With draft, Ghelfi fulfills dream in surprise fashion

Gophers pitcher Drew Ghelfi was taken late in the 2013 MLB draft.

Former Minnesota pitcher Drew Ghelfi throws the ball against NDSU on March 27, 2013 at the Metrodome.

Eric Miller, University of Minnesota

Former Minnesota pitcher Drew Ghelfi throws the ball against NDSU on March 27, 2013 at the Metrodome.

Dane Mizutani

Drew Ghelfi was playing catch in the front yard with his father June 8 as he’d done many times before.

As the seconds crawled by with each exchange, the mindless activity gave Ghelfi clarity amid the stress of the afternoon.

Then the call came.

“I was trying to keep my mind off of it all — then my mom came running out of the house and started screaming and jumping around,” Ghelfi said. “I went and grabbed my phone.”

It was the Milwaukee Brewers on the other end. Drew Ghelfi, at last, was a professional baseball player.

The Brewers selected Ghelfi in the 25th round of the 2013 MLB draft. He was the third Gophers player, and pitcher, to be drafted this year. 

Ghelfi was always surrounded by baseball as a kid. His father played for the Cleveland Indians organization, and his uncle played for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Still, Ghelfi classified himself as a late bloomer and said he didn’t start to peak until his junior and senior years at Central High School in La Crosse, Wis. That’s when he realized he could compete in college.

“I really just wanted a chance to continue to play,” he said. “I didn’t really care where it was, to be honest.”

He said toward the end of his senior year of high school, Gophers’ assistant coach Rob Fornasiere, advised Ghelfi to reach out to Iowa Central Community College.

Ghelfi took his advice and was rewarded. He said the coach at Iowa Central came up to watch one of his games and offered a scholarship.

He pitched two seasons with the Tritons. He was good — not great — in those two years, but he improved in nearly every statistical category from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

Ghelfi said he batted a little bit at Iowa Central, too, but realized his best chance to make it was as a pitcher.

He said he kept in touch with Fornasiere in his time with Iowa Central, and it paid off.

The Gophers offered Ghelfi a chance to play at the Division I level before the 2012 season.

But he didn’t receive a lot of playing time with the Gophers. In two years with the program, he pitched 27.1 innings — and only 11 his senior season.

“I think he was frustrated just like anyone else would be if they’re not throwing,” said Tom Windle, ace of the Gophers’ 2013 pitching staff. “But at the same time, he came to the field every day and worked out what he needed to.”

Ghelfi said it was hard to stay motivated at times but knew he had the ability to make it to the next level. That’s what continued to drive him.

Ghelfi has a fastball, a changeup and a curveball. He said he leans on his curveball in tough situations, but Windle said arm strength is Ghelfi’s biggest asset.

“You can’t teach someone to throw a fastball 90 to 95 [mph],” Windle said. “He has that upside, and he needs to work with his off-speed stuff and throw more strikes.”

Ghelfi said he didn’t expect to be selected in the draft but felt good at his pre-draft pitching sessions with the Minnesota Twins and the Brewers.

“I had a feeling, if I got taken, it would be by one of them pretty late … but I didn’t expect to go as early as the 25th round,” he said. “It was a surprise.”

Ghelfi, Windle and former Gophers pitcher DJ Snelten are currently in Arizona for rookie minicamps. Ghelfi said after he finishes camp in Arizona, players in his organization either stay there for more workouts or get shipped to Helena, Mont., to compete in higher rookie ball.

“I’d love to be in Helena now,” he laughed. “…Five years ago, no way did I think I’d be dying to get to Helena.”

Ghelfi said he grew up a fan of the Brewers, so this is a dream come true. He said the moment with his parents in the front yard was special, but he noted it’s only the beginning for him.

“It’s kind of weird saying I’m a Milwaukee Brewer now,” Ghelfi said. “It’s starting to hit me now that I’m a professional baseball player.”