Robert Gsellman, the 23-year-old pitcher, didn’t need words of wisdom from former New York Mets VP of Scouting and Development Paul DePodesta before he made his recent MLB debut.
DePodesta usually tells players to trust their stuff and execute pitches. According to DePodesta, though, the Mets’ right-hander already knew he belonged in the majors after impressing while playing for each minor league affiliate in the organization. Many pitchers feel intimidated by the names on the backs of jerseys they’re facing, but that’s not the case with New York’s rookie.
During an exhibition game, Gsellman once recorded a strikeout against Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper. He will face Harper (as well as one of baseball’s leading hitters Daniel Murphy) at Citi Field this weekend when he pitches on Saturday. DePodesta isn’t worried; he knew Gsellman would eventually reach this destination.
The former Mets executive explains that before the 2011 Draft, the organization’s L.A. area scout Chris Becerra discovered Gsellman and loved what he saw.
“As excited as he was about Robert as a player, he was as excited—if not more impressed—with him as a person,” says DePodesta, now chief strategy officer for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. “That’s what sold us on him.”
Becerra became the International Scouting Director for the Mets the next season. Gsellman, who was put on a five-year plan to the majors, has earned his spot in New York’s rotation after an impressive performance in St. Louis just 24 hours after he was called up to the team.
After Jon Niese left the game with a knee injury in the first inning, Gsellman entered for his first major league pitching appearance on August 23, 2016. He allowed no runs in 3.2 innings pitched with two strikeouts. He added five more strikeouts against the Phillies in his first Mets start.
“He kept his team in the game and gave them a chance to win. That’s extraordinary. That does not happen very often. I was incredibly happy for him.”
Gsellman was not accustomed to pitching out of the bullpen. According to Elias Sports Bureau, though, he became just the second reliever since 1900 to win his first MLB game despite entering in the first inning.
Fans in his hometown were thrilled to see the Westchester High School product succeed—but few were surprised. Before the 2010 high school season, Gsellman was listed on ESPN Rise's Underclassmen All-California team in 2010.
I’ve known Gsellman since we were four years old; we grew up close friends and many recognized he was a special talent. Always the dominant athlete, I would often feign sprained ankles to have an excuse to go home and avoid more embarrassing whiffle ball losses.
“He was always that guy,” explains Mike Moultrie, one of his high school baseball coaches. “He’s a real quiet dude, but ultra competitive.”
Kenny Peoples, who was selected in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 draft, played on the same high baseball school team as Gsellman. They won the Division II city championship at Dodger Stadium.
“Along with everybody else, I thought he had a great chance to get drafted a third baseman and as a slugger,” says Peoples, who saw Gsellman hit .627 as a junior and senior with 16 home runs and 30 extra-base hits.
Gsellman was also on the basketball team for the Westchester Comets. While on the hardwood, he helped his team win consecutive state championship titles and played on national television. He was voted captain of the hoops team as a senior.
“The fact he was such a good position player and basketball player factored into our decision,” adds DePodesta. “We felt this was a guy who hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface. He had significant upside and we knew we could tap into that with our development program.”
The Mets looked for players mature enough to handle the journey in the minors. While he faced an uphill battle straight out of high school and a long way from home, the team believed in their draft selection.
Gsellman was the perfect example of a malleable player with a good frame and good athleticism for a team looking to draft high school pitchers.
“He made a real impression on [minor league] pitching coaches. Frank Viola and Phil Regan both swore by his makeup and his upside,” explains DePodesta. “They both said he would be a big leaguer, no question. And he was only 18 and still raw with his development.”
The six-foot-four pitcher quickly learned to attack the strike zone and keep the ball low in the zone with a calm, confident presence on the mound.
Now in the majors, Gsellman has developed more velocity on his fastball. The pitch sits between 93 and 95 MPH but has also touched 97 mph in the minors. As a product of Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen, his slider has become impressive as well.
The righty boasts an above-average sinker, which (as we wrote) helps him produce a ground ball rate that has never dipped below 50% as a professional.
Moultrie thinks Mets fans are in for a treat. “He’s in New York and I think they’re going to love him out there. He’s about his business and he’s going to handle it and those fans are going to really appreciate him.”