(Photo via Stetson Athletics, Daytona Beach News-Journal, seen here)
Stetson right-hander Logan Gilbert will be one of the top college arms off the board this June, the next in a line of quality arms produced by the Hatters in recent seasons. Unlike Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom before him, though, Gilbert is not flying under the radar leading up to draft day. Both Fangraphs and Baseball America currently rank him among the top 20 prospects in this year’s class, and to the coaches who have seen him regularly over the past few years, it is easy to see why. Gilbert’s size and velocity are what stand out the most, but some behind-the-scenes work to develop his command and offspeed pitches has resulted in collegiate success and has made him a top target for professional scouts.
For many tall pitchers, their size can work against them, as they struggle to keep their mechanics in check and repeat their deliveries consistently, leading to troubles with their command. Listed at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Gilbert has a frame that would prove problematic for many pitchers. His walk rates, though, tell a different story. Gilbert issued only 2.63 walks per nine innings pitched at Stetson in 2017, and more impressively, he issued only four in 31 1/3 innings against some of college baseball’s top hitters in the Cape Cod League last summer.
“Typically, with young pitchers that have a growth spurt, they can get a little awkward at times, and it takes them a little time to grow into their body and [clean up] their mechanics,” noted Stetson head coach Steve Trimper. “Logan was never like that. He’s a 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 guy, and he’s very, very smooth.” Gilbert left similar impressions in his stint with the Orleans Firebirds on the Cape. “This was my 17th summer (coaching), and I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy deliver a baseball at 97 mph as easily as he delivered it,” said Firebirds head coach Kelly Nicholson without hyperbole. “It’s a clean arm and good mechanics.”
Indeed, Gilbert’s size, rather than being a curse, is arguably his greatest gift. Because of his length, he can get the ball on hitters quicker than his raw stuff would indicate. “His release point is so much closer to the plate,” Stetson catcher Austin Hale, who has a first-hand look on every pitch, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “He can be throwing 92 [mph], but it looks like 97.” While Orleans does not have a Trackman system to perfectly capture Gilbert’s extension metrics, Nicholson says that the deception in his delivery was just as obvious from the dugout. “It seemed like he was about 50 feet away when the ball finally came out of his hand,” he noted.
Combine that extension with mid-90’s velocity, and it is easy to see why Gilbert features a bat-missing heater. “What Logan probably does best…is pitch up in the zone extremely well,” Trimper observed. “He can locate his fastball where it’s a swing-and-miss fastball, not something that’s over your head (merely) to change your eye level.” Both coaches agreed that his fastball should further improve with physical maturation. “I think why he’s so attractive to scouts as a high-round draft pick is not only because of his fluidity, his motion, but he still has a lot of room to grow,” opined Trimper. “He hasn’t really hit his ‘man strength’ yet, so when this guy becomes a 27, 28-year-old man, there’s going to be a lot more in that tank.” Nicholson concurred, projecting Gilbert’s velocity to bump into the high-90’s as his fills out his frame. While he noted that a transition to the bullpen would help that along, there is little doubt that Gilbert will be developed as a starting pitcher professionally, due largely to the improvements he has made in deepening his repertoire.
In ranking Gilbert seventh among draft-eligible prospects, Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel noted his polish and advanced feel for pitching. Those attributes are apparent to those who work with Gilbert as well, especially his commitment to developing his secondary offerings. Gilbert has worked with Stetson pitching coach Dave Therneau to sharpen all three of his offspeed pitches, adding a hard slider and a changeup after starting his college career as a fastball-curveball pitcher. Gilbert’s most recent focus has been on tightening that curveball, which Trimper notes can still get a little “loopy” at times. Even still, Trimper has watched Gilbert develop immensely over a short time. “His secondary stuff is improving every day, quite honestly, and I think I saw a big jump last year about midway through the  season. He started to really tighten up those pitches, and I think that’s what led to his second-half success and into the Cape.”
Nicholson, though, was unconvinced that Gilbert’s development in the finer aspects of pitching was even necessary for his success in the Cape, where he posted a 1.72 ERA and struck out 31. “There were nights when he could beat guys with his velocity alone. When you’re throwing 95-97, your command doesn’t have to be spot on,” Nicholson pointed out. That said, he also acknowledges how crucial those developments could be for Gilbert professionally. “I think that’s what’s going to get him to the big leagues on a little faster track, if he can develop three plus pitches [that he can throw] for strikes…The development of the changeup and his breaking stuff were things that he initiated to improve himself as a pitcher.”
Gilbert’s maturation as a pitcher has carried over into the early portion of his junior season. He is off to arguably the best start of his college career. In his first four games, Gilbert has struck out 39 against six walks, posting a 3.08 ERA in the process. In his most recent start, against a power-five conference opponent, Gilbert spun eight dominant innings, striking out 13 and allowing four baserunners in a 2-1 win over Virginia Tech. He is on pace to surpass last season’s 107 strikeouts, and he has been a key factor in Stetson’s season-opening 14-1 start. He is currently working to build up leg strength after a bruised knee sapped him of workout time, but Trimper expressed no concern, calling it a “little bang-up.” So long as he stays healthy, Gilbert should become Stetson’s highest draft choice since at least 2003, when infielder Brian Snyder went 26th overall. With his combination of advanced feel for pitching and statistical track record, it is easy to project him to progress quickly through the minor leagues. Still, Gilbert does not fit the standard profile of the high-floor college pitcher. With the extension in his delivery, his four-pitch mix, and his room for physical growth, Gilbert has quite a bit of potential as well. His combination of upside and feel will have one MLB organization particularly excited come June.