Spring Training for the Minnesota Twins minor league system is quickly approaching, and with it, the hundreds of players in the system are preparing for the year to come, getting ready for what should be the first fully normal minor league season since 2019.
One of those minor league players is Sawyer Gipson-Long, a sixth round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2019. Gipson-Long spent the 2021 season in between Single-A Fort Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids while putting up some of the better strikeout numbers in the system.
Puckett’s Pond caught up with Minnesota Twins prospect Sawyer Gipson-Long.
I got the talk to sit down with Sawyer on zoom and discuss his baseball career, joining the Minnesota Twins organization, and more before he gets going with his second full year with the organization.
On Baseball in Georgia
Otto Johnson: You grew up playing baseball in Georgia. What’s the baseball community like down there?
Sawyer Gipson-Long: Baseball in Georgia is pretty competitive. Starting at a young age, there’s a lot of really good teams that come out of there. I’m sure baseball fans are familiar with East Cobb Baseball (a youth baseball program based out of Marietta, GA that has produced hundreds of big leaguers over 22 years), Perfect Game, LakePoint, all those places, so there’s a lot of competitive baseball in the area starting at a young age. Because baseball is available year round, it’s just one of the sports you play down there, it’s like hockey in the north.
OJ: Who were some of the best players that stuck out to you that you still remember going up against?
SGL: In high school, I played with Drew Waters (Atlanta’s No. 3 Prospect, MLB’s No. 76 Prospect), and I still keep in contact with him. Really good guy, super great athlete and baseball player. I played against Carter Kieboom in high school as well, I know he just debuted.
In college, we played against ACC and SEC schools, so I played against a lot of really good guys. I remember guys like Jonathan India (2021 National League Rookie of the Year), he was a really good hitter, Joey Bart (San Francisco Giants No. 2 Prospect, MLB’s No. 16 Prospect), one of the best pure baseball players I’ve played against. I know I’m forgetting some, but just about every team I played against in high school had at least one guy go ACC, SEC, Power 5, or pro now, so those were some of the best dudes I played against.
On Baseball at Mercer
OJ: You played baseball at Mercer, a smaller, but still Division I school in Georgia. Was the location the main factor in that decision? Did you have any other offers coming out of high school?
SGL: Honestly, Mercer was the the only offer I had coming out of high school, but they were still exactly what I wanted. They had great academics, a great Pre-Med program, a great medical school that I hoped to get into after college, and the program was competitive and played in a big conference (the Southern Conference). It was also important for me that I would get playing time right away, I didn’t want to go to a big school and sit on the bench until I was a junior senior. Mercer was a play I was able to play an immediately have a role. On top of that, it was close to home. It wasn’t in my backyard, but close enough to home that I felt comfortable. I got a good college experience, and it was just the perfect storm that made me choose them.
OJ: What was college like for you as an athlete? What’d you do in your spare time and how has that changed now as professional baseball player?
SGL: I would say i’m pretty boring, I like to do baseball stuff. I like to figure out who I am as a baseball player, so I like to learn about my body, how it moves, analyzing video, and working on the mental aspect of the game. In college I started to get into yoga and pilates, which is a lot of what I do as my break from the game. Baseball takes a lot of mental focus, so yoga and pilates as a hobby helps me take my mind off of the game and better myself. I also like video games and board games too, there are a lot of board games down here at the academy (the Minnesota Twins Player Development Academy in Lee County), so we play a lot of those down here. I’ll go fishing sometimes too, I like to get outdoors, but at the end of the day it’s about baseball, and I won’t really do anything without thinking about how this will affect me as a baseball player.
On Joining the Minnesota Twins Organization
OJ: You were a sixth round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2019. Were you hopeful that you would have gone a little higher, or was this where you expected to go? Did the Twins reach out to you before the draft, or were they a surprise team? Who else reached out? Walk me through the draft experience for you.
SGL: I didn’t really have too many expectations going in, and the Twins were the most active team I talked to going in. The scout that I talked to the most was Jack Powell, who works out of the southeast, he was super supportive and helped guide me and give me insight on where I should expect to go. He was a huge part in the learning process. I expected to go on the second day, middle round which is what they were saying. I know some guys will have a team that’s talking to them the whole time, but another team will pick them, but that wasn’t how it was for me. The Twins told me they were going to get me in the sixth round and they did. I talked to the Yankees, the Mets, and the Brewers a little bit, I talked to a majority of the teams, but Jack met me in person a number of times, texted and called me a number of times, but no other teams had that commitment.
OJ: You were only able to play six games of rookie ball before the Covid Pandemic shut down minor league ball. How do you feel that affected you? What did you do stay prepared for the return of baseball?
SGL: I finally got to that first year and to have it shut down was really tough mentally for me, but now I’m honestly really glad that it happened. That time off was a big obstacle for not only me, but for everybody, and I was able to take that opportunity and turn it into a learning experience. It wasn’t a lost year for me, it gave me time to grow and work on my craft, where as maybe if I had a season, I would be playing and I wouldn’t have been able to work on my mechanics and the mental aspect as much as I was able to. I got a whole year of development to make the changes to make the next step as a pitcher, so looking back it was a great year for me.
On Pitching during Games
OJ: Your strikeout and walk numbers have been terrific, and your numbers (ERA, K/9, BB/9) have actually improved in the minors vs. in college. Do you ever pay attention to those things or do you only focus on the mental side or trying to build up speed? Do you think that season off from baseball help that numbers boost?
SGL: It’s so hard to not look at those numbers, they’re always there, but I try my best not to define myself by those numbers. I try to be in the present moment. I can have a really good start, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll have a great one the next time out, so there’s still stuff I can learn from. If I have a bad start, then I know for sure there’s something to work on and that motivates me even more because I know there’s something I need to fix. Focusing on the numbers takes you out of that present moment, but you need to focus on every game is a new game, every inning is a new inning, every pitch is a new pitch.
