Feature Photo: Daniel Gossett, RHP, Athletics
Less than three years into his professional career, Oakland A’s starting pitching prospect Daniel Gossett has experienced both extremes of the expectations spectrum. Now nearing in on a potential major league debut, Gossett says he has learned that staying true to himself is the key to his success.
One of the ACC’s top starters at Clemson University in 2013 and 2014, Gossett came to the A’s in 2014 as a second-round pick. He had a reputation for being a polished starter with the secondary offerings and fastball command to move quickly through the minor leagues. Gossett did nothing to dissuade those expectations during his first professional season, posting a 2.25 ERA and striking out 25 while walking just one in 24 innings for the Vermont Lake Monsters in New York-Penn League in 2014.
Gossett’s quick trip through the minor leagues took a significant detour in 2015, however. There were rumblings as early as spring training that Gossett’s velocity was down a few ticks from the 91-to-94 velo range that he showed in college, and his fastball was straight as an arrow. He wasn’t challenging hitters aggressively like he had in the past. With nothing to fear from Gossett’s fastball, opposing hitters were able to lay off his change up and breaking ball and wait for a fastball to drive.
The A’s sent Gossett to the Midwest League to start the 2015 season. The results weren’t pretty. Through May, Gossett had a 5.84 ERA and a mediocre 42:28 K:BB rate through 49.1 innings for the Class A Beloit Snappers. In early June, Snappers pitching coach Steve Connelly encouraged Gossett to start using his two-seam fastball more in games – a pitch that Gossett had been developing on the side since the A’s 2014 fall Instructional League.
Connelly says the addition of the two-seam fastball gave Gossett another wrinkle.
“Instead of his fastball always being straight and [hitters] jumping on it, now they have something that they are rolling over the top and they are getting ground balls with,” Connelly said.
Gossett’s numbers improved after he started using the two-seamer. He posted a second-half ERA a full 1.5 runs lower than his first-half ERA, and he cut his walk and home run rates by nearly half. Gossett’s final line in 2015 – 4.73 ERA and a 112:52 K:BB rate in 144.2 innings – still fell well short of expectations, however.
Gossett says that he never felt comfortable in 2015. His pitching mechanics have never been conventional, but he tried to tinker with his motion in 2015 to align more with a traditional motion. He says straying from what made him successful in college was the biggest source of his struggles in 2015.
“I learned a lot [in 2015]. The biggest thing was understanding that the point is to get hitters out, not to throw with perfect mechanics,” Gossett said. “I let the mechanics part go and just focused on getting the hitters out, which is obviously the point of the game.”
While the results might not have been there, Gossett did benefit from the time he spent working on his mechanics, according to Connelly.
“He’s got a non-traditional delivery. It’s herky-jerky. That being said, he’s calmed it down a lot over his three years in professional baseball,” Connelly said. “If you looked at it the first time, you’d say, ‘that’s a lot of moving parts.’ But if you compare it to how he was throwing when he first came into the system, it’s completely different. He can repeat it better. He stays online better. He can get behind the ball and get it where he needs to.”
Gossett came into 2016 spring training with a new attitude and more confidence. His velocity returned and he was more aggressive in challenging hitters. The A’s rewarded him with an assignment to the High A Stockton Ports to start the year. As it turned out, Gossett wouldn’t be in the California League for long. He would make nine starts for the Ports before earning a promotion to Double-A Midland (Texas League), and by the end of the year, Gossett reached Triple-A Nashville (Pacific Coast League). All told, between the three levels, Gossett posted a 2.94 ERA and a 151:41 K:BB rate in 153.2 regular season innings. He allowed only eight home runs and opposing batters hit just .221 against him. Gossett led all A’s minor league pitchers in strikeouts and WHIP, and finished fourth in ERA.
Gossett says the biggest difference from 2015 to 2016 was his outlook.
“In 2015, I felt like I wasn’t in the place where I wanted to be, so I was trying very hard to pitch instead of letting it come naturally,” Gossett said. “In 2016, I let it go and trusted my delivery and trusted my stuff. I just threw instead of trying so much. I stopped ‘trying’ is basically what happened.”
Gossett also added another wrinkle to his repertoire this past season: a cutter. In October 2015, the A’s welcomed back former minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, who returned to the organization to oversee the A’s minor league pitching program after a tenure with the New York Yankees. Patterson is known around baseball for his mastery of the cutter, and it’s a pitch he regularly teaches his pupils. This spring, Patterson noticed one of Gossett’s fastballs had a little cutting action to it.
“Gil kind of looked at the grip and moved the finger a little bit and said, ‘throw it.’ This thing was 90 miles an hour and broke like a slider,” Connelly said. “It was late-breaking. I remember Gossett throwing it and stepping off the mound and kind of taking it all in. He had this little grin on his face like ‘woah, what was that?’ It was there. He learned it in two seconds and it was a game-changer for him.”
Gossett, who now throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a changeup, a curveball and the cutter, says the addition of the cutter has given him a bigger margin for error.
“Some days my best pitch may be my changeup, but what if my changeup isn’t working? Or some outings I can throw my two-seam with good depth, but some days it might come out flat,” Gossett said. “So now I have another option with the cutter when that happens.”
Gossett says that he reviewed his pitch selection after each start and it varied significantly from outing-to-outing. He credits his catchers for being able to recognize what was working for him in each outing.
Gossett also throws a lot of praise at his pitching coaches.
“It’s tough to get any kind of help with mechanical problems because my mechanics are so unorthodox. I give a lot of credit to all of my pitching coaches this year,” Gossett said. “They were able to diagnose what the problems were and helped me to work through them.”
Gossett has bonded quickly with Patterson.
“When [Patterson] would come into town, I felt like he would always say the things that I wanted to hear. When I was pitching, he’d say ‘hey, make this little adjustment’ or ‘sink it this way,’” Gossett said. “It seemed like I always agreed with what he was saying. It’s pretty cool to have him in your corner, especially when he’s the ‘cutter guy’ and I’m trying to learn his pitch.”
Gossett also believes having Connelly as a resource has helped him find his way in professional baseball. Connelly was Gossett’s pitching coach in Vermont in 2014, Beloit in 2015 and Stockton in 2016.
“It’s awesome to build a relationship with someone like that and to be able to have someone I could go back to. Even when I was in Double-A, I had a game where I was horrible and he called me the next day and was like ‘hey man, what’s going on?’” Gossett said. “Just to be able to talk, that relationship was awesome to have. It’s nice to have someone who can serve as a solid source of information and who I can always head back to.”
Gossett learned last week that he will be a non-roster invitee to the A’s big league spring training camp. The change in his circumstances from a year ago is not lost on him.
“This time last year, I was just hoping that I would break camp in High A. To get a call this year that I was being invited to big league camp, it’s amazing to see how far you can come in one year,” Gossett said. “It’s kind of surreal but it’s also good to be able to look back on it and learn from what happened and move forward.”
Patterson sees big things ahead for Gossett in 2017 and beyond.
“If you told me that in May or June [of next season] Gossett would be up in the big leagues and having success, I would not be surprised,” Patterson said. “He’s athletic. He challenges the strike zone. He’s got swing-and-miss pitches. He believes in himself. All of the qualities that you look for in a successful major league pitcher, he has. He was just great this year.”