What an exciting time of the year! Spring has arrived, Spring Training is over in a day or two and minor league play starts on April 5. It doesn’t get much more exciting than this other than at the end of regular season play and teams go into extended season play. One can only try to imagine what the minor league players in particular are feeling as they are reassigned for the 2018 season and start the season for real.
A number of players, although selected in the 2017 First-Year Player Draft last June, did not begin their professional careers in 2017 due to rehabbing from TJ surgery or because the Dodgers were being extra careful with them. The extra careful part applied primarily to pitchers.
Right-hander Max Gamboa was one of those recent draftees with whom the Dodgers were moving along with caution. He made his first and only one inning 2017 appearance last August 23 in the Arizona League, pitching a scoreless inning.
Gamboa was selected as a junior by the Dodgers in the 18th round last June out of Pepperdine University. The 6’5″/185 pound native of Greenbrea, California was actually a walk on at Pepperdine as a freshman. He pitched primarily in relief in his first two college seasons moving into a starting role his sophomore year.
He was formerly a high school water polo player before becoming a full time baseball player. At Pepperdine he compiled an aggregate ERA of 3.81 along with 129 strikeouts in 131 innings pitched. Control was a challenge as he walked 59. Gamboa experienced considerably more success in relief than he did as a starter. That suggests relief pitching will be his ticket going forward as does a scouting report about his delivery, one which the Dodgers will work to change.
“Gamboa is the owner of one of the most electric arms on the west coast, with a 94-96 mph fastball and the ability to blow it past good hitters. He stands projectable 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, leaving some to dream he can throw even harder. Gamboa is seen as an injury risk because of his delivery. He has a stand-up finish with an arm recoil, and his arm is not in proper position at foot strike. Gamboa profiles purely as a reliever due to his control struggles and injury risk, but his frame and big velocity make him intriguing to some.”
That report was then and this is now. The Dodgers minor league coaching staff will already have worked on refining Gamboa’s delivery and perhaps will have him work through the Driveline program before a 2018 assignment to the Ogden Raptors.
Chiu was selected by the Dodgers in the 15th round in the 2017 Amateur Draft out of College of Marin, a community college in Kentfield, California. Perhaps he is following the pattern set by former Dodger community college draftees, Willie Calhoun and DJ Peters.
The 6’1″/190-pound third baseman/second baseman produced a triple slash of .349/.478/.657 at Marin along with 13 home runs and 46 runs batted in 43 games.
Chiu made his professional debut with the Arizona League Dodgers on June 24, 2017 against the AZL White Sox. He started slowly in June and July and caught fire in August with a slash line of .397/.442/.580 in the second half of the season. He split his time equally between second base and third base with a significantly better fielding percentage at second base. His head coach at Marin speaks very highly of Chiu, almost excitedly.
“Marcus put in the work in the weight room, put in the work on the field and he put in the work in the classroom to paly on the field, ” College of Marin coach Steve Berringer said. “He did everything the right way. This is a big deal. I don’t think you replace him with one guy. You maybe get the opportunity to coach a guy like Marcus once in your career.”
His high school coach, Jamie Vattuone, spoke of the sound created when Chiu took batting practice. Perhaps a Carlos Rincon sound.
You don’t hear that from high school hitters too often, ” said Vattuone. “The sky’s the limit for that kid.”
One wonders if Chiu might start the 2018 campaign with the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League.
So what is the connection between Max Gamboa and Marcus Chiu? Actually it is just one of those happenstance connections. Both played with the California Warriors summer ball team, both were drafted by the Dodgers on the dame day, and they flew together from San Francisco to Phoenix. They became hotel roomates near Camelback Ranch and signed their first professional contract on the same day. Both naturally were a bit overwhelmed actually seeing their name placards on their lockers filled with the necessary baseball regalia. “That’s when I had the realization that we’re living our dream: Getting paid to play baseball,” Gamboa said.
“This is unreal, ” Chiu said. “This is something I’ve dreamt of ever since Little League.”