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Gabe Mosser’s talent outshines his 27th-round selection

The Padres 2018 27th-round pick hails from Shippensburg University, a cold-weather arm with a refined skillset itching to prove doubters wrong.

Bill Smith/Shippensburg University

After the 10th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the online stream reverts from a pair of MLB analysts commenting live on every pick to a stagnant black box with the MLB Draft logo and round number floating in the foreground. All that remains are audio sound bites of organizations announcing their picks over a stagnant screen. Each pick is said in quick succession, followed by intermittent pauses that trick you into thinking the stream froze.

Some organizations say only the name of their selection. Others rattle off a player identification number first, similar to how cable news announces the day’s winning lottery numbers. It’s an overstatement to say the stream is mundane. But for hundreds of players, hearing their name called is the first step on the road to playing in the major leagues.

Gabe Mosser did not tune into the stream. As a pitcher for Shippensburg University, a Division II school just west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he carried the stigma of a “cold-weather arm” and knew if a team selected him it would be in the late rounds.

Nearly 800 picks in, Mosser received a phone call from his teammate, Cash Gladfelter. The pair played together for four years at Shippensburg, with Mosser leading the team in strikeouts on the mound and Gladfelter manning shortstop behind him. The pair earned Shippensburg a record north of .500 in 2018.

Gladfelter told Mosser he would be selected by the Seattle Mariners in the upcoming 27th round of the Draft. Mosser turned on the stream to experience his teammate’s selection for himself.

The 801st-overall selection belonged to the San Diego Padres.

“Padres select draft-ID number 1-8-4-1. Mosser, Gabe. He’s a right-handed starter at Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, P-A,” the Padres representative said on the stream. Right after the announcement, you can hear a lone clap, almost as if the shock from Mosser, his family and Shippensburg University made its way into the audio feed.

“I had no idea,” Mosser said. “Everything just dropped, my family and everything went crazy.”

Mosser had a general idea he would be selected by San Diego. But in that moment, his intentions of listening to the stream were for his teammate. Were it not for the Mariners tipping Gladfelter off to his selection, Mosser may not have known he would be donning a Padres uniform until the team called him after being selected.

“[Mosser] probably would’ve missed it,” Shippensburg head coach Matt Jones said. “He was probably cutting the grass or something like that.”

Nurtured by coaches who believe he will succeed, Mosser finished his 2018 campaign by striking out five of the last seven batters he faced with heavy usage of his signature breaking balls. At some point, talent surpasses all the risk factors present in Mosser’s profile. The Padres realized this and found value in the 27th round.

Gabe Mosser pitching for Shippensburg University
Bill Smith/Shippensburg University

In 2015, analyst Eno Sarris published an article mixing numbers and thoughts from major league players detailing the difficulties of throwing in cold weather. His numerical findings touched on slight decreases in whiff rate and spin rate on pitches. Players—current and former—cited numbness in their fingers and honesties like, “I couldn’t feel anything.” Their counter to Mother Nature included extra pitches to get warm and the constant attempt to retain moisture in their hands for added grip.

Anything below 60 degrees Sarris defined as cold weather. Nearly half of Shippensburg University’s games are played in the month of March when, according to U.S. Climate data, the average high for March in Shippensburg is 48 degrees with an average low of 29 degrees.

“I think it’s harder to throw in cold weather,” Mosser said. “It’s harder to get loose, it’s harder to feel your hands. But it all comes down to executing pitches.”

Mosser and his teammates would condition outside in a variety of weather conditions, with the occasional early-season game including snow flurries. Even as tolerance to the elements is built, it can still lead to scenarios of lower velocity and less eye-popping outings for scouts to build a complete picture of a player.

“I think some guys definitely have the opportunity,” Mosser said. “But don’t get as many looks because it’s colder.”

A Division II school like Shippensburg University runs into other difficulties as well.

“We’re considered a mid-Atlantic region team,” Jones said. “Quite often, the scouts that cover us are also covering Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech—large, really good programs. So getting them to come see us is always kind of a challenge.”

Over 1,200 players were selected in the 2018 MLB First-Year Player draft. Only 84 of those players were from Division II schools, an increase of 15 percent from 2017. Over the last four drafts, however, the amount of draftees has remained between 73 and 92. Even when Division II players are drafted, the schools they come from are in southern parts of the United States: Florida, California and other parts of the Southwest. The Northeast and mid-Atlantic remain lightly tread ground.

