2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Hunter Gregory takes the ball in this edition of C’s Chat.
The 23 year-old righthander from Chesapeake, Virginia was an eighth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2021 MLB Draft from Old Dominion. He made it to campus with the Monarchs in Norfolk after a standout career at Hickory High School in Chesapeake, the same high school New York Mets star David Wright attended. The highlight of his high school tenure was pitching a perfect game in 2016 against Green Run in which he struck out 11 batters over seven innings, the first perfecto in Hickory High School history. Gregory also hit .338 with seven home runs and 38 runs batted in. The 2017 season saw him win All-Tidewater Player of the Year honours after winning seven of nine decisions with a microscopic 0.54 earned run average to go along with 79 strikeouts in 55 innings.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Gregory spent the bulk of his freshman and sophomore seasons in Old Dominion’s bullpen before joining the rotation in a COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. He went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA with 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 21-1/3 innings. Gregory became the ace of the Monarchs rotation in 2021 and was a first-team All-Conference USA selection after winning eight of his 10 decisions with a 2.95 ERA. ODU went 44-16 last year and won the USA Conference Tournament. They got as far as the NCAA Columbia Regional title game before losing to the Virginia Cavaliers.
Baseball America issued this scouting report on Gregory before the 2021 draft.
“Gregory split time as a starter and reliever during his first two years at Old Dominion in 2018 and 2019, but transitioned into a full-time starting role in the shortened 2020 season. This spring, he started 15 games and posted a 2.95 ERA over 79.1 innings, while striking out 88 batters and walking 19. He pitches in the 90-92 mph range but has been up to 95, and throws a solid slider/cutter with good strikes. He is on the older side for the 2021 class.”
After receiving a signing bonus of $127,500, it was off to Dunedin for Gregory and he made his pro debut with a perfect inning in Lakeland that included a strikeout August 25. That was among six one-inning relief appearances for Dunedin to finish out the year.
Gregory’s next assignment was Vancouver to open the 2022 campaign. He helped set the tone with four innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts in a win over the host Tri-City Dust Devils April 15. His first professional win came April 22 at Nat Bailey Stadium when he threw three no-hit frames, walking one and whiffing five against the Eugene Emeralds. Gregory’s most dominant outing also came against the Emeralds when he put up three perfect frames with eight strikeouts in Eugene May 14.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with Gregory during the team’s homestead against Spokane in early June. This interview has been edited for clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – Let’s take it back to your high school days. The highlight of your baseball career in high school – pitching a perfect game. Take us through that.
Hunter Gregory – That was a long time ago. High school was one of the top things of my life. I would have to say, like you said, throwing a perfect game but besides that, the team chemistry we had there. I’m still in contact with tons of the guys that I played with. One guy, Cody Schneider, who I played with, a good friend of mine who went back to coach there. Other than that, the high school experience was like no other. Pitching (in my) freshman year, sophomore year. Then head coach Hank Kraft, a great guy, decided, ‘Hey, let’s let this guy swing a little bit.’ And then come senior year, I led the district in home runs. After that, I went to Old Dominion as a pitcher. And then coach Chris Finwood wanted me to do a little bit of hitting, That lasted about a couple weeks (laughs) and then I went back to the mound.
CPB – I just want to go back to that perfect game. At what point did you know something special was going on? Did you feel it in the early innings or how did that all go about for you?
HG – I had no idea what was going on at that time. I had no idea what a perfect game was. Because I was hitting as well and pitching, I was just in the game, you know, nothing crazy going on. No one said anything. Of course, no one wanted to jinx it. I got the final out and then I realized everybody was coming towards me and I realized, ‘Oh, I threw a no-hitter!’ And then Hank Kraft goes, ‘You just threw a perfect game!’ I go, ‘That’s awesome! What is that?’ And then I figured it out. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ And he goes, ‘That’s the first time in Hickory history’. And I was like, ‘Nah, get outta here.’ He’s like, ‘No I’m serious!’ And because Kraft is the guy who could be sarcastic with no smile (laughs). You just don’t know. So it took me a couple minutes to figure it out. But once I did, it’s a childhood dream come true. I wanna do it again but you know, the higher level you go up, the harder it is. So every step that I take is just another learning experience.
CPB – Old Dominion. How did that shape you as a player and a pitcher?
HG – It shaped me in many ways. First of all, it shaped me more as a person. Going into college, like every top high school player, you think you’re all that. And freshman year really showed me, you’re not. And with the coaches, the friends I made outside of baseball as well, it really showed me that college is one, a learning experience but two, to mature. Going from that, you play summer ball when you’re in college. And I went to the Valley League in Charlottesville (Editor’s Note – Gregory had a 1.50 ERA with 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 30 innings for Charlottesville of the Valley Baseball League in 2018) and that really showed me that there are top players from every school, you know, Vanderbilt, Florida, Louisville. And I’m this little guy from Old Dominion. No one cared about who you were or what school you were at. And that showed me that it doesn’t matter what uniform you have on. You’re just here to play ball. And from then on, (my) sophomore year, junior, senior year was the best experience at baseball I could imagine. The regional that we made, (being) the conference tournament champions, you’ll never get those memories back. But watching them this year go to the tournament. It sucks they didn’t get into a regional. I was following the whole way but it felt like I was still there. I’m always going to be a Monarch.
