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March 23, 2016 at 8:30 AM

A Glorius Story: From batting records to draft disappointment

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Austin Glorius found himself undrafted after 40 rounds of the MLB draft had played out last June, but since striking out the side in his first professional appearance while pumping heat, he has begun to garner more and more attention as a rising prospect.

“I wasn't afraid at all, I wasn't scared,” the big right-hander said about his first appearance with the Lowell Spinners on Aug. 5. “I was excited, and I was curious to see how I would do. Then my first outing against the Mets [affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones], I came in in the ninth. We had a good lead, so it was a little more relaxing for me, but I came in and my velocity was mid-to-upper 90s and I struck out the side. It was like any other day. As long as I was executing what I have, then everything was good.”

That first appearance he went just the one scoreless inning in relief, but afterwards he moved into a starter’s role. In all, he made seven appearances, five starts, striking out 36 in 26 2/3 innings while walking 13, finishing with a 2.70 ERA. Along the way, he impressed many scouts, including the scouting staff, who were not expecting to that kind of a live arm out of an undrafted free agent.

High school record setter… with the bat
One of the reasons Glorius went undrafted is because of his late entrance into the world of pitching. In high school, he was an infielder by trade and said he only threw an inning or two throughout his entire career there, and for good reason. He was a star at the plate during those years, culminating in the game of his life when he tied a pair of national high school records with five home runs and 17 RBIs his senior year.

“It's funny because it brought good publicity, but also bad publicity,” Glorius reflected on that day. “Just because, why keep the kid in the game when we're beating a team by that much? But yeah, it's definitely a highlight. I was in Sports Illustrated, and a lot of cool things.”

Glorius always had a strong arm, playing third and first base, but he never had any secondary pitches to complement it. Given that and his exploits at the plate, he rarely took the mound and was initially recruited for his bat.

However, he quickly realized that there may be a better path for him with the help of some outside advice.

Struggles lead to new opportunity
Glorius enjoyed hitting and sometimes still wishes he could pick up the bat again. But despite his talent, he realized there was a fatal flaw to his game soon after high school.

“Obviously there’s a reason I put the bat away. As competition got better, I had trouble hitting the offspeed stuff. I couldn’t stay back, was always a dead-red guy,” the 22-year-old said. “Once pitchers figured that out, it was very easy to get me out. There’s obviously still stuff to work on, but realistically, pitching (was) going to be where it's going to happen if it happens.”

It became obvious quickly that he would need to adapt if he wanted to continue to play the game he loved. That’s when he received some timely advice.

“I always threw hard. When I got to college, I had a scout tell me if I wanted to play pro ball, I needed to learn how to pitch,” he said. “So that's exactly what happened. Right after he said that, I thought it over and said, ‘hey, let’s give it a try.’”

Following this revelation, Glorius spent two seasons pitching for Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida with mixed results. In those two seasons, he put up WHIPs of 1.66 and 1.45 as he learned to pitch. His strikeout rate was only around five per nine and his walk rate also left much to be desired.

Though the results were not stellar, he was told that he had a chance of being drafted in 2014 after his sophomore season. When he was not selected, he transferred to Valdosta State University in Georgia. It was at that time that he began to make the results match his electric arm.

“At Indian River, I thought I was going to get drafted, and luckily I didn’t because there was still stuff I needed to work on,” said the Florida native. “When I went to Valdosta, I really kind of finessed my offspeed. That was where I was hurting—I always had the velocity, I always had the command and everything. I just didn't have the strikeout pitch, which I developed at Valdosta.”

The addition of a viable offspeed pitch helped his strikeout rate jump from 5.7 per nine to 10.3 in 2015 with Valdosta. In all, he threw 55 innings, making 20 appearances (7 starts) with a 3.76 ERA and decreasing those unsightly WHIPs at Indian River down to 1.16 in his only season after transferring. He began the season as a starter, but after the team blew a few games late due to a lack of closer, he took over that role for the team.

Forty rounds without a call
Since Glorius was told the season before that there was a good chance he would be drafted based on his raw talent, when he put together a season like he did at Valdosta the next year, it seemed inevitable that he would be selected in 2015. But forty rounds went by without hearing his name called.

“I had talked to the Twins, and I had talked to the Royals. Both teams said I was probably going to be picked up. They didn’t give me a specific round, but they said I was going to get picked up at some point. And actually I had to pitch that night, the last day of the draft. I thought I was going to go anywhere from the 30s to 40. But I’m sitting there, I'm driving to my game, I’ve got the [draft feed] on my Bluetooth, listening in my car. I’ve got to pitch that night, and I’m sitting there just a wreck. I’m like, ‘what the hell’s going on? What’s this? What’s that?’” he said. “But you know, at the end of the day, I’m very thankful, I’m here with a great organization, so that’s all I asked for is just a chance. And I got it.

