By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
It’s a long way from NCAA Division II college baseball to the major leagues.
Former Eastern New Mexico University pitcher Gabe DeHoyos recently got a brief taste of life just below the bigs when he was called up to the Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A Omaha team for a couple of weeks.
He was promoted from Class A Burlington, Iowa.
A 25-year-old right-hander from Artesia who is in his fourth season of pro ball, DeHoyos got roughed up in two relief outings with Omaha. He was brought in to fill a void when the Royals had to call some players up to the majors.
“It’s quite a jump (from Burlington),” the 5-foot-11, 226-pound DeHoyos admitted. “It was just a complete, total surprise, but they needed an extra arm up there and they called me up to fill in.”
He’s now back at Burlington, where he’s had a nice run since Kansas City picked up his contract last summer from Schaumburg (Ill.) of the Class A independent Northern League.
At ENMU, DeHoyos posted a 16-10 record and a 3.86 earned run average from 2000-02, primarily as a starter. He struck out 204 hitters in 193 1/3 innings, including 83 in 2001 to tie the school’s single-season record.
When he signed with Schaumburg in 2002, he transformed from starter to reliever.
Last summer at Burlington, DeHoyos went 1-2 with a 2.28 earned run average and five saves in 16 games. He’s done even better this year — 3-1 in 13 games, including his first professional start, with a 1.49 ERA, two saves, 42 strikeouts and just 26 hits allowed in 36 1/3 innings.
Shaun McGinn, Kansas City’s senior director of player development, said while the Royals knew DeHoyos was making a large jump to go to Omaha, they like the way he carries himself.
“What impressed us with Gabe is his demeanor and his durability,” McGinn said. “We can use him in a couple of different (relief) roles. He’s got the mental makeup that if he had a bad outing, it wouldn’t affect him that much.”
It didn’t take long for DeHoyos to notice the difference in competition at Omaha.
“(The hitters are) a lot more patient,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who have come down (to Triple-A) from the big leagues. They look for that one mistake, and when they get it they hit it.
“It was nice to watch and learn from the guys that were there. It gets me excited, and I definitely want to get back up there.”
McGinn said most of the Royals’ farm teams are made up of relatively young players, and how quickly DeHoyos advances depends on available spots. He said it’s entirely possible DeHoyos will move back up during the second half of this season.
A key to his progress is developing a changeup or a split-finger pitch to go with his fastball and curveball, McGinn said.
“Once you get to Double-A and above, it’s all about being able to compete when you don’t have your best stuff,” McGinn said. “We think he’s going to get up there someday.
“He’s a guy that, as long a he can keep the ball down and he throws strikes, there’s no telling where he’ll end up. Now it’s just a matter of having a spot.”