Gilmore Pitches His Way To The Top

Michael Jordan. Johnny Unitas.  Lionel Messi. These stars have something unexpected in common. None of their high school teams recognized their talents. Alumnus Connor Gilmore has a unique chance to become a superstar despite being unwanted by his team.

Gilmore, class of 2012, is currently a pitcher for the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). It took until his junior year of high school for him to blossom into the player he is today. Assistant baseball coach Mr. Bryan Jones said, “He didn’t showcase that he had the skill to play Division I baseball until his junior year. In his senior year, he proved that he had the mentality and maturity to make it as a Division I baseball player.”

Gilmore played his freshmen season for the school, but when he tried out for the junior varsity team, he did not make the cut. He said, “I thought basketball was going to be my sport. I thought my baseball career was over.”

Luckily for Gilmore, it was a mistake. “Coach [Mr. Dustin] Strube pulled me out of my biology class and told me he had made a mistake,” said Gilmore. “He asked if I wanted to play and I said, ‘Yes, I want to prove that I am good enough.’”

Gilmore has become UCA’s best pitcher. Last year, he had more wins than any other player on the UCA roster. He even owns the record at UCA for the most complete games thrown in a season. Gilmore attributes his growth to his discipline. “My discipline as a pitcher has helped me become a better baseball player,” said Gilmore. “I am not hoping that strikes will happen. I know that strikes will occur. I know that I am going to fail sometimes, and that others will make fielding errors while I am on the mound. This helps me not stress out and overthink the situation.”

He also attributes his success to his pitching methods. Instead of being a strikeout focused pitcher, Gilmore pitches to contact. This means that he throws a lot of strikes in order to make the batter hit the ball to his defense. Alumnus Michael Haun, class of 2013, plays outfield for UCA. Haun said, “As a defense, that is what we want from our pitcher. Someone who is going to get you on and off the field quick is much appreciated.”

Gilmore has played so well at the collegiate level, that he has a chance to be drafted in the upcoming MLB (Major League Baseball) Draft. “Scouts and agents have called me and asked me to work out for them,” said Gilmore. “I have filled out medical forms and questionnaires for just about every team. I even filled out a 200 question personality test for the [Milwaukee] Brewers.”

Any player enrolled in a four-year college, who has completed his junior year or is at least 21 years old, is eligible for selection in the MLB draft. MLB teams had the option to draft Gilmore but chose to let him mature. Going undrafted has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that MLB teams will use the earlier draft picks to choose a younger player in order to sway that player to sign with the team. The higher in the draft a player goes, the more money he makes. Typically, teams will wait to use their draft picks on college seniors, because the seniors have nowhere else to go. Juniors who are drafted can choose to go back to school.

Gilmore believes being undrafted last year may be a blessing in disguise. He said, “Now that I am a more mature and seasoned pitcher, I believe that I have a better chance to be drafted. Over the past season, I was able to improve my game and give scouts what they wanted.”

Not only has Gilmore’s play changed, but so has his pitch repertoire. Currently, he throws a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, and his best pitch, a change-up. “I used to throw the knuckle-curve often,” said Gilmore. “When I got to UCA, I began throwing higher velocity pitches. The knuckle-curve has a slower and more noticeable movement to it, thus making it hard to fool the batter. I still throw it occasionally to keep the batter guessing [what I will throw next].”

Gilmore chose UCA over offers from the University of Kentucky, and a mix of junior colleges. “I chose UCA because they were the best fit for my family and me,” he said. “The offer from Kentucky basically gave me a scholarship that covered a third of the tuition. The scholarship from UCA was more generous.”

During the summer of 2014, Gilmore joined the Gastonia Grizzlies in North Carolina to play summer ball. Collegiate players all around the country play summer ball to keep their level of play high. “Summer ball gave me a chance to face different players and to have some freedom. I was able to practice or work out without my coaches,” said Gilmore. “I had to learn how to use my freedom of not having coaches there, but still get work done as if they were there. It gave me a taste of what professional baseball would be like.”

Mr. Jones has seen Gilmore play multiple times since Gilmore left the school and has noticed his growth as a baseball player. “I have noticed that he has grown both mentally and physically, but he is going to have to continue growing if he wants to continue his career,” Mr. Jones said. “I believe that Gilmore has a good chance to be drafted. He has a better chance go farther in his career, than any other pitcher I have coached. An MLB team would definitely be willing to take a chance on him.”

Haun believes that Gilmore shows many characteristics that professional scouts adore. He said, “Gilmore has a great work ethic, love for the game, and desire to win. He brings the same level of difficulty and intensity every time he takes the mound. Professional scouts look for these attributes.”

If Gilmore is drafted, his childhood dream would become true. Gilmore said, “It would definitely be a dream come true. I would love to play the game that I love for a job.”

 

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