon is far from finished providing material for his pitching portfolio. He breaks free of his relaxed approach and flashes a smile that speaks volumes about his thoughts, hopes and dreams for earning a living pitching on those same Major League mounds he did as a teenager.
“The dream is every day,” said Gagnon. “I wake up every morning, come to the field and know that I’m blessed to play on this field and blessed to know I get to play here.
“You have to realize that you’re still a small percentage of the people that get to be out here. You have to look at the other people who have the same dream to play professional baseball, and now that I made it here, I’m just that much closer in my own dream to make it to the big leagues.”
(Photos by Brad Krause)