Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Austin Gomber has flown under the prospect radar during his ascent of the St. Louis Cardinals minor league ladder, and I believe this is largely because he does not possess a 95+ MPH fastball. That being said, Gomber has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the entire organization over the last three seasons, possesses the ability to command three above-average pitches, and I would not be in the least bit surprised to see his name pop up all over Cardinals prospect lists this offseason.
His Arizona Fall League performance, against the best competition in the minor leagues, is capping off a terrific 2016 — just one year removed from being named the organization’s minor league co-pitcher of the year.
Minor League Statistics
Viva El Birdos: What were your thoughts when the Cardinals informed you that you’d be competing in the Fall League? Were you surprised or did you have a feeling you’d be selected?
Austin Gomber: Well obviously I was extremely excited when I first heard the news. This league is the cream of the crop as far as minor league baseball is concerned. I wouldn't say I was surprised, with the finger injury I had, I figured that I might be a guy who would be under consideration for the AFL.
Viva El Birdos: Outside of All-Star teams, much of your career has consisted of playing with teammates on your same team or at your same school. In the Fall League, you have teammates from a handful of other organizations. How do you approach this different dynamic?
Gomber: It's a lot of fun. It is very similar to an All Star Game atmosphere in that regard. I have gotten to know a lot of the guys just from competing against them during the season, so to be able to create a relationship and get to know them outside of baseball is always fun. These are guys who I will be competing against my whole career so to be able to get to know them is always fun.
VEB: Including Fall League innings pitched thus far, you’re up to 144 in 2016. What is a realistic number you would like to shoot for in 2017?
Gomber: However many it takes to bring a World Championship back to St Louis. At this point in my career, I feel as if I'm on the brink of realistically helping the big league club win games. I don't really keep inning counts in my mind. I just try to win games. With that being said, I just keep my head down and try to get better so that when my number is called I'll be ready for whatever workload they need.
VEB: You started your professional career with mainly a fastball-changeup repertoire. While with State College, Tim Leveque showed you a new curveball grip. Can you update us on the development of each of pitches? Anything new you’ve been working on?
Gomber: Just trying to continue to sharpen everything I have. I feel that I have 3 pitches in my arsenal that will play at any level, so consistency is everything right now. As far as specifics, in 2015 I added a curveball which I had success with late in counts for strikeouts. Once I got to AA, I really focused on being able to throw the curveball early in counts for strikes. With my changeup, I've been doing the same thing, working to consistently be able to throw it in hitters’ counts.
Being a guy who doesn't have an overpowering fastball, I feel like the next big step for me is being able to command all 3 of my pitches in any given count. So far out here in Arizona, I’ve had some success in doing this, but I'm still a long way away from where I want to be.
VEB: Unfortunately, I feel obligated to ask this question, but what was it like facing (and then subsequently striking out) former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow?
Gomber: He was just another hitter in the lineup to me, whether it's Tim Tebow or Mike Trout, the goal is the same. Get them out as fast as I can so I can pitch deep in the game and give my team a chance to win the game.
VEB: Who has been the toughest batter to face thus far in your professional career (Fall League and Spring Training, included)?
Gomber: That's a tough question, I've faced a lot of good hitters. A couple names that come to mind are Bradley Zimmer (CLE), Gleyber Torres (NYY), and Tyler O'Neil (SEA), just to name a few. That's one thing that you notice when you come out to place like Arizona. There really isn't a weak hitter in any of these lineups. It makes the game more fun because mentally you must stayed locked in 1-9 in the order and every inning. There are no free outs, which is why I believe there is no higher level than the AFL, other than the big leagues of course.
VEB: As is often the case, young starting pitchers start their MLB career in the bullpen (with Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes being prime examples). If you were asked to pitch out of the bullpen, would you take a different mindset into pitching? Would added velocity be a priority?
Gomber: I'll do anything that gets me/keeps me on the big league roster. I've never really pitched out of the ’pen but I can't imagine it being too different. You still have to get guys out. As far as velocity, I would hope I'd have an extra tick or two coming out of the ’pen but that's not my main priority.
VEB: Once Fall League is complete, how do you plan on spending the rest of your offseason?
Gomber: Getting some time off, take a few trips to see some friends. But obviously get right into training because it will be an abbreviated offseason since I'll be playing well into November out here.
VEB: Finally, what is one thing you have learned over the last three seasons that you wish you knew sooner? To put it another way, when it is time for you to be a mentor for the younger players, what is one thing you will tell the new draftees about professional baseball?
Gomber: I would tell guys to not worry about the player movement side of the game. It's out of our control and sometimes it doesn't always make sense. But if you continue to put up numbers, you will get your chance. I've seen many guys let it get to their head, including me for a little bit this year in Palm Beach. I really believed I should have been in Springfield, but once I stopped worrying about that and focused on pitching, those things took care of themselves. As far as what I've learned, too much to pick a single thing. That's one thing about this game, you never stop learning.
This is now Gomber’s third Q&A for our site (part 1 and part 2), subsequently making him the “official minor league prospect of VEB™.” Developmental wise, I think he is probably ready to start 2017 with Triple-A Memphis, but at the same time, I would not be surprised if the organization gives him a few starts at Double-A Springfield first. Much will be determined by his Spring Training performance, especially if he continues to perform as well as he has in Arizona. If interested, you can follow him on Twitter: @AustinGomber.