CPB – You were a reliever to start off with and then you became the Friday starter in 2020 when COVID cut things short. How did you get through COVID and what was that like making the transition from a reliever to starter at Old Dominion?
HG – It was a big difference that’s for sure, coming out the pen with a good amount of appearances. Fin (Chris Finwood) was sending me down to his office and usually when you go in that office, it’s never good. So I was like, my heart was a little down in my stomach and he said, ‘You’re going to be our Friday night starter.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s a big deal!’ (Laughs) And we went on from there and then COVID came when, like everybody else, we were hit hard. And that year was a year I was expecting to show out. And then waiting for the draft again with the five rounds. I was hoping to get the opportunity. I didn’t but I did get the free agent call from the Blue Jays in the COVID year. And the experience in my mind, this is my opportunity but it just didn’t feel right. So I went back to school to get my degree (in sport management). That was the major part. And then we had a four-game weekend series that year. So we did one on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. A buddy of mine who also got drafted this past year, Ryne Moore (18th round pick by Milwaukee), he and I were due on the weekends, the seven innings and we were cruising along. So that experience from reliever to starter at beginning was a little rough, right? But now it it’s easy because you can do both. And that’s one thing I’ve learned here with the Canadians is we have some rain delays and we have a good amount starters that you go to the pen and come out and I’ve done that. So I think that’s one thing that helps me on my side is I can do both.
CPB – So you knew the Blue Jays were obviously interested in you, you mentioned, during the COVID year and then you finally get drafted by them. It had to make you feel good that the Jays, they still remembered you and that they wound picking you. How did that all go down in the draft?
HG – Yeah, it’s actually a funny story. The Blue Jays actually never called me or reached out to me all year. So I never thought they were going to pick me up. I got one call during the draft sitting there in our playroom, we call it, and I get a call from my (advisor) saying, ‘Hey, the White Sox are going to take you in the fifth round.’ I was like, ’Ah, sweet!’ The money just wasn’t there and then I had to realize, it’s not all about the money. It’s all about getting the chance to play but you also have to realize this money is going to take me a long way through the rest of my life. And I was like, ‘No, I just can’t do it.’ So now I’m like, ‘Dad, I just messed my career up, my future.’ My (advisor) Steve Schreiner, he’s just like my high school coach. You never know when he’s being serious or when he’s laughing. So he calls me and goes, ‘Hey, do you have your passport?’ ‘Yeah. I got my passport.’ He goes, ‘Alright!. Well, you’re going to Canada.’ I’m still sitting like, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You’re getting drafted by the Blue Jays.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay!’ (Laughs) And then the phone starts going off. All the Facebook, the Instagram (messages), whatever it is. Then we have a small party at my house. People congratulate me, people are crying and I start crying. Then I realize I leave within 48 hours. (Laughs)
CPB – And I know everything kind of happens quick once you get drafted. You’re expected to head down to Dunedin as soon as is humanly possible. Take us through your first professional season with the Dunedin Blue Jays.
HG – The people that I’ve talked to over the years. Especially one guy I played in high school against, (pitcher) Garrett Stallings. He got drafted two years before I did (Editor’s Note – Stallings was a 2019 Angels draft pick now with the Orioles organization). And I was asking like, ‘Hey, how does the process work?’ And he said, ‘You get down there, you get to know everybody, you do all your physicals and stuff. And you go to instructs camp and you go home and then you come back.’ I’m like, ‘Okay’. I get down there with a couple of the guys that went with me and I got to know everybody, do our physicals, doing some bullpens, doing some training. With two weeks left in Dunedin, they say, ‘Hey, you’re going to go pitch down there.’ I wasn’t expecting it but it was a great time. And it was also just like my freshman year in college, it really set me back a little bit but it helped me at the same time. I thought I could come in here with my college stuff and get guys out and that was not the case. So during the off season, I grinded harder than I ever have and my veto has jumped up four or five miles (per hour) harder. I’ve gotten better connections with who I am on the mound and who I am as a person. And I feel like pro ball, just like college, has changed me. I’m more mature to help out even the younger guys who, even if they signed for more or (were a) higher draft pick. You never can go wrong with asking anybody, ‘Hey, how do you do this?’ How does this work for you?’ And it could click or it could be like, ‘No, let’s not go with that.’ And then you ask the next person. All in all, so far from Dunedin to here, it’s a great experience. I was expecting to go back to Dunedin this year because no one really told me what was happening until Drew (Drew Hayes), the pitching coach from Dunedin was like, Hey, we’re going to line you up for the first weekend,.’ Twelve hours later, I get a call saying, ‘Hey, pack your bags. You’re going to Canada.’ I was like, ‘Nice. All right.’ (Laughs).
