During the Major League Baseball draft last month, Arizona State University pulled in the majority of local headlines. With a whopping 10 Sun Devils selected, including shortstop Deven Marrero at No. 24 overall, there was certainly plenty to write about. But ASU wasn’t the only local school to experience draft day success. Five players from the Maricopa Community College network also had their names called, including a pair of GateWay Community College pitchers with remarkable – and remarkably similar – stories.
If someone had asked GateWay CC coach Rob Shabansky at the beginning of the 2011 season to name pitchers on his team with a shot at being drafted by major league teams, he would not have mentioned Trey Lang or Erick Gonzalez. It wouldn’t have been a slight or a reflection on their talent; both of them were position players, not pitchers. But through a combination of circumstances, initiative and a lot of hard work, both were selected, as pitchers, by MLB franchises during the June 4 to June 6 draft this year.
Gonzalez, from Gilbert, started his GateWay baseball career as a right fielder. He had thrown about seven innings total in high school, so there was no reason to suspect pitching would be his calling. But he approached Shabansky and asked if he could man the mound for the Geckos. He threw only nine innings as a freshman but flourished this season, striking out 36 batters in 42 innings while posting a solid 3.21 earned run average.
“He turned himself into a pitcher,” Shabansky said. “And he did it the right way. When I wasn’t around he’d still be working.”
With Lang, it was Shabansky who started him on his pitching odyssey. With the team short on arms due to injuries and fatigue, the coach asked the big outfielder to step in. Lang had pitched some in high school but, in Shabansky’s words, “was never a pitcher.” When Lang took the mound, firing fastballs between 91 and 93 miles per hour, Shabansky knew he had something to work with.
“The ability was there right away,” he said. “It was a matter of harnessing it and him learning how to really pitch.”
With a similar work ethic to Gonzalez’s, Lang began honing his newfound craft. Between his freshman success and a sterling 0.87 earned run average and 31 strikeouts in 31 innings this season, he became, according to Shabansky, “the biggest prospect we’ve ever had.”
The hard work paid off for both players, with Lang going to the Chicago Cubs in the sixth round of the draft, 194th overall. Several rounds later, the Houston Astros scooped up Gonzalez with the 459th pick. Both men have since signed with their respective clubs.
Shabansky said that with little more than a year each of pitching experience, neither player is a “finished product.” But giving how much they accomplished in such a short time, he said he believes both can make it as professional ballplayers.
“From their senior year of high school to today, it’s been a 180-degree turnaround,” Shabansky said. “It’s a real testament to them and their families and the program.”
Other local community college players taken in the MLB draft
Tyler Hollick, Chandler-Gilbert CC
Drafted: 14th round, 448th overall by the San Francisco Giants
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The speedy Canuck outfielder swiped 61 bases this year on his way to winning the American Baseball Coaches Association NJCAA Division II Baseball Player of the Year award. His .605 on-base percentage led Division II, while his .475 batting average ranked third. Defensively, he put up a sparkling .977 fielding percentage. He had signed a letter of intent to play at Ohio State University, but instead signed with the Giants in June.
PrestonJamison, South Mountain CC
Drafted: 30th round, 934th overall by the Detroit Tigers
A 6’6” lefty, Jamison saw limited action for South Mountain during his freshman year, but a stellar high school career at Catalina Foothills and his pitching promise were enough to draw Detroit’s attention. He signed with the team in June.
Taylor Kaczmarek, South Mountain CC
Drafted: 40th round, 1,213th overall by the Kansas City Royals
Position: P / OF
The second South Mountain Cougar selected in the 2012 draft, Kaczmarek pitched 81 innings this season, amassing 88 strikeouts and a 2.67 earned run average. He also played outfield, knocking in 26 runs in 34 games while hitting .343. He signed a baseball scholarship to play at the University of San Diego starting this fall.
Stats from njcaa.org