Gabonia, still just 18 years old, believes he has a pretty high ceiling. [Photo: Daniel Acosta/Everett CC]
In a "free preview" of our PinstripesPlus.com premium content, we sat down with newly signed undrafted free agent Ocean Gabonia. Find out what the 18-year old right-handed pitcher from Everett Community College says about his stuff, signing with the Yankees, and more.
PinstripesPlus.com: Tell us what’s going through your mind after signing with the New York Yankees.
Ocean Gabonia: I think it’s like a very surreal moment for me. I don’t think it’s totally seeped in. I still have that drive to get to the Majors so it doesn’t feel like a dream come true yet and at the same time it does. I don’t really know how to explain it. I’m just very excited to start and begin my career, and get the ball rolling.
PinstripesPlus.com: This was a weird year with the Coronavirus and the draft being just five rounds. How did you and the Yankees come together, so to speak?
Gabonia: I went up to Everett for JUCO ball and got invited to attend an NWAC showcase up there and I was the last pitcher of the day. It was supposed to be just for sophomores if I remember correctly and I’m a freshman. It was really cold that night and I started throwing. I guess they really liked how my arm worked and I started throwing really well, and they called me up to ask to have a meeting and I met them at a Starbucks back during the fall. That’s how they started talking to me and how they kept in touch.
PinstripesPlus.com: Did you have an idea before the draft, since it was only five rounds, that this would be the route you’d be going in? Did you think you had a chance at being drafted or did you think you might sign with a club after the draft?
Gabonia: I kind of figured I was going to sign as a free agent since this was the first time a pro team actually had interest in me. I only threw three games before they could base their knowledge off of so I figured I wouldn’t be in the five rounds. I pitched in just three games and they were actually preseason games.
PinstripesPlus.com: I guess you got no interest from pro teams coming out of high school?
Gabonia: No, I was throwing slow and I was one of the underrated players on the [big] island. I had a passion for baseball so I wanted to go to JUCO and grind it out there and learn as much as I can, and make my way to the top. This is a great opportunity.
PinstripesPlus.com: So you had no contact with the Yankees or any other team prior to that NWAC showcase, correct?
Gabonia: No, nobody knew who I was there.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s get a scouting report on your stuff. What kind of pitches do you throw, speeds, etc?
Gabonia: I throw a four-seam fastball, a two-seam, a circle change, a curveball, and a slider. My coaches told me – and I didn’t really notice before I got there – that my fastball has a lot of ride to it. I think that’s one of my biggest weapons in my repertoire, that I have a rising fastball and it’s very deceiving to hitters. It looks like a strike but it’s actually a ball. It rides out of the zone with late movement. My two-seamer has the arm-side-run movement too into the batter. My changeup is my go-to pitch [at Everett]. I can deceive the changeup to look like my fastball with my arm action and it just ends being a slow changeup that moves down in the zone. My curveball is more like my strike-one pitch and my slider is my out-pitch, and it ranges from 80-82 mph. I just started learning to pitch with the slider at the end of my senior year of high school. They helped me to perfect it a little bit, a little mix of things, and I stared throwing it and it started working so I used it as much as I could, and as more efficient as possible. My fastball sits 88-90 mph, topping out at 91 mph. A year ago I was throwing 84 mph.
PinstripesPlus.com: So in high school you were mostly just a shortstop or did you pitch too?
Gabonia: I was a pitcher mostly and I only threw three pitches but I also learned shortstop my junior year after they found out I could hit a little bit.
PinstripesPlus.com: At 6-foot-0 and 175 pounds you still have room to fill out, no?
Gabonia: I’m still kind of skinny. I have gained a couple of more pounds at Everett. I’ve been trying to train and gain some weight here [in Hawaii] but up there [with the Yankees] I’ll have every tool and knowledge to be successful in that part of my body
PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned you didn’t get any attention from pro scouts until the Yankees saw you at the NWAC showcase. Did you get any attention from four-year schools when you were in high school?
Gabonia: There would be a couple but they were like NAIA teams and teams over here at home. [Universities here in Hawaii] were going to offer me contracts but I didn’t want to stay home. I wanted to experience what the mainland was like and everything.
PinstripesPlus.com: Where do you see yourself fitting in role-wise in the Yankee organization? Have the Yankees hinted where they like you best? I realize you’re very much in the infancy stage of your development.
Gabonia: I think it’s more up in the air. I know that I have the potential to be great and I think I have more to learn and more to build into my body. If I’m given a job that they want me to do though I’ll find a way to do it and that’s been my mindset on things.
PinstripesPlus.com: On that note, what would you say is your biggest strength?
Gabonia: I think the mental game because when I was up in Everett I was in some hard situations with runners in scoring position and the crowd would be roaring. I think mentally I can zone them out and focus with what I need to do and not what everyone else wants me to do, if that makes sense.
PinstripesPlus.com: What is the thing that you need to work on the most?
Gabonia: I think just strength, just physical strength. I need to get stronger and let my body fill out. That’s mostly it. I’m not trying to rush it. I’m looking to let it happen naturally but I do want to train to get a lot stronger.
PinstripesPlus.com: Did you have a favorite team growing up and/or a favorite player?
Gabonia: It was the San Francisco Giants and on that team it was Tim Lincecum. He’s a smaller pitcher and nobody really noticed his mechanics. They called him a freak so it was kind of cool to watch. I also though impersonating him was also kind of cool and I would notice how whippy and athletic he was. I wanted to be athletic and whippy too, and I thought this is how a shorter pitcher can throw hard in a way. I don’t mimic his motion at all because I heard it’s not supposed to be good for you but I do follow how whippy he is, how flexible and athletic he is. I look at that more than his [actual] motion. I see how athletic he is and how his arm whip through and lets it go on a ride.
PinstripesPlus.com: Who would you compare your game to at the big league level to give our readers an idea of what your game is like?
Gabonia: I heard some of my old teammates in JUCO say that I can of look like Shohei Ohtani and how he throws but I try to base my mechanics more like Jacob deGrom with the outer release and his arm is also whippy, and his mechanics are smooth. My favorite player growing up though was Mariano Rivera and I try to look at how his mechanics are and break them down to mine. It may not be the same but I try – he disguises the ball very well and that’s what I want to do. That can be successful.
PinstripesPlus.com: How excited are you for this next step?
Gabonia: I’m pretty ecstatic. I just want to go out there and show what I can do, and what God has given me.