“I actually wasn't going back to Valdosta, I was going to transfer. I went and played ball this summer, I did pretty well and it was kind of a really big shock that I didn't go in the draft,” he said. “I ended up having about five offers within two weeks, so that kind of made the decision a lot easier to go ahead and sign.”

As for the reason he went undrafted, he seemed as stumped as the scouts who collectively had that “who is this guy?” moment upon their first viewing of him with Lowell last season. Most prospect analysts would assume some team would take a flier on anyone who could throw 95 with some success.

“Realistically, there just weren’t a lot of scouts (at my games),” he gave as his best explanation. “We didn’t get a lot of publicity. It was just kind of a dry spot in that category. But I thought I was going to get [drafted], a lot of people thought I was going to get [drafted], but it was just something that didn’t happen.”

In some ways, that may have been a blessing, as a small bidding war ensued, allowing him to choose his destination.

“I actually had Detroit in my house that morning I signed with the Red Sox. The Giants were in [the running], the Padres were in there, and there were a couple other teams that were kind of talking still, but wanted to see a little more. But definitely the Red Sox came and pretty much swooped me away from everyone else,” he said.

“The Red Sox came and offered me more than what everyone else was offering me. I was in a position where I was trying to figure out what school I was going to because I got a stipulation on my release from Valdosta, so they made sure I could only go certain places. I was having some issues on what I wanted to do so once the Red Sox came in and offered me what they offered me, I was like, ‘My goal is to go play, so let’s just go play.’ I knew that I belonged here and I knew that I could play up here, so regardless of the amount, I knew I just needed that door to get in. Then I went up to Lowell and played pretty decent.”

From undrafted to national notoriety
When Glorius signed, nothing was made of it. But almost immediately upon his debut in Lowell, there were whispers that he was not the typical undrafted signee.

Following his first shutout inning out of the bullpen, Glorius gave up three runs in 3 2/3 innings in his first start after moving into the rotation. It was his next stretch that really impressed, as he ran off three starts in a row without allowing an earned run, striking out 17 in 15 innings while allowing just six hits. This streak proved to him that his stuff would play against professionals if he executed.

The performance generated attention. On the rankings, he began the offseason ranked 38th in the system. After inching his way up due to trades and offseason moves, he now sits at 26. Keith Law of ESPN mentioned Glorius as having just missed his top 20, saying he was “a passed-over player and lived up to his name.”

Despite his success, Glorius went into this offseason with something to prove.

“The first couple months, I did a lot of power lifting and I put on about 12 pounds,” he said. “Then I went and started training in an MMA boxing class and dropped some of the slow weight, but still ended up around 10 pounds (heavier) when I went into January. I think I was about 215 when I got here.

“But the biggest thing I worked on was my changeup. My bread and butter pitch is my curveball/slider—whatever you want to call it—that's my put-away pitch, but the biggest thing is my changeup this year I think, and being consistent with it.”

In his first start of spring last Thursday, Glorius struggled with both command and velocity of his fastball. Executive Editor Chris Hatfield was in attendance and reported the fastball to have sat in the 92-93 mph range, but slightly decreased velocity is not unexpected in his first spring start. The most encouraging part to Glorius was that his work on his changeup showed, as he struck out two batters on the pitch. He also liked what he saw from his breaking ball, striking out a batter in a 3-2 count with it. The breaking ball ranges from the high-70s to low-80s, showing slider action at the high end, and looking more like a curveball at the lower end. However, in what seems to be a recurring theme from last season, when he did not command his fastball, he got hit, giving up two wind-aided home runs.

“It was my first outing since September against live batters. But working on our inside approach when we get ahead, I struggled getting the ball in, and when I didn't get it in, I got hit,” he said.

Going into this season, he said there is still discussion about whether he will be stretched out as a starter or the team will fast-track him by sending him directly to the bullpen.

“I'd like to be a starter. I think I'm worth more starting games, but if they want me to close, and they think that’s going to be the quickest opportunity for me to move up and succeed, then I’m completely fine with relieving,” he said.

He’s happy with the attention he’s beginning to receive, but feels he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

“When you get credit, it's always nice. If I had to sit here and give you my opinion now, I believe that I’m going to go into this year—whether it’s Greenville or Salem—I think I’m going to play well and move right up those [prospect] lists,” he said with a subdued confidence.

Photo credit: Austin Glorius by Kelly O'Connor

Matt Huegel is managing editor for Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegel.

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