CPB – In Dunedin, you have the Player Development Complex. You talked about your increased velocity, but how has the PDC helped you as a pitcher?
HG – The PDC is like, you’re a kid in a candy shop. Honestly, it has every bell and whistle you can think of. You need something, it’s there. You don’t think you need it, it’s there. The people there with the experience will keep you on the field. The players that you don’t even know will talk you up like you’re their best friend because once you get into an organization like the Blue Jays, everybody’s family. Even though if you can’t speak their language, as I’m still learning to do, you can still feel the vibe from guys in this organization. So this organization with the PDC, it’s a great development. It’s all lined up. It knows what it’s doing, but it also brings everybody as a family. It’s not just, ‘Hey, you’re a pro ball player.’ It’s ‘Hey, this is a new family.’
CPB – Talk about yourself as a pitcher. How would you describe yourself or give a scouting report on yourself?
HG – A guy who likes to throws a lot of strikes. And sometimes, that can be good. Sometimes, that can be bad. (Laughs) I’m also a guy on the mound who won’t show emotions very often, maybe two percent of the time if it’s just one of those days. But I like to have fun out there. If you give up four or five runs, you just got to wipe it off your shoulder because there’s going to be multiple opportunities. They didn’t just sign you for no reason. This ain’t the same as college where you have to give your all with results to get that call. This is, ‘Hey, you’ve made it. Now. you just got to keep getting better.’ And I feel like that’s what you got to keep doing here. As a pro ball player, there’s going to be not one, two more opportunities. You’re going to have multiple and multiple and multiple (opportunities). It’s all about how can you overcome the next opportunity? And if that one’s not good, how can you do it even better in the next one? So it’s all about just getting to that next step.
CPB – Talk about your pitch mix. What is it that you’re throwing right now?
HG – Right now, just a fastball, changeup and slider. We’ve been mixing around some cutters, some curveballs here and there. Just a little ‘Why not?’ That’s what I call it. Sometimes we’ll throw them in a bullpen and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh man. That felt really good. Let’s throw it in the game.’ And then it will be the worst pitch ever. I’m like, ‘Alright, we’re not throwing that again right now.’ So right now, just a fastball, slider and change. The fastball has been a really big impact on me getting it up. I’ve had a lot of swings and misses. A lot of the coaches are saying, especially the pitching coach here, Phil (Phil Cundari) saying that when I get the fastball up, it’s unhittable. So far that’s true but other than that, I’m just taking those three pitches with me in my back pocket. Until I need to do something different, I’m not going to change it.
CPB – Taking a look at the stat line. The peripherals are pretty good. Lots of strikeouts, very few walks. I know the ERA isn’t what you would like it to be but how would you say your season’s been going so far in Vancouver?
HG – So far I wouldn’t say it’s gone in the worst direction. The ERA? Yeah. It’s not what you want to see as a pitcher. But then again, when I got here, you can see on a stat line (there’s) a high ERA but why is it a high ERA? A lot of the games I’ve had, I know in one inning, I gave up four runs and no ball left the outfield. I had a ball four-hop the third baseman and that scored a run. And then I had another ball that hits off my foot and that scores a run so you just got to see it as that. There’s no excuses of getting guys out but this is baseball, you know. I threw a pitch, he’s got to hit it and that’s just how the game works.
CPB – How have you enjoyed pitching in Vancouver so far?
HG – The fan experience here? Incredible! The city, it grows on you but being a country boy in a city, you kind of miss home a little more when you wake up and you see nothing compared to buildings on buildings. But other than that, what people have said about Vancouver, they’re not wrong. So anybody who comes out to a game, it’s the best field ever especially. And my favorite thing is already when they sing O Canada and the whole stadium gets into it. That gets you some chill bumps.
CPB – Final question. What is it that you’re hoping to accomplish in 2022 and beyond?
HG – One thing is to stay healthy. I’m hoping to stay on the field with the boys as much as I possibly can. I’m hoping, of course, to move up to preferably to New Hampshire this year to get another experience. But the biggest thing, the biggest key is to keep grinding, keep staying healthy and keep a positive mindset. Therefore, I can talk great things about my ’22 season, even if it’s only in Vancouver. Other than that, the biggest key is to stay healthy so I can have a smile on my face, a smile on my family’s face and a smile on the Vancouver side.
- Uniform numbers – Wore 33 at Old Dominion. Donned 44 with Dunedin in 2021 and 43 to begin the season with Vancouver before switching to 32.
- Favourite College Team Growing Up – North Carolina Tar Heels
- Favourite MLB Team Growing Up – Los Angeles Dodgers
- Favourite MLB Pitcher – Clayton Kershaw
- Favourite NBA Team – Los Angeles Lakers
- Favourite NFL Team – Los Angeles Rams
- Other Favourite Sport – NASCAR
- Mound Entrance Music – “Rednecker” by Hardy
- Instagram – @hunnerg33
- Twitter – @H_gregory33
Thanks a million to Hunter Gregory for this instalment of C’s Chat and to Canadians broadcaster Tyler Zickel for arranging the interview.