All-Star pitcher wants to shine beyond New York-Penn League

While Mitch Gueller would rather not have pitched in his second straight New York-Penn League All-Star Game, the time in the league has helped. (Courtesy Williamsport Crosscutters)

For the second consecutive year, Mitch Gueller of the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters pitched in the New York-Penn League All-Star game. Only problem is no one wants to be in the New York-Penn League long enough to appear in two All-Star games.

Gueller allowed three runs to the North on Tuesday in Aberdeen, Md., and didn’t complete the inning because of the game’s 25-pitch limit. But his strong first two months (7-1, 1.84 ERA) warranted he be the South’s starting pitcher is in his fourth pro season.

(Courtesy Bob Rinker, Aberdeen Ironbirds)
Mitch Gueller (Photo courtesy of Bob Rinker/Aberdeen Ironbirds)

Gueller, the Phillies’ second pick in the 2012 draft (54th overall) out of W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash., is also playing his third in the short-season New York-Penn league that begins in late June.

The player pool traditionally includes recent draft choices out of college and high school, along with players from Latin America getting their first taste of pro ball in the U.S. Gueller, who turns 22 on Nov. 10, is a bit of an outlier. He has a 15-14 career record in a league where players hope they only play a handful of games before being promoted.

The last three years, Gueller’s season has started in Phillies’ minor league camp in Clearwater, Fla. And for three seasons in a row, it’s continued there after most of his teammates have been assigned to full-season affiliates. Staying in the Magnuson Hotel in Clearwater, he reported for work six days a week at 7 a.m. for extended spring training, a sort of purgatory for players both injured and in need of more seasoning. Gueller was in the latter category. Players work out all winter envisioning games against New York, Toronto and Pittsburgh, but not against their extended spring training teams, which Gueller saw multiple times.

“Being disappointed about not breaking camp with a full-season team gave him the extra motivation that he needed to kick himself in the rear and get going,” said Les Lancaster, the Crosscutters’ pitching coach.

Gueller admits he stewed for a while.

“When I first heard the news I was caught up in it more than I would have liked,” said the 6-3 righty. “You want to go play for one of the affiliates, so it’s not too fun. But you get to work on yourself and it’s a really good place to do that.”

Gueller spent the spring trying to focus on the day’s goal without worrying too much about his future or the pressure that came with being a top Phillies’ draft pick. He brought that outlook and an improved slider and change-up to Williamsport, where the Crosscutters opened the season with 10 consecutive wins. The team hasn’t looked back, posting a 35-21 record to lead the Pinckney Division and sending eight players to the late-season showcase in Aberdeen. With 20 games remaining, the Crosscutters are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Gueller and teammate Austin Bossart, a catcher who also made the South all-star team, said first-year manager Pat Borders, who caught for Toronto and won two World Series with them, has a steadying influence that helped the Crosscutters jell quickly.

“He’s been amazing. Being a catcher, he teaches me parts of the game I’ve never even known existed,” said Bossart, drafted this year out of the University of Pennsylvania. “And he’s really good for the clubhouse. He keeps everyone loose. No one’s up-tight and trying to go out and do way too much.”

And that attitude has rubbed off on Gueller, too. He’s no longer throwing in the 90s (his fastball Tuesday night topped out at 89 mph) but he’s confident enough to throw any pitch at any time, keeping batters off balance.

“There really isn’t a perfect world in baseball,” he said when asked about his career path so far. “You just have to adapt to everything that comes your way and make the best of it. That’s what I’m trying to do here in Williamsport,” he said.

Above: While Mitch Gueller would rather not have pitched in his second straight New York-Penn League All-Star Game, the time in the league has helped. (Photo courtesy of Bob Rinker/Aberdeen Ironbirds)

Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.