In 20 years as a head coach, Steve Trimper has coached some great players with wonderful makeup who went on to be very successful after their playing days were over. But he can count on one hand the guys who stood out above the rest for their work ethic, personalities and overall class.
Stetson junior righthander Logan Gilbert is among that select handful with the very best makeup. And he also happens to be quite possibly the most talented player Trimper has ever coached, a preseason All-American and a very likely first-round pick come June. That's a pretty special combination of talent and intangibles.
"He's an unbelievable - with an exclamation point - clubhouse guy," Trimper said. "He comes out and sets up the screens every day like everybody else. He does the charts. He was lugging a bag recently and I told him not to worry about it, and he said, 'Coach, I got this.' He doesn't do that to show up, it's just his personality. His parents are wonderful people. When you get a player like that who was raised right, with great morals and values, it's just a real all-around success story. He's one of those pro players physically, but he's going to be the pro guy of an organization, that's gonna do the right things for an organization. When baseball's done for him, he's gonna be a high-end professional business person, or whatever he chooses to go into."
Gilbert is intelligent and self-motivated, a standout student who is just fun to be around. He's also a proven winner, with a career line of 16-1, 2.35 with 200 strikeouts in 172 innings at Stetson. He emerged as a bona fide star as a sophomore last year, going 10-0, 2.02 with a 107-26 K-BB mark in 89 innings to earn Atlantic Sun pitcher of the year honors. Then he became a Cape Cod League sensation, posting a 1.72 ERA and a 31-4 strikeout-walk mark in 31.1 innings for Orleans.
The Cape is where Gilbert really established himself as a candidate to be selected near the top of the 2018 draft. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder overpowered hitters with an explosive fastball at 93-97 mph early in games, then settled in at 92-95 on most nights. And his fastball was even more explosive because of the incredible extension he generates - TrackMan measured it between 7-foot-3 and 7-foot-6 last summer, which is even than big leaguers with elite extension like Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburg.
With his extension and the riding life on his heater, Gilbert gets an uncommon amount of swing-and-misses up in the strike zone, something he does by design.
"I was talking with (Blue Jays pitching coach) Pete Walker about how their philosophy is pitching up in the zone," Trimper said. "I said, 'I want you to meet Logan some day because he does that, he gets a lot of swinging strikes on a 90, 91 mph fastball at the letters, it's hard to lay off.' Particularly since he's coming at you from about 52 feet, so 91 really looks like 95. It's incredible. I think that's what makes him so intriguing at the pro level in a few years, you add a few more pounds and a little more strength, and the ability to develop, you've got a really special guy."
After the summer in the Cape, Gilbert's offseason regimen was hampered a bit by some nagging soreness in his back - nothing alarming, but enough to limit his strength training and running routines. So when the season started, his legs weren't quite in shape yet, and it took him a couple weeks to build up his endurance. He still showed 92-94 mph heat and touched 95 in his first couple outings, but his velocity would drop down toward the 89-91 range later in the game. Trimper said he's been consistently sitting 92-93 and touching 94 recently - but sometimes he'll intentionally sacrifice some velocity in favor of movement. That's the thing about Gilbert: for a big-bodied, long-levered power pitcher, he has an advanced ability to manipulate his fastball and pound the strike zone.
"Here's the other unique thing about Logan: a lot of the guys that can bring it, that's their MO: I'm coming at you, this is how the big leaguers do it, let's dial it up every pitch," Trimper said. "Logan pitches. If he knows he's got to work away, and he has to dial his fastball back to 89 with a little bit of cut to it, he does that. People ask, 'Hey, he threw a fastball at 89, what happened?' That's because he's trying to do that. His strikeout-walk ratio is awesome because he hits spots."
This year, Gilbert is on pace for his best strikeout-walk ratio yet. Through 33.2 innings, he has 50 strikeouts and just eight walks, helping him go 4-0, 2.67. He was dominant in his last start against Rhode Island, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks while fanning 11 over 7.1 innings of work.
"I think he's getting stronger and that's why he's been a little sharper," Trimper said. "His breaking ball is getting better and better each week. He throws that upper-70s, low-80s kind of slurve, he's had a lot of command of that. It's almost like what happened last year, he was awing people with that fastball early, then he started getting that slurve going, then I remember vividly against Florida Gulf Coast last year, he started going to the changeup, so he developed into even another guy."
The fastball remains Gilbert's calling card, and he'll need to refine his secondary stuff in pro ball, but right now he knows how to use his slurvy breaking ball effectively, and he can maintain his arm speed on his changeup, which flashes promising late tumble at times. Trimper thinks whatever pro organization drafts Gilbert will eventually teach him a cutter or power slider that will help complete his arsenal, but for now Stetson pitching coach Dave Therneau is wisely letting Gilbert dominate with the stuff he's already got.
"We don't want to overcoach him right now," Trimper said. "He's got a power arm, a great career in front of him, and he's very comfortable right now. But I think down the road, I think there's a lot of room for him to grow physically and with his velocity, and also an organization can say, our organization throws cutters or sliders, or whatever it is. But I trust Dave Therneau; he's been really successful with what we work with him on here."
And with Stetson (17-3) in the midst of what could shape up as a special season, the Hatters aren't going to mess with Gilbert's success. They're just going to enjoy the ride.
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