SHANNON DRAYER

With better secondary pitches, Mariners’ Logan Gilbert keeps raising ceiling

Mar 24, 2022, 7:07 PM
Mariners RHP Logan Gilbert...
Mariners pitcher Logan Gilbert pitches against the Houston Astros at T-Mobile Park last season. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

“I never thought I’d see him throw an 89-90 mph slider based on what we saw when he first got to the big leagues.” – Mariners manager Scott Servais following Logan Gilbert’s first start of the spring on Thursday

A funny thing happened after the Mariners selected Logan Gilbert with the 14th pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He just kept raising his ceiling.

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Various scouting reports and projections had him as a “solid middle of the rotation starter,” as Baseball America put it – maybe a No. 2. But that was then, this is now, and in the time in between we’ve learned much about what can’t be seen on the field.

“He’s a guy who is so involved in everything he can possibly put his hands on with baseball,” catcher Tom Murphy said recently. “It’s really impressive to see from a young guy to be that dedicated.”

We’ve seen it every day in spring training, this year and last. Gilbert’s work is different. There is always extra. Extra training, both physical and mental.

After most of his teammates have come in for the day, Gilbert is on the weight patio, working with a giant ball filled with water or doing exercises off a step. On the mental side, he’s taken visualization to a different level. Dry work (without a ball) on one of the six-pack mounds includes peering in for the sign, checking the invisi-runner multiple times. The pace, the breathing, the commitment – almost a baseball style tai chi.

Of course, the heavy lifting was taken care of this past winter. In his 119 1/3 MLB innings pitched last year, Gilbert and the Mariners saw that the fastball is indeed elite. His other pitches, however, did not play nearly as well at the big league level. Adjustments were needed with his breaking and off-speed pitches. The slider and the curve needed to be sharper with less sweeping movement. Gilbert, it appears, was up for the task, showing a tighter slider that came in at 89 mph (versus 83 in 2021), a harder curve and a changeup he felt confident in throwing in a 3-2 count for a strikeout. Most importantly, the slider in particular tunneled well out of his hand.

“I’m throwing it tighter,” he said. “Just enough to get off the barrel. I want the slider to play off the fastball. Teams know I throw my fastball a lot and I think I threw some good ones (sliders) today that probably looked like a fastball until the last moment.”

Gilbert started work on the slider before the season ended last year, but full commitment to anything new during a season is never easy. Over the winter he went to work at home on developing the new slider, finding the grip almost by accident while he was experimenting with a cutter.

“I actually used that (cutter) grip and morphed it into my harder slider,” he said. “The thing is just holding it like a fastball and thinking fastball. In the past I tried to manipulate things so much and it comes out better and feels better when I think fastball.”

To further study his new slider, Gilbert also used an Edgertronic camera from time to time to see how the ball was coming off his fingers. He utilized one other resource this winter: fellow Stetson alum Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace who he studied on video and in person as he worked out once a week at his alma mater.

“I was just trying to learn as much as possible. He just goes about his business and it’s effortless for him,” he said. “The slider I like to think is kind of what he does. Not to say it’s the same pitch, but I am trying to get there.”

A key observation of deGrom?

“He throws everything to the glove side,” said Gilbert. “I’m trying to incorporate that more in practice and bullpens. Everything is in one lane. We both stand on the first base side of the rubber so everything’s in the glove side lane, which is the hardest thing to do with the extension out front. If you can do that, you can go to any side of the plate.”

So the work continues, as it always will for Gilbert. That’s who he is, that’s what he does. He is a true student of pitching and he loves the work. Intangibles that don’t show up on draft scorecards, as only time can show the true picture and process.

Thursday obviously was just a start, or perhaps a step, but six strikeouts in his three innings of the Mariners’ 3-2 spring win over the Cleveland Guardians was good feedback for Gilbert on the changes he made. He felt comfortable throwing all four pitches, something we didn’t see last year.

Want to dare to dream? If he is able to repeat that comfort level with even three of his four pitches, it might be time to bump that ceiling once more.

One thing is certain: Logan Gilbert is fun to watch.

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With better secondary pitches, Mariners’ Logan Gilbert keeps raising ceiling