Gabe Mosser and Head Coach Matt Jones
Bill Smith/Shippensburg University

Mosser throws four pitches: fastball, slider, curveball and splitter.

“I started with the curveball,” Mosser said. “I developed my slider during my junior year of college.”

Both of Mosser’s breaking balls possess substantial depth and action. Mosser’s curveball spins with more vertical bite. His slider is slower than the major league average, cutting laterally away from right-handed hitters with enough downward break that one could mistake it for a sweeping curveball. Developing Mosser’s slider to compliment his curveball came with good reason.

“The difference in velocity and pitch recognition,” Jones said. “We talked about [developing a new pitch] and then asked some hitters. It wasn’t as much of a factor for guys who were going to see him once or twice, but if people saw him more often and they started to recognize how the breaking ball was coming out of his hand, we just really tried to get him a show-me pitch.”

Mosser also throws his two breaking balls with the same grip, something Jones believes is unique to the righty. His curveball sits 76-79 mph while his slider is slightly harder at 80-83 mph. The difference in flight path of the pitches and their velocity doesn’t come from a grip difference like most pitchers.

“It’s pretty much just different wrist actions,” Mosser said. “I hold it the same actually.”

Mosser’s struck out 38 percent of the batters he faced with the Fort Wayne Tin Caps. He sat inside the 95th percentile in strikeout rate among pitchers with 10 or more innings of work in the Midwest League. Mosser’s statistics show he performed better in the Midwest League than in Class A short season after his promotion on August 22. Promotions usually expose a player’s weaknesses as competition gets tougher at higher levels, but not for Mosser.

His success has caught the eye of Tin Caps pitching coach Burt Hooton. Hooton’s 15-year career with the Cubs, Dodgers and Rangers, and subsequent 30-year coaching career have allowed him to develop philosophies on approaching pitchers who are succeeding.

“[Mosser] is a guy I haven’t talked to much since he’s been here,” Hooton said. “You let them go out and pitch and if they’re successful, there’s not really a whole lot you can say to them. I believe in leaving players alone as much as you can and letting them figure things out on their own... if they continue to struggle over time, then we go to work and try to get some things accomplished.”

If Mosser starts next season with Fort Wayne, any struggle may lead to more interactions with Hooton. With the success Padres top prospects Luis Patiño and MacKenzie Gore have had under Hooton’s guidance, Mosser will be in good hands.

Gabe Mosser pitching for the Tri-City Dust Devils of the Northwest League.
Judy Simpson/Tri-City Dust Devils

In his freshman year at Shippensburg, Mosser threw on the weekends—typically a spot for the team’s most advanced arms. He made seven starts in 12 appearances and won six games, posting 54 strikeouts over 48 13 innings. Only 18 years old at the time, Mosser padded his resume with success. He struck out 13 batters in a complete-game win to highlight his first college season and earned the PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year award.

His sophomore year yielded different results. Mosser struggled to keep balls in the park, giving up 10 home runs in 36 23 innings en route to a 9.33 ERA. He regressed sharply from an impressive college debut.

“[Mosser] wanted to get better,” Jones said. “He asked good questions and he made observations about other guys when he’s not pitching and helped the younger players... he embraced his role in his junior and senior years as a leader.”

Mosser’s ERA fell to 2.62 in his junior year, aided in part by the development of the “show-me” slider he developed. He didn’t allow a home run in over 79 innings of work and cut his batting average against from .313 to .236.

Come Mosser’s senior season, his performance solidified the improvements he made between his sophomore and junior year. He struck out a team-high 93 batters and pushed his way onto the radar or major league teams.

When asked what Jones and the Shippensburg coaching staff helped with most in his four years, Mosser quickly cited focusing on his strengths and not the opposing hitter’s.

“He nailed it,” Jones said. “We had a lot of conversations about that and it just comes down to there’s times you have to have confidence in your stuff and not overthink it... I just always wanted him to have confidence.”

Mosser’s confidence comes through on the mound and in his off-field demeanor. It’s an integral part to his character and mound presence, allowing on-lookers to think he’s throwing harder than his 92-mph fastball shows. While his future role in a system deep with arms is unknown it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect the 6-foot-4 righty to earn promotions in 2019 to Lake Elsinore or San Antonio if his breaking balls continue to flourish.

He will always have a history pitching at a Division II school in the brisk mid-Atlantic, but Mosser has embraced the factors some viewed as risks on his way to fulfilling a dream.

“I think for a better opportunity maybe I would’ve went down south [for college],” Mosser said. “But the opportunity I was given, I took it and ran with it.”