Everett pitcher Joey Gerber was an eighth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in last month’s draft. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Everett pitcher Joey Gerber was an eighth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in last month’s draft. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

AquaSox closer Gerber thriving at start of pro career

It is one thing to have goals.

It’s another to exceed them, particularly at the tender age of 21.

Yet that is the case for Everett AquaSox reliever Joey Gerber, who was the Seattle Mariners’ eighth-round pick out of Illinois in last month’s Major League Baseball draft.

“My dream was to play college baseball,” Gerber said with a grin. “This is icing on the cake. It’s worked out pretty well so far.”

Needless to say, Gerber has some new goals — namely a place in the Seattle bullpen. Some in the scouting world think that could happen sooner rather than later, but Gerber isn’t contemplating that.

“I just try to take it day by day and see what happens with that,” Gerber said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the experience and get better.”

Gerber has shown the ability to get better quickly. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander was lightly recruited out of Wayzata High School in suburban Minneapolis. The University of Minnesota staff came to see him pitch prior to his senior year and he turned in his “worst game of the summer.”

Instead Gerber signed with the University of Illinois. At the time Gerber’s fastball topped out in the mid-80s and had an unremarkable 7.50 earned-run average in five appearances as a freshman for Illinois in 2016.

“They were the only school that actually made me an offer,” Gerber said. “I didn’t want to go to a mid-major school and Illinois had a really good business school. I wanted to go to a good school academically, and it was just a good fit.”

Through a combination of Advanced Placement credit and summer classes, Gerber graduated early and has his degree despite spending just three years at Illinois.

His velocity increased and he emerged as the Illinois closer as a sophomore in 2017. Gerber fashioned a 2-1 record with eight saves and struck out 43 hitters in 33 innings. He followed that with an even more impressive 2018 season in which he was 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 28 ⅔ innings. He tied an Illini single-season record with 14 saves while relishing his role as the Illinois closer.

“I think it’s just wanting to play against the best competition,” Gerber said. “Honestly I just try to go out there and have fun and throw as hard as I can.”

Gerber was ranked among the top 150 available players by Baseball America and MLB.com. Yet he remained available on Day 2 of the draft longer than most prognosticators anticipated. The Mariners took him in the eighth round at No. 238 overall.

“He has a closer mentality,” Everett manager Jose Moreno said. “He’s very aggressive on the mound (with) his body language. He wants the ball. You can tell when we are in a winning situation late in the game that he’s ready to go.”

Short-season Class A ball favors development over numbers, but Gerber is tied for the Northwest League lead with four saves. He has fanned 13 in 8 ⅓ innings and he boasts a 2.08 ERA.

There have been a few hiccups. Gerber allowed three hits and a run each in back-to-back outings during Everett’s eight-game road trip prior to July 4. Since then he’s made two appearances while striking out six of the seven hitters he has faced.

“Hitters at this level in minor league baseball are a lot more aggressive than in college baseball,” Gerber said. “In college baseball they try to work the count a lot more. Getting used to that has been a little bit of an adjustment, but for the most part it’s been a smooth transition.”

For the latest AquaSox news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.

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