OFFSEASON ADJUSTMENTS HAVE JAKE GATEWOOD EYEING PROMOTION
By: Sam Peterson | Miller Park Prospects
Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that can make the biggest differences, and that appears to be the case with Milwaukee Brewers first base prospect Jake Gatewood, who is enjoying his best season as a pro, after a few offseason fixes.
Selected by the Brewers with the 41st overall pick in 2014, Gatewood first earned notoriety as a shortstop with plenty of pop in his bat, when he won a pair of High School Home Run Derbys in 2013, first taking home the crown at the MLB All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, then following that up with another victory at the Under Armour All_American Game at Wrigley Fielder in Chicago a month late.
That power had many scouts drooling, but questions about Gatewood’s hit tool saw him drop in the 2014 Draft, before Milwaukee jumped at the chance to grab him with their supplemental first-round pick. They were able to lure him away from an offer to USC, signing him for $1.83 million, before sending him to their affiliate in the AZL to begin his pro career. Gatewood showed flashed of that big-time power, but also continued to raise questions about his ability to make contact, hitting just .206 while striking out 71 times in 50 games in his pro debut. Despite those struggles, the Brewers gave Gatewood a somewhat surprising placement at Class A Wisconsin to open up the 2015 season. He predictably struggled against older competition and was eventually sent down to Helena once their season began. Gatewood returned to Wisconsin for the 2016 season and had better results, earning a spot on the Midwest League All-Star team, and clubbing a career-high 14 home runs, but finished the year with an average of just .240, and walked only 18 times while striking out 141. Some of Gatewood’s struggles at the plate, could be attributed to his bouncing around the diamond, having moved from shortstop to third base, then over to first base, but a bigger contributor was found with a routine eye exam in the offseason. It turns out that the 21-year-old from Clovis, California is a little bit nearsighted, and after being fitted with a pair of contacts, Gatewood started raking. After not being able to see the scoreboard a season ago, things started to come into focus this spring, as his improved visionallowed him to recognize spin on the ball, and he began making that loud contact he’s known for, on a much more consistent basis.
The Brewers promoted Gatewood to their new Advanced-A affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats, to open up the season and he hit right out of the gates, showing much better plate discipline and pitch recognition, while pacing a star-studded lineup in Carolina. On a roster that featured other top prospects like Corey Ray, Isan Diaz, Trent Clark and Lucas Erceg, it was Gatewood who stood out at the plate, cementing his position in the heart of the Mudcats order.
Through his first 54 games in the Carolina League, Gatewood was batting and even .300 with 20 doubles and seven home runs. What’s been even more impressive has been his ability to work counts and a new-found willingness to take a walk when he doesn’t get anything worth hacking at. Gatewood has already received 25 free passes this season, topping last year’s total in less than two months ofplay, putting him well on pace to establish a new career high in that category.
While some of that can surely be attributed to his improved vision, there are other improvements that Gatewood has made as well, re-tooling his swing and making several minor adjustments that have paid dividends early on. “I feel that your swing is your swing” Gatewood said in a recent interview with Baseball America. “Once it gets to impact, it’s usually the same.” But the difference has been in just how often Gatewood is getting to impact and the Brewers front office is taking notice. “He came into Spring Training, had a great camp with us and he made some adjustments coming in that are a great credit to him” said Milwaukee’s Farm Director, Tom Flanagan, in a May interview with Fox Sports Wisconsin. “He did that on his own, some things that he addressed in the offseason to elevate his game, and he’s really, from opening night on, he’s really carried that Carolina offense for the most part. Kudos to Jake.”
Though he’s taken nicely to first base, proving to be a plus defender at the position, where his six-foot-five frame provides a nice target to throw to, the Brewers aren’t ready to give up on him playing other spots on the diamond as well. “He obviously was drafted as a shortstop” Flanagan said. “(But he) can play third base. He’s played the bulk of the time at first. We haven’t forgotten certainly about third. We’ll move him around some as the year goes on, but he’s really had a great year.”
There’s still plenty of season left to play, as the Mudcats approach their All-Star break in June, but the strides that Gatewood has made have certainly opened some eyes, and if he keeps it up, the Brewers could be rewarded nicely for their draft day gamble from several years ago, with yet another top prospect in their already loaded stable.