OJ: Talk a little bit about your pitch mix. Which pitches do you feel the most confident about, which ones are you working on, and which is your favorite to throw?
Well, I throw a fastball, a slider, and a changeup; My fastball has pretty good carry and life to it, especially up in the zone and my slider is probably my most comfortable pitch to throw, I’ve had it for a very long time and is my fallback pitch to throw at anybody in any situation. My changeup is relatively new, it just came about this past year in 2021. It took a lot of time to develop, and I’ve never really had a good changeup, like it is now. I’m never really done working on any pitch, but I would say my changeup is my highest focus and I have to get more comfortable with this pitch versus the slider, where I’m not as concerned. My heater is my foundational pitch, I can put my fastball up in the zone and let my other two off-speed pitches work better and keep them off-balance.
OJ: What is your favorite part about playing baseball?
SGL: My teammates honestly. The relationships I’ve built through baseball have been nothing short of a miracle in that through little league, high school, college, up to pro ball are still supporting me and have changed my life for the better. I really don’t know where I would be without these guys. The memories I’ve made with these guys are irreplaceable. I honestly couldn’t care less about my performance if it meant I got to keep my relationships with these guys and not only that but the impact that we’ve had on each other, so that’s probably my favorite part.
On the Offseason and Minnesota Twins MiLB Spring Training
OJ: You’re gearing up for year two of your minor league career, how do you gear up for when Spring Training arrives?
It’s a bit of a shortened offseason this year, just because we started later and ended later last season, but we’re back to the normal schedule this year, so normally I would have taken more time off from throwing competitively, but I’ve just continued to throw. I’ve been ramping up my strength training and getting my body to move correctly, and as the offseason goes on I’ll be moving from the building strength aspect to the more fine-tuned mound work, where I’m switching gears to moving quicker, mixing in pitches, working on movement and building towards when Spring Training gets here.
OJ: People are far more familiar with the Minnesota Twins MLB Spring Training, so what does minor league Spring Training look like?
SGL: It’s not a whole lot different than MLB Spring Training. If I’m not pitching, I wake up early have breakfast, stretch, throw, maybe some agility workouts, then some strength, some pitching, post-throw activities, and you’re usually done by noon or one o’clock. If you’re throwing in the game, then you might do a few more workouts and end at three or four, but after that, it’s enjoying hobbies, whether that’s the beach, fishing, yoga and pilates for me, but it’s a pretty chill experience. Just do your work and do whatever you need to get done.
OJ: You mentioned earlier you’re already down there, what are you working on right now?
SGL: We’re in Minnesota Twins MiLB minicamp right now, so I’m down here with some of the other prospects and it’s just pre-Spring Training workouts and training. I like it just because you can get used to the training and hang out with your teammates and roll into Spring Training seamlessly.
OJ: You’ve now been in the Minnesota Twins organization for almost three years, are there any other prospects you’ve gotten close with?
SGL: Louie Varland and I are really close, Brent Headrick and I are super close as well, the three of us started in Fort Myers together and they’re fun dudes. Coming back in minicamp they’re both here as well, and I’m really proud of the friendships I’ve made with them. They’re both dudes that are fun to be around and play with but they’re also fun to compete against, because as minor leaguers you’re always competing for a spot. I loved competing with Matt Canterino and Ben Gross as well, and they’re more brainy dudes who love board games as well, so it was fun competing with them and their mental competitive edge. I roomed with Ryan Shreve and Denny Bentley, so there’s those guys too. I get along with pretty much everybody here, and we’ve all got the same goals in mind, but those are the ones who come to mind.
On this Upcoming Season and a little more about Himself
OJ: What are some goals that you have for this season? Is there a specific level you want to make it to this year?
SGL: Well I’d love to make it to the majors by the end of the year, but I think the biggest thing is staying healthy, pitching every week, and increase my velocity. I’ve been working on my velocity with the Minnesota Twins staff and that helps with all of the pitches, not just the fastball. I don’t really have many specific goals, but I just want to go out there and compete in every game, stay healthy, and work towards that jump from the minors to the majors.
OJ: Are there any fun facts about yourself that you want to tell Minnesota Twins fans?
SGL: I actually play piano, I’m not that great with it or anything, but when I get home, I love to play piano, and when I’m here I have a mini guitar that with five strings that I like to play as well.
OJ: Who was your favorite team growing up? The Braves?
SGL: Absolutely, I went to a lot of Braves games growing up. My mom was friends with an electrician at Turner Field (the old Braves stadium), the one who would turn on the lights every night, and through him I got to tour the stadium a couple of times. I have so many memories of going to Braves games over the summer, so when they won the World Series, the little kid inside of me was ecstatic.
OJ: Are there any other professional sports you enjoy?
SGL: Honestly I would say hockey is my next favorite sport, I was a Thrashers fan growing up and was really sad when they left, but I love hockey games, I love the intensity and it’s got probably the best action out of the four major sports. When they left, I became a Tampa Bay Lightning fan because my grandma lives outside of Tampa, and they’re pretty good now, so I guess I picked a good one.
OJ: Just to wrap this up, you said earlier that you were going Pre-Med, so if you couldn’t play baseball, what would you do instead?
SGL: I’d probably do something in that field, I really enjoy learning about how my body works and what makes me a better baseball player, so when I can’t play baseball anymore I want to help other people figure out what makes them a better baseball player or learning about the body in general and what makes you move. It definitely still interests me to this day, so after baseball, that’s what I would want to do.
Follow Sawyer on Twitter here as well!