For Gophers pitcher and Colorado native Lucas Gilbreath — a lifelong dream became reality Tuesday.
The Colorado Rockies chose Gilbreath with the 206th selection in the seventh round of the MLB draft, four years after their selection of Gilbreath in the 36th round in 2013. Gilbreath was the highest drafted Minnesota player since pitcher Tom Windle was taken in the second round in 2013.
Gilbreath hails from Westminister, Colorado, a suburb just twenty minutes outside Denver.
Gilbreath grew up a Rockies fan, attending many games when he was little.
During his teenage years, he played for the Rockies Scout Team. That gave Gilbreath some exposure to the team at an early age, which led them to select him in the 36th round his senior year of high school.
“It was a dream come true,” Gilbreath said. “I grew up going to all the games, and it was surreal that I was selected by [the Rockies] again.”
Gilbreath played recreation league ball before pitching in high school, with seasons lasting only 10 to 20 games. Ty Giordano, Gilbreath’s coach at Legacy High School in Broomsfield, Colorado, remembers early conversations with Gilbreath’s parents when he saw immediate potential in him.
“He was a diamond in the rough,” Giordano said. “He came with a loose arm, his mechanics were crazy, but I knew from the get-go and told his parents that he would be drafted professionally one day.”
Gilbreath was a four-year varsity starter, and led the state in strikeouts his junior and senior years before coming to the Gophers.
Learning with the Gophers
Gilbreath worked as a relief pitcher for all but one of his appearances for the Gophers before his junior year.
“I struggled a lot at first, and coach [John Anderson] kept giving me chances and eventually switching to a starter role worked out well,” Gilbreath said.
He first came to Minnesota to follow the guidance of the late Todd Oakes, a Gophers assistant coach who died last spring after battling leukemia. The Gophers selected a familiar face, Ty McDevitt, to fill Oakes’ spot. McDevitt was a pitcher under Oakes for five years.
“In terms of development, [Todd] Oakes was a big part of that,” Gilbreath said. “After he passed, coach Anderson and Ty McDevitt really stepped up in terms of continuing my development and teaching me things that have helped me have success both on the mound and off.”
Gilbreath’s junior year with Minnesota was his first year in a starting role since high school. He started 14 games and finished with a 5-2 record, amassing a 2.66 ERA, while striking out 92 batters. He finished 4-1 in conference play, behind a 1.76 ERA and was named first team All-Big Ten.
“His success on the mound, and ability to improve his game has worked pretty parallel with what he has done off the field,” McDevitt said. “He has gained a lot of maturity and insight and perspective on sports and the world and his role in all of that.”
Moving to the minors
Gilbreath will have his first stint with the Grand Junction Rockies, the rookie affiliate of the team.
Gilbreath joins fellow pitcher Brian Glowicki as the only Minnesota player to be drafted in the 2017 draft. Glowicki was selected in the 10th round with the 315th pick by the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
If Gilbreath chooses to sign his major league contract, he will no longer compete for the Gophers, leaving one year on the table. He said he hopes to return to the University of Minnesota to finish school when time allows.
“Balancing school work and preparing for the majors is difficult,” Gilbreath said. “I’ll go back eventually, but for now, I’m going to chase my dreams and ride this baseball thing as long as I can.”