Gausman 'honored' to be first pitcher taken

Moments after he was selected fourth overall in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Kevin Gausman ducked out of LSU's team meeting room to field a phone call.

It wasn't a chat with a coach, or an agent or a general manager, as has become customary in the modern era of professional sports drafts. It was something far simpler.

"That was my mom," said the Centennial, Colo., native with a sheepish smile. "(The Orioles) never called me."

That seems appropriate for the 6-foot-4, 185-pound sophomore, who has earned Tiger fans' adoration for his quirks, like snacking on powdered doughnuts between innings, as much as his talent, which has seen him strike out a whopping 128 batters so far in 2011.

But there's nothing quirky about this. On Monday night the Orioles made Gausman the first pitcher selected in the draft -- before Stanford ace Mark Appel, an upset in the minds of many. The selection makes him LSU's highest-drafted player since pitcher Ben McDonald went first overall to Baltimore in 1989.

"Obviously, Kevin Gausman had a lot of potential, and he has developed it -- not quite to its fullest yet. He's going to get better as he continues to grow as a person," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "But he's developed quite a bit since he's been here, enough to be the fourth pick in the draft. So that's something for us to be very proud of."

Gausman had been projected as a top five or 10 pick for the majority of the season, and his first team All-SEC season did nothing to quell that. Still, the 21-year-old was a bit surprised when he realized he was the first pitcher off the board.

"I didn't expect it, so I'm kind of in shock still about it, especially with how good Mark Appel is. I've played with him, and his stuff is unbelievable," Gausman said. "To be taken before him is something I definitely didn't expect, so I'm pretty surprised about that, but still very honored."

Gausman's two seasons of delivering results in the pressure-packed arenas of the SEC served him well when his 30-minute wait to be called came to an end. When MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced Gausman's name, a cheer went up among the Tigers players, and many hugs and hand shakes were shared. But aside from an infectious smile, Gausman handled the life-altering news with the same aplomb that's seen him cruise to a 2.72 ERA this year.

"I've watched this kid mature not only as a pitcher, but as a person," Mainieri said. "His emotional maturity, his mental maturity, his physical maturity -- he's become a man before our very eyes."

Gausman had this opportunity, albeit much later in the draft, two years ago, when the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the sixth round. But Mainieri said his desire to play for LSU outweighed his price tag -- aided no doubt by the Dodgers' turbulent financial situation. Asked about it in retrospect, Gausman said he'd made the right decision by coming to Baton Rouge.

"In high school you're thinking about being one of those guys to get a paycheck and start playing -- thinking you don't have to go to class anymore," he said. "But those two years kind of flew by for me, and school really wasn't as bad as I'd thought it would be. Obviously playing in the SEC and playing here, and getting to have the atmosphere we've had these past couple of weekends, is kind of a dream come true."

With one dream out of the way, Gausman was able to return to his mantra, the one that's guided him through questions about the draft up until this point. The postseason resumes this weekend, and Gausman said he plans to continue with his goal to capture a national championship -- free of any distractions.

"Right now I've still got the same focus, which is leading this team to Omaha," he said. "I feel like there's a huge weight that's been lifted off my shoulder, and now I can focus on playing baseball."