By Gideon Rubin
Baseball prospects are mostly rated by numbers. Their measurable skills are graded by scouts, and their performances evaluated by statistics.
Former Santa Fe Christian pitching standout Nolan Gannon is doing just fine in those categories.
But Gannon attributes one quality that doesn’t show up in box scores and can’t be measured on a stopwatch to what so far has been a breakout year in the Tampa Bay Rays minor league system.
“Maturity,” said Gannon, who’s in his third year of pro ball since being selected by the Rays in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of Santa Fe Christian.
“Maturity comes along with the development,” he said. “If you’re mature, you’re able to see what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right and be able to separate the good from the bad. If you don’t have maturity, you’re either thinking you’re the worst or you’re thinking you’re the best without a realistic point of view.”
It’s hard to argue with the results.
The 20-year-old right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.68 ERA pitching for the Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades in the Class-A New York-Penn League.
Gannon’s command has been especially impressive. Through 47 innings, he’s struck out 43 batters and allowed just five walks.
The parent club has already taken note of his exceptional command.
“He’s a strike thrower,” said Renegades pitching coach Jorge Moncada.
Gannon says trusting his stuff helps him keep a fast game simple.
He says learning to pitch to contact enables him to keep his pitch count down and go deeper into games.
“That’s basically it,” Gannon said, “just not overthinking.”
It all comes back to maturity, he said.
“I’m becoming more mature and starting to understand my body and my mind more,” he said. “Definitely, the coaching has a big impact on that as well.”
Gannon believes his experience at Santa Fe Christian played a big part in his development, too.
His prep career culminated with him leading the Eagles to a 4-3 victory over Madison in the San Diego Section Division IV finals at Tony Gwynn Stadium.
Gannon struck out 14 batters and allowed three runs on six hits and one walk as the Eagles won their second consecutive state sectional championship.
He credits the Eagles coaching staff with helping him prepare for the challenges of professional baseball.
“They treated us like men,” Gannon said. “They put a lot of responsibility on us and they definitely expected a lot from us — but in return they gave us the respect as young men that we deserved.
“They didn’t just talk to us like we were young boys.”
He acknowledged, however, that adjusting to the rigors of playing professional baseball for nearly seven months straight — in hot and humid weather, with few off days — is challenging. Especially for an 18-year-old drafted just out high school in 2012.
“Basically, your job is baseball,” he said. “Having baseball every day, running every day, throwing every day and working out every day, it’s a grind physically. That was probably the biggest adjustment I had to make from high school to pro ball.”
Gannon’s adjustment has impressed the Rays.
“He’s a smart kid,” Moncada said. “He’s always open to learning. Sometimes you find guys that you need to sell the information to, but with Nolan, it’s so easy to work; he’s always open to work.”
The Rays also like his upside.
Gannon features a three-pitch fastball-curveball-splitter repertoire.
His fastball topped out at 94 mph in spring training and regularly reaches into the low 90s. He projects he’ll have even more velocity once his lean, 6-foot-5 195-pound frame fills out.
Though the Rays are a small-market franchise, Gannon knows opportunities abound with the club.
“Being in an organization such as the Rays definitely gives us extra motivation, knowing that the organization that we’re in pulls from their own system,” he said.
“They like to develop pitchers, especially, and have their own (players) playing for the Rays instead of going out and buying (free agents).
“That’s definitely encouraging, knowing that I’m playing for an organization that does that.”