Sitting in ecology class his senior year at South St. Paul High School, John Gaub kept himself awake by repeatedly staring down his cell phone, wondering when it would ring.
Finally, it did.
The Minnesota Twins were on the other end.
Gaub, a Gophers baseball pitcher, walked out of class during the middle of his teacher’s lecture and walked back in a 25th-round draft pick.
“My teacher came chasing me,” Gaub said. “But I think he knew what was going on. I guess I don’t really care if he did.”
Gaub, now a sophomore with the Gophers, has quickly shown the talents that led to that phone call. He’s already one of the most dominating relievers coach John Anderson has seen.
But the journey from high school draft pick to dominating reliever wasn’t exactly smooth.
In his true freshman season in 2004, Gaub started off shaky, inconsistent and, at times, wildly out of control.
Halfway through the season, something clicked for Gaub, Anderson said.
His fastball started jumping.
Gaub ended the season with two saves and a team-leading 1.85 ERA.
“I think I kind of established myself at the end of last year,” Gaub said. “So then, coming into this season, I think I had a bit of an intimidation factor.”
His intimidating presence was complementary to a fine-tuned change-up and a devastating curveball.
But no pitch serves a 6-foot-2-inch left-handed pitcher better than a 96 mph fastball.
That pitch has him on pace to lead the team in strikeouts this season – despite being a reliever. His 41 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings are 11 better than senior starter Matt Loberg’s 50.
“I’ve always said that the best play in the game on defense is the strikeout,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to do anything. The catcher just has to catch the ball.”
So far this season, Gaub has surpassed his freshman save total with three, which ranks third in the Big Ten, and again leads the team with a 1.42 ERA.
His statistical domination of nearly all major categories had the coaching staff contemplating a starter role.
A star starter for South St. Paul, Gaub wasn’t sure what his role would be when he decided to play for the Gophers.
Now, it has become that of a team leader in the bullpen, which required some personal adjustments. Gaub said he has never been a talkative person, making it hard for him to become a vocal leader for the team.
His performance has spoken for itself, though, as he has appeared in more games than any other Gophers player this season.
That durability and consistency still has the Gophers coaching staff members keeping the idea of making Gaub a starter in the back of their minds.
But it’s tough to take him out of a role he’s so well-built for and in which he has found so much early success.
“It’s his makeup and his attitude,” pitching coach Todd Oakes said. “His attitude, his ability to stay focused for shorter periods of time, is more conducive to using him the way we are. Not to mention, it’s worked out for us so far.”