Editor’s note: This story is built around quotes obtained by Keaton Gillogly, Modesto’s broadcaster. Keaton has graciously shared his interviews with us so we can put them in writing and help get these stories out for Mariners fans to read, but if you want to hear them first, tune into Modesto’s broadcast (free to listen on the TuneIn app or available on MiLB TV) and listen as Keaton unspools the next chapter in the tale of the 2019 Modesto Nuts.
“It’s your career, not mine,” Modesto Nuts pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr. told Mariners first-round pick Logan Gilbert when he approached Marcello with a question about something his catcher, Cal Raleigh, had said. “You guys are going to be the battery sooner or later in the big leagues. You need to figure it out now.”
It was this advice that eventually led to a heated meeting between the two; a meeting that could not only re-shape the careers of two of the Mariners’ top prospects, but also offers insight to how the Mariners, as an organization, are equipping the next generation of players to succeed by fostering an environment in which criticism is welcomed, and self-critique, even more so.
Fellow 2018 draftees Gilbert and Raleigh are good friends, although that wouldn’t have been immediately evident to anyone who walked into Modesto’s clubhouse one night in late June. Both players downplay the intensity of the encounter in interviews, but the moderator, Marcello, provides a more blunt description of the evening which eventually turned into an early morning.
“They’re in the training room and they are going at it,” says Marcello. “I’ve called it The Truth Meeting between Cal and Logan.”
For some Mariners fans, two players going at it might bring up unpleasant memories of the clubhouse clash in 2018 that ended with fisticuffs and a door barred to reporters. But periscope out from an isolated moment in A-ball and it becomes clear that a conflict which might be seen as a red flag actually demonstrates a hard-earned trust these two players have in each other. It’s a trust that has been cultivated in an environment fostered by the Mariners Director of Player Development Andy McKay, an environment that emphasizes the importance of telling the truth. Both Gilbert and Raleigh were in attendance at a prospect leadership summit this off-season where they’d heard a lot about telling the truth, a lesson Raleigh has internalized.
“This off-season we had a little program,” Cal says, “and we learned about the truth, and telling the truth. The truth doesn’t hurt. It’s good for you. Any time you can be truthful with somebody, you can show that you care. And once you show them you care, you can get them invested.”
Rob Marcello Jr. is in his first year of coaching at the professional level, but has quickly earned deep admiration—tinged slightly with fear—from his pitching staff for this exact reason. Marcello’s mantra is “tell the truth,” or as pitcher Penn Murfee describes it, “brutal honesty,” a technique that could feel abrasive if not for the care Marcello puts behind his words.
“It took a little while for the whole staff and catchers to respond,” says Murfee, who was in attendance at The Truth Meeting, “but after a while it became clear that in a professional environment, you speak your mind.”
Speaking one’s mind is another lesson Raleigh had been taught in his first pro offseason at the Mariners’ High Performance Camp. Having noticed his pitchers were getting away from establishing the fastball inside, Raleigh approached Marcello with an idea of how his staff could be better.
“He wanted me to have a meeting about the way we were pitching,” says Marcello. “And it pretty much came down to ‘hey Cal, you need to be a leader, and you need to figure out how to have these meetings.’”
Two weeks after Raleigh had initially brought his concerns to Marcello, the Nuts’ first-year coach decided to push Raleigh to set this meeting while the Mariners catching coordinator Tony Arnerich was in town visiting the club during the first homestand of the second half.
“He brought everybody in and sat them down to say, hey this is what we did in the beginning of the year. This is how we were successful. We need to get back to that, especially with losing key pieces to Double-A,” says Marcello, referencing strikeout artist Sam Delaplane and flamethrowing Joey Gerber, both of whom had recently been promoted. “I think the players were awesome with it. And then two hours later, Logan Gilbert walks into my office.”
Gilbert wanted to know if the fastball-centric message of Raleigh’s meeting applied to him, as someone who is focused on his secondary pitches and working on the shape of them, and has an ideal number in mind for what he wants his pitch mix to look like. In fact, Gilbert could think of a specific time when throwing an inside fastball hadn’t been what he thought was the best plan: a game in mid-May when he had a batter in an 0-2 count. Raleigh called for an inside fastball, and Gilbert hit the batter.
“Which was poor execution on my part,” Gilbert acknowledges. “The pitch should have worked if I threw it, but I was telling him about certain things that I believe with percentages, like—that particular hitter, the scouting report I remember was ‘cannot hit sliders, cannot hit curveballs,’ and 0-2, I usually throw those pitches. So we went fastball inside, and if I execute that pitch, 95% of the time we’re gonna get him out right there, but if we call a curveball or slider, that might be 90% that we get him out right there, but the risk is different because you’re not losing a batter once you already have him. So you have to look at risk/reward.”
Gilbert was a 4.0 student in high school; he was also ASUN honor roll all three years he was at Stetson, made the All-Academic team twice, and was on the Dean’s List. A business analytics major in college, Gilbert prides himself on studying scouting reports and putting in the analytic work to help construct a winning game plan.
“If a batter is 0-2, I firmly believe his at-bat’s over. In my mind, I already have him.”
Cal Raleigh, however, also made the Dean’s List and was an ACC All-Academic player two of his three years at FSU. Well before Gilbert was promoted to High-A, Raleigh had been in Modesto all season, throwing himself into the work of running a professional staff in his first full year, and crafting his own reports based on his experience with the hitters of the California League, an eight-team league that breeds familiarity.
