By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
February 21, 2012
Angelo Gumbs wasn’t the first guy to show up in the Gulf Coast League fresh out of high school in 2010 and wonder, after a handful of games, what in the hell just happened to his batting average. But for those young players who strive to turn the corner from draft prospect to major league prospect, there often comes a moment in a young career that defines change. Not yet into his second full season, Gumbs thinks he’s seen that moment, and it came in the 2011 season. It’s one reason I think Yankee fans should pay attention to him. And since I know for a fact that somebody in the Yankee front office reads this site, come on guys, have I ever steered you wrong before? Why would I do that? That’s K-L-I-M-A, J-O-H-N, Los Angeles. Hey, I’m a Zuk guy, that ought to mean something to at least one of you.
In this interview, you can read a young hitter becoming aware of the finer points of becoming a professional hitter for the first time. He’s also gaining confidence as a young infielder. Perspective and maturity are coming quickly. And when you draft a high school kid, that’s exactly what you want to see as he becomes a mature pro. He is heeding something my old pal Zuk used to tell high school hitters: library the messages of your instructors, but trust yourself above all else.
This interview is sponsored by Bushville Wins!: The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball, released July 3, 2012! Pre-order on Amazon or Barnes&Noble.
Klima: Nice to talk to you again. Let’s go back to the old question I used to ask you in high school: ‘Where are you for you?’
Gumbs: I think I’m in a strong position to do some damage this year. I’m stronger and have been more consistent with the things I’ve been working at.
Klima: What are you working at?
Gumbs: Working on staying on my legs and hitting, controlling my bat wiggles before I hit, getting into a good position before I attack the ball and go through it.
Klima: What kind of modifications have you made since you signed?
Gumbs: My hands are in the same place. My stance is a little bit farther than shoulder width apart. The bat wiggles are there, but the wrap is not, so my hands are in the same spot every time I start the swing.
Klima: This first season at Staten Island, I think those numbers are pretty good. What do you think?
Gumbs: Well, I just felt in my eyes, that everyone has a fastball. That’s the pitch everybody is looking to jump on. It was a great experience to see older guys who were throwing better defined stuff, guys with better breaking balls and better control, who knew how to use their pitches. That league is a lot of older guys, college guys. I did pretty good handling that I think. I think I could’ve done better, but I’ll always feel that way about myself. But I’d have to say that I squared up the fastball like I should have and I started to see a lot more off-speed and hit those hard, too.
Klima: Describe the moment where that really started to click for the first time as a pro.
Gumbs: I think the turning point was this one at-bat. I was in Batavia. I had an eight-pitch at-bat of eight consecutive change-ups. So I knew I wasn’t going to get any more fastballs in that sequence or in that game. I decided, OK, I gotta get on this and really concentrate on staying back and trusting my hands.
I would go out for early work and work on hard soft toss with the slow change, getting my feet under me more, and I could see that I wasn’t flying out open. From that point on, I started hitting the change-up better, and that helps you wait out breaking balls. For me, it’s learning to trust my hands. If you could say something about me in high school that you didn’t like, that was what you could say.
Klima: How did that at-bat go? Left on right or right on right?
Gumbs: Right on right. I fouled off probably like five pitches out of that whole at-bat.
Klima: Did that at-bat have a happy ending?
Gumbs: (laughing) I struck out. It wasn’t a happy ending, but the next night I banged a curve off the fence.
Klima: How did you like playing every day for the first time, the ups and downs, the aches and pains?
Gumbs: I thought it was great. The ups and downs I had, but not the aches and pains. I conditioned pretty good. It was fun playing in front of the Staten Island fans, but I’m not in front of the fans I would like to be in front of.
Klima: Well, because the Yankees clearly need help selling season tickets and making money, I’m going to do the Steinbrenner mob a solid and suggest that some of the Staten Island fans might want to go to the House Jeter built and see you play down the line.
Gumbs: If you’re a player, you have got to love playing in front of fans.
Klima: How did the transition to second base treat you?
Gumbs: It went great. I started off a little shaky and I was still having trouble with bunt plays at the end of season, but I made some plays that amazed me. I keep getting better and better, but in that first transition from center to second, I felt like I was on the whole other side of the world. I’m comfortable, and I’m looking forward to getting better.
Klima: Is that the end of the outfield for you?
Gumbs: I mess around with them and say, ‘Outfield today?’ But you know, whatever gets you to the big leagues. I’ll play catcher.
Klima: If you have offensive ability and can play multiple positions, that gives you numerous ways to profile at the major league level. You could be an offensive-oriented second baseman. You could be offensive enough and versatile enough to come off a bench. I think there’s enough here to dream on you in the big leagues, in one of those two types of roles, if not in New York, then somewhere.
Gumbs: I always say, whatever it takes.
Klima: How’s the arm strength to finish the double play translating for you?
Gumbs: It’s great. That’s the best part of my day, turning double plays. I just love playing, man, I don’t care. Second base has grown into me a lot. Everything is like second nature now there.
Klima: Which means that ground balls are a part of your life now.
Gumbs: Hey, what do you think I was doing at the field today?
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