Bob Lutz: Maize’s Gould doesn’t shy away from challenge

Garrett Gould survived the Cal League. Barely.

But any professional pitcher who has had to contend with not only hitters, but the numerous other dangers that go with pitching in the California League, a High-Class A league where pitchers go to suffer, knows that just getting through a game is not easy, let alone a season.

Gould, a 2009 Maize grad and second-round pick in the MLB draft, has the bruises to show for his 2012 season at Rancho Cucamonga, a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate.

Ranked as the Dodgers’ sixth-best prospect by Baseball America after a fantastic 2011 season in the Midwest League, where the conditions are more sedate, Gould was 5-10 with a 5.75 ERA at Rancho Cucamonga.

But he insists his inflated numbers did not drive him Cucamonga. Instead, the 21-year-old right-hander has devoted himself this offseason to correcting the flaws that made 2012 difficult.

“I’ve been working a lot during the offseason on really locating my pitches,” said Gould, who gave up 19 home runs in 130 innings last season in a league full of small ballparks and light air. “Just a couple of minor tweaks in my mechanics. I’m not the first pitcher to run into some issues in the Cal League. I had heard a lot about it, but last year was the first time I got to experience it.”

Gould has taken a step or two back as a Dodgers prospect. He’s not in BA’s top 10 this year, and here’s what Jim Shonerd, the magazine’s assistant editor who put together the LA’s prospect list, wrote during a live chat when asked about Gould:

“The word was not encouraging. Gould had a disappointing year in high Class A. His fastball velocity, which had been low 90s in the past, was mostly 89-90, and there were worries about his conditioning. His curveball is still one of the system’s best, but he has trouble throwing it for strikes and got in trouble whenever hitters were able to lay off it. Gould’s only 21, so it’s too soon to give up on him, but he needs to bounce back this year.”

Gould expects to.

At Great Lakes (Minn.) in 2011, Gould led the Midwest League with a 2.40 ERA and was 11-6. It was the lowest ERA among starting pitchers in the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Pitching was easy that season and Baseball America’s assessment of Gould was glowing. “He has the weapons to be a mid-rotation starter and possibly more, depending on how well his changeup progresses.”

Last season, though, pitching was hard.

“I try not to pay attention to the ranking of prospects or things like that,” Gould said. “There are guys who aren’t on those lists who I think should be top five and others who are in the top 10 who I don’t think should be. People who get too caught up in those things can get away from what they were doing to get themselves into that position.”

Gould said he has been working out at the Northwest YMCA this offseason and throwing with anyone who owns a catcher’s glove. He’s not sure where the Dodgers will assign him for the start of the 2013 season, but says he wouldn’t mind another crack at the Cal League. The guy’s a glutton for punishment, apparently.

“It was a great learning experience last year,” Gould said. “I don’t remember a time that I’ve failed quite like that. It was kind of a shock at first, but then you just have to learn from it. I can’t really sit around and dwell on it too much. I just have to go back to work.”

Like any high school pitcher taken in the first or second round of the draft, Gould blew away high school hitters. His fastball was too much for those who faced him and his curve bordered on being unfair.

Location, other than getting the ball near home plate, wasn’t a big deal.

That changed the second Gould landed in pro ball. Hitters weren’t intimidated and he had to pitch to the edges of the plate instead of being satisfied with the middle.

“If you throw something 90 miles per hour in high school you have a good chance of getting almost everybody out,” Gould said. “Now I can’t miss location. Now I have to know what pitches to throw in what count, which guys swing at first pitches, which guys handle the breaking ball well. The mental side of pitching in pro ball is just unbelievable.”

Gould isn’t worried about his lackluster numbers from 2012, he is inspired by them. All of his hard offseason work has been dedicated toward never letting anything like that happen again.

“I love the challenge and I love competing,” he said. “I love learning new things that are going to help me out as a pitcher. I’m all about it and ready for another season.”