Gilbert didn’t want to speak out of turn or look like he was challenging Raleigh’s leadership of the pitching staff, so later that same day, he took his concerns to Rob Marcello Jr. “I wanted to make sure that I was thinking correctly, logically, before I took it to Cal,” says Gilbert. He presented his case at length to Marcello, who listened thoughtfully to Gilbert’s complaints before responding with one sentence: If you have an issue with it, talk to Cal.
Wasting no time taking his pitching coach’s advice, Gilbert found time that same day, after the game, to talk to his teammate and friend.
“Cal was in the training room with me and I’m like, this is a pretty good time, we’re one-on-one,” Gilbert says of the moment The Truth Meeting began. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing and it’s not like a confrontation. It’s just like, hey Cal, the meeting today, I didn’t exactly agree with it for me.”
And they were off.
Hey, what do you got on me?
Why do I need to do this better?
Cal, you can’t complain about my outings, I’m trying to get pitch shapes better.
Logan, you need to dominate.
There was something else that had to be worked out between the two, each of whom takes equal pride in their preparation. Thanks to his familiarity with the league, Raleigh might know the batters, but, Gilbert argued, only the pitcher knows how they’re feeling as they throw. Sometimes shaking off the catcher’s called pitch is necessary, and he wasn’t feeling he could do that without damaging their relationship. “There are certain times when I’m going to shake you off, and it can’t be an ego thing. I want to be able to do that and not lose the other person the next day, where someone shuts down or takes it personally. This is a working relationship where we’re on the team against the batter and we’re just trying to find the best way to get him out.”
An hour and a half later, they finally sat down to eat dinner at midnight.
“That’s when it really started to hit Cal like ‘uh oh, it’s me,’” says Marcello. “Pitchers were complaining to Cal saying ‘hey, you need to do a better job being the same guy every day. You need to gather information and you need to help us through our starts.’ It’s not just hey I’m back there calling signs. It’s more than that. Which I think was awesome for Cal to kind of have that realization of ‘Oh. I am the leader of this team.”
Being presented with one’s shortcomings is a humbling, often painful, experience.
“Sometimes I think as people we don’t want reality defined to us, and sometimes when it is, it hurts,” says Modesto manager Denny Hocking. “Sometimes we think we’re doing a good job, but in the eyes of others, it’s just not good enough.”
It takes considerable strength of character to do what Cal Raleigh did next.
“He was incredibly receptive, to the point where the conversation went three hours when it could have been ten minutes,” says Gilbert. “The way he was receptive to us and bringing [constructive criticism] out of us, it made the conversation keep going because of how he wanted to grow.”
Anybody can talk. Anybody can pretend to listen. But would it result in meaningful change? Pitcher Penn Murfee, another 2018 draftee who first grew close with Raleigh playing in Everett, thinks so.
“I see [Cal] taking a lot more in-depth, personal approach with pitchers. He’s sitting down and asking what guys saw in the scouting report and how they want to attack hitters. He’s really listening to the pitcher and keying that into his game plan because pitchers and catchers see different things during the course of the game. I think what he’s really doing a fantastic job of is meshing what the pitchers feedback to him is and putting that together with what he sees. He’s streamlining that into a really well-defined game plan.”
When Hocking came in the next day, he didn’t need to hear specifics about the lengthy meeting; all he wanted to know was the answer to a general question: Was it a collaboration at the end? Or was it everyone trying to show off their smarts and win points?
“I think that’s how it started,” says Hocking, “and then I think they gradually worked to a meeting place in the middle. And I thought that was great, because you’re talking about High-A ball, and two guys we have big plans for in the system, that were able to get on the same page away from the field—outside of the lines—and then to be able to take it inside the lines as well, was probably the most remarkable thing that came out of that.”
When the lessons from The Truth Meeting were taken inside the lines, history happened. Four days later, Ian McKinney took the mound for Modesto and threw seven scoreless innings while striking out a career-high 13 batters. That began a stretch of six consecutive scoreless starts, a feat never before recorded in the 78-year history of the California League. When it was all said and done, the Modesto rotation posted 40 consecutive scoreless innings.
“It really flipped a switch with everybody,” says Marcello. “Everyone was in a better mood. It kind of just brought that aura around our pitching staff that we are a family. Everyone has a family, they have a drunk uncle, they have a messed-up family member. It’s who we are as a pitching staff.”
“Yeah, we’re crazy. But we’re a family.”
Of course, it’s not just Modesto’s coaching staff that’s striving to create open channels of communication; it’s an organization-wide ethos led by Director of Player Development Andy McKay that prides telling the truth, being selfless, and caring about each other.
“I think it just has to make [McKay] stick his chest out and be proud of what the Mariners stand for, with guys at a young age taking it to another level,” says Hocking. “When I look at Cal and his preparation, these are things that will stay with him and he’s only going to get better at moving forward.”
Just a few short weeks after their Truth Meeting, Raleigh and Gilbert were both promoted to Double-A Arkansas to face the toughest competition they’ve yet faced in their young careers. But both are coming to the high minors having had an experience that will shape how they interact not just with each other, but with their new teammates as well.
“I think this is something neither guy has experienced before, having a peer speak critically and honestly to you,” says Marcello. “And it comes from a place of caring because they each want the other to play in the big leagues.”
“I could be the smartest guy in the world,” Cal says, “but if you don’t care about that person, or you don’t care about their career enough to tell them the truth, it’s not going to do anything for them, or you, honestly. It’s like that old saying...they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s been something big I’ve followed so far.”
“The truth doesn’t hurt. The truth only helps. That’s something I think, not only baseball players, but everyone needs to live their lives by.”