Standing 6-foot-5 with long, dark hair and a full beard, Hunter Gaddis is an imposing presence on the mound. The former fifth-round draft pick out of Georgia State has been described by High-A manager Greg DiCenzo as having a “movie villain aesthetic” when he’s pitching.
Gaddis was the 2021 opening day starter for High-A Lake County, and while his first start didn’t go the way he wanted it to, he followed it up with five near-perfect innings in start No. 2, striking out six, walking none, and allowing no hits (with just a hit by pitch keeping him from being flawless).
The 23-year right-hander spoke with Covering the Corner about pitching development, playing angry, and how he takes his mind off baseball in this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger: What do you do to recharge the batteries when you need to relax and take your mind off baseball?
Hunter Gaddis: The easiest thing for me is to hop on video games. Call of Duty, Fortnite, (MLB) The Show. The Show is baseball, but it’s not my personal baseball, so it kind of gets me out of that element. Sitting back watching TV, Netflix, that’s about it. I’m pretty chill. I don’t really do too much. I’m a pretty chill at homebody.
Brian Hemminger: Who has the biggest bragging rights on your team?
Hunter Gaddis: I don’t usually play too much with the teammates. I play with Nathan Ocker a bit. I’m definitely better than him. I have an old roommate back from Georgia State and he’s pretty good.
Brian Hemminger: You mentioned Netflix. What show are you bingeing right now?
Hunter Gaddis: Right now I’m watching Peaky Blinders. I think I’m on my third time watching it. I picked it up right before leaving Arizona as a plane ride thing, download a couple episodes and watch it on the plane.
Brian Hemminger: So that sounds like one of the things you do to help pass the time on along bus trip as well, right?
Hunter Gaddis: Oh definitely. I got to make sure the night before a big bus trip I have a couple episodes downloaded of a show, and then you watch one episode, and an hour passes and you don’t even realize it’s been a whole hour.
Brian Hemminger: Getting to baseball. This past year was unprecedented with the pandemic. What helped keep you sane when you couldn’t have a real season?
Hunter Gaddis: I can’t even say that I was sane during the whole thing. I spent a lot of time on video games, a lot of time training. I was in the gym almost every day. I threw just about every day. I had a couple beach trips that were really fun. You just take a week away from everything. I was missing it a whole bunch. I just wanted to get back out there and I’m sure happy to be back out there these past two weeks.
Brian Hemminger: Cleveland has built a reputation for pitching development, whether it’s helping add an extra tick to your fastball, or getting a better grip for your slider, or maybe tunneling better so opposing hitters have a worse chance of seeing what’s coming. What have you noticed that’s progressed the most in your game since you were drafted in 2019?
Hunter Gaddis: I would say I’ve had a bunch of mechanical adjustments, shortening the arm path from what I was in college, which led to better breaking balls, better command, consistency throughout the mechanics. Consistency helps my best stuff show up when I get out on the mound.
Brian Hemminger: Speaking of when you get out on the mound, from a few things I’ve read, you get kind of angry out there. You have to get yourself in a mindset that the opposing hitters are the enemy trying to take everything you’ve got, right?
Hunter Gaddis: Oh yeah, 100%. I don’t have a problem competing or anything like that, but when I get out there, I have always done so much better just playing angry. Just going after the other team, the opponent, anybody, and having fun with it at the same time. At the end of the day, I love it. I want to play for as long as I possibly can. Getting angry out there on the mount gives me the best opportunity to succeed.
Brian Hemminger: Lake County is a unique situation this season, because while the position players are these young international prospects, pretty much all of the starting rotation is all recently-drafted college arms with you, Tanner Burns, Logan T. Allen, Mason Hickman, etc. Are you learning anything from working alongside some of these other highly-regarded workhorse type of starting pitchers?
Hunter Gaddis: Oh yeah, definitely. You go out there every day and you’re talking about pure baseball. You can pick up little things on a slider, little things about a feel for mechanics that you can try out and maybe you love it. You can learn something new every day just talking with one of your guys, a pitching coach, even a hitting coach if he sees something. Hopefully it helps you out on your next start.
Brian Hemminger: Speaking of the next start, you had an incredible rebound performance in your second start of the season. After a bit of a tough first start of the season, you were almost perfect the second start in those 5.0 innings. What do you think was going so right for you?
Hunter Gaddis: I think the difference between the first one and the second one, that mindset of getting angry, attacking, just showing up ready to just go right at that team. The first one, I was getting ready for it for a full week and I wasn’t attacking. I wasn’t putting my best stuff out there. I was just kind of throwing. It definitely helped me to think about the second start and just tell myself to get angry and start attacking. Just throw my pitches in the zone, out of the zone, and it came out to be a good outcome.
Brian Hemminger: Is there any particular part of your game that you think has the most opportunity for growth, that you think the Cleveland development team could impact the most?
Hunter Gaddis: Oh yeah. There’s always adjustments I could make mechanically to sharpen up my slider or throw my fastball harder. Right now I’m working on lean in my brace leg, sharpen that out and make it more of a compact, fast movement at that release point and I hope to see the fastball go up. I hope to see sharper movement on breaking balls. That’s a battle every pitcher faces between every start.
Brian Hemminger: Having gone through the developmental system as a high school player, then college and now as a professional, what’s the biggest difference you’ve seen now that you’re at the professional level of baseball?
Hunter Gaddis: I had a big jump from high school to college. In high school, I was just out there playing for fun. I did basketball as well. For 4-5 months out of the year, I was just playing basketball. Baseball wasn’t a year-long process. Jumping into college, that turned into a year-long process of developing your game, developing yourself.
Freshman year of college, I probably had the biggest jump in terms of velo, command, consistency with all my stuff. Going on to professional, it’s a lot of new tools. I started weighted balls when I got here. It’s all about staying healthy, staying strong. You’ve got 7-8pitching coaches out there in Arizona and you can talk to each one, pick their brain a little bit, instead of having your one coach throughout high school or college.
Brian Hemminger: Do you have any type of pregame rituals or routine that help you get ready before a start?
Hunter Gaddis: I try to stay away from that. I focus on just staying loose, getting my body feeling good and just getting active so I’m ready to go. I try to stay away from anything like that. Tanner Burns, we give him a tough time because he always has to have a sub before the game he pitches the night before. I give him a tough time with that. I try to stay away from it because if something goes wrong, my mind is occupied by something else.
Brian Hemminger: Any shoutouts?
Hunter Gaddis: Shoutout to my parents, my family. My dad’s a big part of me all the time. After that first start, he was the one that told me ”You’re thinking too much.” I was like, ”Yeah, I know. I know.” It’s always good to have family back you. The teammates here are awesome. And the coaches always have your back getting you ready for the next one