The Milwaukee Brewers 2015 draft has drawn plenty of attention around the game. Led by first year scouting director Ray Montgomery, the Brewers received rave reviews for the selections of Trent Clark, Nathan Kirby, and Cody Ponce at the top of the draft. Milwaukee added several other promising talents to their system this season, as well, signing 31 of their 41 draft picks, including their first 22.
One player who flew under the radar during the three day draft was right handed pitcher Gentry Fortuno. The 17 year old enjoyed tremendous success at Charles Flanagan HS (Florida) during a four year varsity career: a 1.06 ERA in 257 innings pitched, striking out 299 batters while walking just only 36. Despite his awe-inspiring statistics and projectable 6’1″ and 235 lb frame, Fortuno slipped to the 18th round in the draft, where the Brewers nabbed him at #541 overall. A player of Fortuno’s ilk could turn out to be a significant value chosen that low in the draft. I had the opportunity to interview Fortuno this week, and learned a bit about what the draft process and minor league life are like.
Kyle Lesniewski: You had a phenomenally successful high school career. Can you tell those who may not be familiar about some of your accomplishments?
Gentry Fortuno: Well in high school I went 35-5 during my career. I won several awards: I was a four year letter winner, Rookie of the Year, MVP, All-County Best Pitcher, and Tri-County Best Pitcher to name a few. Unfortunately, I regret that we were never able to win a state championship. We made it to the regional all four years but lost each time.
KL: Quite an impressive track record overall. Can you describe what the draft process was like? Did you know that the Brewers were interested?
GF: Brewers area scout Charlie Sullivan showed huge interest before the draft. I guess Milwaukee wasn’t as interested as I thought, though; the whole draft overall was discouraging and very stressful for me. I kept watching and watching (the first two days) but never heard my name called. Finally I decided that I just wasn’t going to watch anymore, and then an hour later my phone starting lighting up like fireworks. I was so shocked it actually happened, I didn’t really have any words for anyone.
KL: So you thought you would have been chosen a little higher that where you were taken?
GF: Sort of – I thought I did a pretty good job during my high school career and may have been taken higher, but I am still happy where I ended up with Milwaukee.
KL: You were committed to play baseball at the University of Central Florida. What convinced you to forgo your commitment and sign with Milwaukee after being drafted in the 18th round?
GF: After the draft I though to myself, ‘you know what, I may never see this opportunity again.’ What if I get hurt? What if, for some reason, I don’t want to play ball anymore? I didn’t want to take the chance of this opportunity never happening again. I wanted to get my career started, and I didn’t want to have to wait another three years until I am a junior to see if my name was going to even be on the board again.
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KL: What does your arsenal feature?
GF: My fastball hit 90 MPH a few times in my last start, and then a changeup around 82-83 MPH, a curveball 68-72 MPH, and a “split finger sinker” from 83-86 – it’s like a cutter with sink.
KL: Four different pitches with four different speeds should bode well for long-term success as a starter.
GF: I’m working on my curveball still, it’s the pitch I have the most difficulty with. I also haven’t thrown my changeup much since being drafted, so everything is still a work in progress.
Gentry Fortuno demonstrates his split finger sinker grip.
KL: How do you like to go after hitters? Have you had to adjust your style to the pro game at all?
GF: I’m a pitcher-to-catcher guy, I was taught growing up never to shake off pitches and go with what the catcher calls. The only difference so far has been the jerseys and logos I have seen, but a hitter is a hitter and I’m going to trust my catcher and throw what he calls. If I get beat, then I will learn from as much as I can from that.
KL: Can you describe what your professional debut was like? Any butterflies or anything?
GF: I never really get nervous or get “butterflies,” I try not to let things bother me no matter what the situation is. Like they say, (stuff) happens and have to learn to let go fast in the game of baseball. So nothing has really changed, just like high school I put my jersey on and do my best to represent the team on the front of the jersey and pitch the way I know how to.
KL: What sorts of things have the Brewers had you start changing or working on since you’ve been in the organization?
GF: We’ve worked to tweak my delivery a little; I’m working to hide the ball more and change how long I hold the ball to throw, especially from the stretch. I generally get a lot of ground balls as it is, but the coaches have emphasized how important it is to work the ball down in the zone, and that’s been hard for me to adjust to.
KL: Do you look at the advanced stats like FIP, WAR, ground ball rate, etc, at all? How do you personally judge your performance?
GF: I’m not a big statistics guy. I judge my performance based on how well I locate my pitches, there’s not much I can control beyond that.
KL: So what does a typical day look like for a minor league pitcher like yourself?
GF: I usually arrive at the park around 12:30 in the afternoon and start my routine, around 3:00 we go out for pitcher fielding practice and conditioning. If I’m scheduled, I’ll thrown a bullpen. After that we come back inside and do either lower body workouts or upper body and core workouts. We get some time to relax after that, then generally head to the field around 6:45 for games.
KL: What’s minor league life like? Do you guys get much free time? What has been the biggest adjustment?
GF: The minor leagues are a grind, but I enjoy working out and getting after it each day. For every four games we play we get one off day. We have housing, it’s about $180 a month but they are pretty sweet. Three bedrooms, huge kitchen, nice balcony. My roommates are all high school guys like me, so I can relate to them and we get along the best. On off days, we generally like to do stuff like sleep in, go to movies, go to the mall, shoot pool, play PS3, just nice and relaxing stuff.
I have never been away from home for this long, so I’ve been feeling homesick and it’s been a big adjustment. The hardest part is just being independent. I get so many headaches trying to do laundry that I never really do it anymore and it’s piled up in the corner, and when I go to the grocery store I never know what I am supposed to buy. Stuff like that.
KL: So how’d you get into the game of baseball? Who was your favorite team and player growing up? Are you a big Josh Beckett and Marlins fan?
GF: It’s a funny story how I got into the game, actually. When I was about four, I was with my family at a soccer game my sister was playing in. On one side of the fence were bleachers, and the other side was the parking lot. I used to pick up rocks when I was bored and throw them about 50 feet and hit the cars, so my dad signed me up for baseball!
I didn’t really start watching baseball on TV til I was eight or nine, and growing up my favorite team was the Yankees. My favorite players are Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez. I only remember Josh Beckett starting from his days with the Red Sox, so he was my enemy!
KL: When did you realize that playing baseball might be a possible career for you? What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a professional baseball player?
GF: I didn’t really realize that playing professionally was a realistic option until after my sophomore year. If I weren’t playing, I would have probably gone to school and studied to become a firefighter or a pilot.
KL: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
GF: My goals are to just keep out working everyone. I want to try and limit my games to one run or less, and especially one walk or less. I just want to keep quiet, keep a low profile, and do all the work that is asked of me.
KL: Thanks a lot for the interview, good luck the rest of the season with the Brewers!
GF: I’m happy to be representing a great ball club. It was a pleasure, thank you for the opportunity!
Gentry Fortuno signed with Milwaukee soon after being drafted and is currently assigned to the rookie level AZL Brewers, where he has been putting up some impressive performances. In 6 games (four starts) so far, Fortuno has thrown 14.0 innings and allowed just three earned runs, good enough for a 1.93 ERA. He has struck out eight batters while walking just three and boasts a 69.6% ground ball rate (per MLBFarm). RtB will continue to check in with Fortuno periodically throughout the rest of the season as he works his way towards becoming a major league pitcher and get a glimpse into what life as a professional baseball player is like.
You can follow Gentry Fortuno on Twitter at @FortunoGentry. You can follow me at @brewerfan28 and of course, be sure to follow RtB at @ReviewngTheBrew!