Three catchers were in play on Tuesday as moves affect three levels in the St. Louis Cardinals…
Q&A with Rangers 11th Rd Pick Johnny Gunter
A 21-year-old product of Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Alabama, Gunter is a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher that has been on the mound for just two years.
In his second year as a pitcher, Gunter went 11-3 with a 1.81 earned-run average for the Pirates. He pitched 94.2 innings, surrendering 56 while walking 38 and striking out 128. Though Gunter didn't pitch more than seven innings in any start, he fanned double-digit batters five times, recording a high of 15 in one contest.
Because of his promising arm, the Rangers selected Gunter in the 11th round of the draft with the intention of converting him into a late-inning power reliever. In his first 11 professional innings—coming with short-season Spokane—the 6-foot-4, 230-pound hurler has been inconsistent, yielding nine runs on 10 hits while walking eight and striking out 10.
Lone Star Dugout spoke with Gunter after the draft.
Jason Cole: Just talk about what was going through your mind and what it felt like to be drafted by the Rangers.
Johnny Gunter: It felt great. I'm from Phenix City, Alabama, which, I'm sure you know, that's where Kasey Kiker is from. He was a first round draft pick. We're actually neighbors. Me and Kasey have known each other a long time. We played coach pitch together and little league together.
It's real nice to be on a team with him and get a chance to get into an organization with a team president like Nolan Ryan. He's a hard-nosed, gritty guy. Being in an organization like that with the personality I have and the velocity I bring, I feel like this is a perfect fit for me, really.
Cole: When you first talked to Kasey after you were drafted by the Rangers, what'd you guys say to each other? What was that conversation like?
Gunter: He just texted me and told me, ‘Congratulations.' I told him, ‘Thanks.' I was really excited about everything. I was just like, ‘Now I've got me a workout partner and a Spring Training buddy.' But that was about it.
Cole: Coming into the draft, did you know much about the Rangers' organization?
Gunter: No, not much. I keep up with professional baseball, but just to that extent. Just the Major Leagues. I didn't know much about the organization. I know a few guys like Kasey and Tommy Hunter and Mike Main. I know all those guys and I keep up with them. But as far as the whole organization, not really.
Cole: You went to the Rangers in the 11th round. Were you picked about where you were expecting to go?
Gunter: Yeah, realistically. Everyone wants to go high, but realistically, with the level that I played at—the numbers that I put up were good, but the competition wasn't always the best. I thought that hurt me a little bit. I went where I thought I was going to realistically go. I told my dad that I thought I was going to go anywhere from the seventh to the twelfth, and I ended up going in the eleventh.
Cole: Did you talk to your area guy there very often as your college season went on?
Gunter: No, as a matter of fact I didn't. I actually hadn't had contact with him. I sent out a text every week before my starts two about seven or eight teams. I told them when I was starting and where I was starting at.
I hadn't really talked to him until four or five days before the draft. He told me that he was tired of going into his meetings and telling them how strong my arm was and how I was a competitor and everything. He said they said, ‘We're tired of hearing about this guy. When are we going to get him?' He said they wanted to get me this year, and I guess he made it happen.
Cole: If you can, give me a scouting report of you on the mound. What kind of pitches do you throw and what speeds are you normally working at?
Gunter: I'm a fastball, slider, changeup guy. I'm usually consistent at low-to-mid-90s, and I've been mid-to-upper-90s. I've topped out at 98, but I usually work from about 92 to 95.
Cole: Did you start in college this year?
Gunter: Yeah, I was a starter.
Cole: Do you know if you'll ever be a starter in pro ball?
Gunter: No. He said they were going to push me as a back end of the bullpen or closer guy.
Cole: You said you've also got a slider and a changeup. You haven't been pitching for very long, have you?
Gunter: No, this is only my second year.
Cole: I was going to ask how long you've thrown the changeup, but I'm guessing you've thrown all of them for two years.
Gunter: Yeah. I actually started out with a curve for a little while because I couldn't get the slider. My junior college catcher—Alex Fuller—one day before a game, we were fooling around with some grips. He said, ‘Hey, just grab it like this. Start it in the batter's box, throw the hell out of it, and just let it do what it does.' It ended up working out for me. I've kept that same slider the whole time.
Cole: How'd you feel about the way you pitched in college this season and how do you feel it affected your draft chances?
Gunter: It went really well. I went 11-3 with a 1.81 [ERA]. I was Alabama Junior College Player of the Year and I set the state record for strikeouts. I had a really good team behind me. I felt like it helped me out quite a bit because striking out 14 or 15 a game when a scout comes to see you can't hurt you.
Cole: You were a catcher out of high school, correct?
Gunter: Yes. I went to Troy as a catcher out of high school.
Cole: Did you ever even pitch in high school?
Gunter: No, I never threw a single inning.
Cole: When exactly did you start pitching and how did it come about?
Gunter: It came about one day at Troy University. We had a rainout for practice, and I was long tossing. A couple of guys were saying, ‘Hey man, do you think you could throw it over dead center?' It was 395 [feet]. I said, ‘Sure,' and they were like, ‘No way.' I got behind home plate and I threw like four and a row out to dead center.
So the coaches at Troy ended up getting me on the mound and they had me 92 to 96. Things didn't work out there academically, so I had to go to CV and I tried to pitch and catch there, but it was too much strain on my biceps. Coach Thomas said they couldn't have a guy who threw as hard as me behind the plate. I've been pitching ever since.
Cole: How much do you miss hitting?
Gunter: I missed hitting because in high school, my senior year—it's crazy that I know this, but I read it in the paper after I was drafted—I ended up hitting .470 with 12 home runs and 60 RBIs. I could hit it. But I'd much rather strike out the side than hit a home run.
Cole: Do you miss being behind the plate at all?
Gunter: Absolutely not. As far as controlling the game aspect of it, yeah. But as far as catching bullpens and things like that, it's much easier to be a pitcher. A lot less stress on the body.
Cole: How easy of a transition has going to the mound been for you? From going to catcher to 11th round as a pitcher in two years, you've certainly made it seem pretty easy.
Gunter: I ended up getting drafted last year. I could've gone last year in the 18th by the Astros, but I ended up getting picked in the 42nd by Pittsburgh. It has been a smooth transition. You throw strikes, you get ahead, and stay ahead, and you're going to give yourself a chance to win.
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