Pioneer notes: Gambrell focuses on location

Royals third-rounder looking to regroup after some rocky outings

Grant Gambrell has 16 strikeouts while walking four batters over his first 16 innings with Idaho Falls. (Steve Thayer/MiLB.com)

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to MiLB.com | July 31, 2019 1:00 PM

A big frame and easy gas made Grant Gambrell a third-round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2019, but recently the Oregon State product was reminded of the three things that matter most in pitching.

Location, location, location.

On July 22 the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder took the mound for Idaho Falls in Missoula. He bounced his first 94 MPH fastball and fell behind many of the Osprey hitters. A couple home runs by Missoula's Tristen Carranza later, the Chukars trailed 4-0.

"Really, whenever I can locate my fastball, I do a good job of getting ahead in counts and using my weapons later in counts," said Gambrell, who has 16 strikeouts while walking four over his first 16 innings as a pro. "I wasn't doing that."

His ERA -- which currently stands at 5.06 after six appearances -- took a hit, but he remains encouraged, as does Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez.

"He has good stuff," said Ramirez, whose Chukars rebounded. "His fastball was 94, 92, 93, 95."

And his slider is tight, thanks to adjustment he made midway through his sophomore season at college. 

"I was talking to a couple of my Oregon State pitching buddies and they were like, 'Your slider's getting a little loopy,'" Gambrell said. "It was kind of average before that, and I made a little bit of an adjustment and started throwing it harder. It got really good from there."

Gambrell, who went 5-1 as a sophomore in 2018 while Oregon State won the College World Series, went 8-2 with 2.03 ERA for the Beavers this spring.

Ramirez likes seeing his fastball more.

"That's what we want," the manager said. "I think we've changed the plan from his first start -- he was using his off-speed pitches a lot.

"We tell him, 'Trust your fastball' -- 93, 94 is going to play out anywhere, even in the Major Leagues. He just needs to control it and get ahead."

2019 MiLB include

The wins have kept coming: Idaho Falls recovered from that 13-3 loss on July 22 to edge Missoula for the Northern Division first-half title for the Pioneer League.

It's nothing new for Gambrell, who recalls getting recruited as an eighth-grader and that Oregon State first showed interest after his freshman year of high school.

He's adjusting to long bus rides and the absence of Oregon State teammate Adley Rutschman, who went first overall in June.

"Adley was one of a kind," Gambrell said. "But I've been getting really familiar with [Chukars catcher] Michael Emodi, and he's a stud. He's taught me a lot.

"The lineups here are a little heavier now -- more power-related. But the Pac-12 does a good job of getting you prepared for professional baseball."

In pro ball, there are reminders that even with innings restrictions -- Gambrell gets three an outing -- location is the key.

"These hitters are good now," Gambrell said. "They hit mistakes."

In brief

Justin times two: The Ogden Raptors' league record-tying 31-7 first half included a 6-1 run in the last seven games -- all without third baseman Justin Yurchak. Yurchak, drafted by the White Sox in the 12th round in 2017, earned a promotion to Great Lakes, the Dodgers' Midwest League team. Yurchak's second tour of the Pioneer League ended much like his first: He hit .345 for Great Falls in 2017 and was hitting .365 in Ogden.

Joining Orem: Ogden's 31-7 first half matched the 31-7 record Orem put up in the second half of the 2009 season. The Pioneer League went to a split-season format in 1995.

Grand entrance: Grand Junction's potent offense received possibly its biggest jolt from shortstop Christian Koss, whom the Rockies drafted in the 12th round this year. He's hitting a league-best .393 and in his past eight games has four home runs and 14 RBIs.

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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