Every professional baseball player has embarked on a journey to get to where they are, but few have had as unique of one as Vancouver Canadians reliever Chuck Ghysels. After playing for four different colleges, the Blue Jays finally signed him as an undrafted free agent last year.
“I was very excited to sign with Toronto,” Ghysels said. “I was kind of disappointed after the draft, but when I received that phone call from the Blue Jays I was extremely excited for the opportunity to play professional baseball. I received interest from other teams, but Toronto was the first to call and to show a lot of interest.”
Growing up in Ohio, Ghysels graduated from Springboro High School and began his college endeavours at the University of Dayton in 2009. Working with his his pitching coach Todd Linklater on different parts of his game, Ghysels finished with 43 walks and a 5.63 ERA in 54 1/3 innings, but racked up 54 strikeouts as well.
Ghysels transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Illinois the following year to try his hand at the junior college level and wound up enjoying a breakout season. In addition to finishing the year 9-1 with a sparkling 1.37 ERA in 79 innings, he cut down his walk rate and struck out 117 batters, good for sixth among JUCO ranks.
“Lincoln Trail College was a great experience,” he said. “It was a school where you had to grow up and be a man, because you had to take care of things for yourself.”
Ghysel’s great season at Lincoln Trail caught the eyes of scouts and rewarded him for his hard work, as the Cincinnati Reds selected the right-hander in the 36th round of the 2010 MLB draft. Although being drafted was a huge honor, Ghysels opted to pass on the opportunity to play professionally in favor of continuing his college experience.
“There were many reasons I didn’t sign with the Reds,” he said. “I had a large scholarship to the University of Maryland which played into the decision a lot. I also wasn’t sure if I was mature enough to go into professional baseball at that time.”
Finding his way back to NCAA competition, Ghysels attended the University of Maryland in 2011, where he worked with head coach Erik Bakich on incorporating a changeup into his repertoire. Much like his first stint at the NCAA level, Ghysels’ ERA (5.47) and walk total (46) were higher than he would have liked, but he finished second on the team with 59 strikeouts in 51 innings.
“My time at Maryland was very enjoyable; I loved the opportunity of playing in the ACC,” he said. “You could learn so much by sitting back and watching the guys in the conference play, especially some of my teammates like Charles Haslup who is in the Yankees system right now.”
Finishing his collegiate career at Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, Ghysels dominated opponents with 110 strikeouts and a 1.40 ERA in 77 innings of work. He limited opposing hitters to just a .185 average on the year, and he had a memorable day on March 9, 2012 when he threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout against Shorter University. Soon after his final college season came and went, Ghysels received a phone call from the Blue Jays with an offer to begin his professional career.
In his first season in the organization, Ghysels logged three innings for the Dunedin Blue Jays and spent the bulk of his time playing for the Blue Jays’ Gulf Coast League affiliate. “[The Gulf Coast League] was a grind, but a lot of fun. I spent a lot of time with the bullpen guys and they were all great. We had a lot of talent.” In the GCL, Ghysels finished with a 3.86 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, and his 41 strikeouts were good for third on the team and 14.4 per nine innings.
Even though he only pitched a handful of innings for Dunedin last season, Ghysels said he still took things away from the experience.
“In Dunedin I tried to shut my mouth and do my job. High-A is a totally different beast than the GCL,” he said. “It was fun learning from those guys and they carry themselves well. They teach you how to act on the field, but also off the field on being professional. It was great.”
Starting off the 2013 season in Lansing with the Lugnuts, Ghysels struggled with command once again, walking 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings. He did manage to log three saves and fan 19 batters, but would eventually end up reporting to the Canadians out in Vancouver to continue his season.
While he probably would have liked his numbers to have been better, one thing he did enjoy about his time with the Lugnuts was working with pitching coach Vince Horsman.
“Working with Vince Horsman was awesome,” Ghysels said. “He’s very knowledgeable and knows a lot about the game. He teaches us a lot about pitching, but he also helps with stuff off the field including how to be a professional and acting accordingly.”
Horsman had positive words about Ghysels as well.
“I really like Chuck Ghysels, he really goes after hitters and attacks the strike zone,” Horsman said. “He always gives it his all and pretty soon he’ll get the numbers he’s looking for.”
Now calling Vancouver home, Ghysels has been a force in the back end of the bullpen for Canadians manager Clayton McCullough. Finishing 14 of the 17 games he’s appeared in, Ghysels has managed a 2.45 ERA in 18 1/3 innings so far, with 29 strikeouts. With more strikeouts sure to come, he’s having fun again on the mound.
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