Kevin Gausman has been through this before. But this time, he's much more prepared, both physically and mentally.
Gausman was a fairly highly regarded prospect as a Colorado high schooler in 2010. But he was a fastball pitcher with poor command, below-average secondary stuff and a rail-thin build. In addition, a commitment to Louisiana State and the fact he'd be eligible for the Draft again in two years made it almost certain that he'd go on to college.
"We all really wanted to like him but the stuff wasn't there to take him in the first round," a former area scout from that region said.
Still, the Dodgers made a run at signing him after taking him in the sixth round, but Gausman turned it down and headed to LSU. It's turned out to be a very good decision as the ace of the LSU staff is now considered one of the top pitchers available in next week's Draft, one that has even been discussed in conversations about the No. 1 overall pick.
Gausman will find out when his name is called during the wall-to-wall coverage of the First-Year Player Draft on June 4-6. It starts with the first round and Compensation Round A on Monday at 7 p.m. ET. The first night of the event will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will also be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.
MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, will include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
"It's unbelievable how much I've improved," Gausman said. "In high school, I pretty much only threw a fastball. I had a slider, but it was not very good. I didn't need a changeup. The competition in Colorado is pretty terrible. It was hard to evaluate. I tried to just throw hard. The key word was throw. That's all I did."
The first step in Gausman's education on the mound came before he even set foot on LSU's campus. Gausman joined Kris Bryant, now a sophomore at the University of San Diego, as the only two high school players in the summer California Collegiate League. Seeing how he measured up was an eye-opener and prepared Gausman for life in the Southeastern Conference.
"I learned how good the competition in the country is. It was a big turning point for me," said Gausman, who developed a split-change that is now his best secondary pitch to his plus fastball. "I wanted to pitch against the best competition I ever faced. When I got on campus, [LSU coach Paul Mainieri) said I was already a sophomore because of that experience. It was huge for me."
Gausman stepped right into the LSU rotation as a freshman and competed well, finishing with a 3.51 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. He's been even better in his second and likely final season with the SEC powerhouse, going 10-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings. His stuff in a complete-game win during the SEC Tournament was described by one scout as "electric."
Working with a pitching coach for the first time was only a part of it. One concern coming out of high school was his build. Already 19, scouts weren't sure "how his wiry frame was going to fill out," the area scout said.
Asked and answered. Gausman has put on 30 pounds in two years and it isn't the "Freshman 15" most think of when talking about weight gain.
"I had never lifted weights," Gausman explained. "It's all good weight. I was 6-4, 162 pounds. I was a twig. Now I'm 195. I feel like I can become one of those starters, one of those workhorses. I worked hard over the summer and I'm still working."
Gausman wants to be working for a while longer with LSU before worrying about his pro career. Going to a major program like that one, there's always a hope for a long trip to Omaha, ending with a College World Series championship at the end. If Gausman is the guy on the mound who helps get them there, that's even better.
LSU opens play in the NCAA's tournament's Baton Rouge Regional on Friday.
"I wanted to show up and be the guy," Gausman said. "That's why I wanted to play in the Collegiate League. That's why I came to LSU. A big reason was to win a national championship. I wanted to be a guy in two years who would be respected as one of the top guys in college. It's crazy to see it happening.
"It's been great to grow as a person, mature. I can't imagine having been in the Minors after high school. I wouldn't have picked any other school in the country to go to. It's helped me grow as a pitcher and a person. I'm still learning, I'm still far from where I want to be."
The newer, better version of Gausman will, even if he's not the No. 1 overall pick, almost certainly be taken with one of the first five picks. Gausman looks back at the skinny thrower from Colorado and can't believe how far he's come, understanding just how fortunate he is to be at this place in time, with a chance to be a high Draft pick and play for a title simultaneously.
"I dreamed of that in my back yard as a little kid," Gausman said. "It's crazy to see it come together with the chance to fulfill those dreams. It's going to be a fun day, but I would much rather win a national championship than be one of the top guys in the Draft. But I'm blessed to have the opportunity to get both."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.