Not many 2018 draft picks can say they went nearly two months without surrendering an earned run, but Oakland A’s 14th-round pick Gus Varland this season earned that distinction with an impressive run across two rungs of the farm system.
The former Concordia-St. Paul University (Minn.) standout has been a revelation for the A’s front office, considering where he was selected and the fact he had thrown a shade more than 60 innings as a junior.
His impact at short-season Vermont and Low-A Beloit has been felt in a big way, especially during a span of 24 innings across eight appearances from June 29th and August 23rd in which he didn’t allow and earned run. During that streak, Varland posted a 33:4 K:BB rate and earned himself a promotion to full-season ball in the Midwest League.
“To pitch well you need a good defense and the school I came from it was tremendous,” Varland said. “Here it’s been great too and guys are making plays that I didn’t even think were possible. They make them regularly. I’m pitching to my strengths, locating my fastball and keeping it down in the zone. I’m trying to give my team the best chance to win. When I have all those going, it usually works out well.”
Varland’s long streak came to an end on Thursday night at home against Cedar Rapids, as he allowed one run on two hits in four innings while striking out four and walking two. The first earned run of his Beloit career rose his ERA all the way up to 0.79 in 11.1 innings. Varland has posted a 17:3 K:BB rate in his brief MWL career.
The emerging Beloit ace gives a lot of credit to his college coaches for getting him ready to take the next step.
“It’s mainly due to those guys teaching me about the mental game,” Varland said. “You’re not going to have your best stuff every day and some days you are going to have your best stuff. You’ve got to keep your composure consistently and do the things necessary to win.”
Although the numbers won’t show it, Varland said he’s had to make a lot of adjustments since arriving in the Midwest.
“These hitters are very disciplined and don’t swing at a lot, while in Vermont there are younger guys that will swing at pitches and you don’t need to execute,” he said. “Now I’ve got to execute a pitch, otherwise they’re going to make you pay for it.
“You’ve got to work inside/out and keep them off-balanced. They’re also very good baserunners, so I’ve had to quicken up my delivery to give my catcher the best chance to throw them out.”
Varland’s minor league career is only two months old, but it’s hard not to consider him to be a steal for the A’s with where he was drafted.
The hurler might have made it onto the radars of a few more organizations had it not been for a miserable winter and spring season.
“I think I had three starts snowed out and that’s Minnesota weather for you,” Varland said. “I lost about 17 innings there, and you talk about guys that went to big D-1 schools and they’re pitching 90 innings. I thought I pitched a decent amount in college.
“A lot of times, scouts would text me and say they were coming out to my game on this day. Especially in the Midwest, they’re traveling all over and it has to work out that one time. Sometimes it wouldn’t work out because of the weather, so maybe it did have a little effect.”
Going into June’s amateur draft, Varland admits Oakland would have been the last franchise he would have expected to select him.
“It’s really confusing,” he said. “You think one team is all over you and then they never call you. Some other teams like the A’s, I didn’t think they’d draft me because of how little they talked to me. Derek Lee said he saw me a lot and some scouts don’t feel the need to talk to you and that’s fine. I was very blessed to be picked by him.
“They really liked my spin rate on my fastball and say I have an average-ish slider, so I’ve got to work on that. They see potential in my changeup, so I’m still working on that. They’re also all about the cutter, so I’m excited to work on that.”
The 21-year-old will be afforded that opportunity when he reports to Arizona for instructs next month, saying he looks forward to adding a cutter to what is already a three-pitch arsenal.
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