By STEVE KRAH
A year ago, Gage Stanifer was preparing for his senior baseball season at Westfield (Ind.) High School.
This week, the right-handed pitcher heads to Dunedin, Fla., for his first spring training camp.
Stanifer made 10 mound appearances for Westfield (eight starts) and went 5-2 with a 0.74 earned run average, 83 strikeouts and 32 walks in 38 innings in 2022 and was selected for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion as a North pitcher.
As a junior in 2021, he hurled in 10 games (nine starts) and was 7-1 with a 0.94 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 28 walks in 52 innings. He was on the Shamrocks junior varsity as a freshman in 2019. The 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When not pitching, he started out as a third baseman and moved to the outfield.
Ryan Bunnell is the longtime head coach at Westfield. Stanifer credits him for beneficial advice.
“His biggest thing was teaching the players to have their own routine and stick by that,” says Stanifer, 19. “Knowing how I go about things has helped me a lot as a player.”
Selected in the 19th round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Stanifer signed with Midwest area scout Matt Huck rather than go to a junior college (he de-committed from the University of Cincinnati) and reported to Florida where he was in some live at-bat sessions and attending some camps.
“They wanted some more one-on-one time to see how I work, just get a deeper look at me before sending me into games,” says Stanifer. “It was just getting me fine-tuned.
“As long as I compete well in spring training and stay healthy I give myself a good shot of making the (Low Class-A Dunedin Blue Jays) roster.”
A 6-foot-3, 202-pounder, Stanifer throws a two-seam fastball, slider and a splitter.
He got the fastball up to 97 mph in 2022 and has been at 92 to 95 in recent throwing sessions.
“I throw a ‘bullet’ slider,” says Stanifer. “It tunnels real well with my fastball. It drops off and disappears from a batter’s perspective a couple of feet.”
The slider — his go-to off-speed pitch — is usually clocked at 83 to 86 mph.
“The splitter has a lot more late depth — a little more depth than the change-up and a little harder as well (86 to 88 mph). It’s a good put-away pitch for lefties but I’m getting a lot more confident throwing it to righties as well.”
What about his arm slot?
“I’d say it’s pretty unique,” says Stanifer. “I kind of throw like a quarterback. I short-arm a little bit. I throw tight and compact. I hide the ball really well from the batters.”
Stanifer attended quarterback camps with Ryan Pepiot and followed him in his baseball career through high school to Butler University and to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“We’ve stay in-touch,” says Stanifer, who is the fifth Westfield player drafted following Kyle Kramp (2009, San Francisco Giants), Kevin Plawecki (2012, New York Mets), Harrison Freed (2019, Giants) and Pepiot. “It’s cool to see someone you know have their hard work pay off.”
Stanifer played football through eighth grade then stopped. He broke his collar bone in fifth grade and had numerous concussions.
In the off-season, Stanifer went through some remote programming with North Carolina-based Tread Athletics and trainer Devin Hayes and was in-house Monday through Friday at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., since the first week of November. He has been going there since 2017, working with Greg Vogt and Anthony Gomez.
Vogt is also the Rehab Pitching Coach for the Blue Jays and Gomez was recently hired as bullpen coach for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Another pitcher who has worked out at PRP — 24-year-old right-hander Michael Brewer — just signed with the Blue Jays.
“I’m glad Mike finally got his opportunity,” says Stanifer of the 2018 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider High School graduate. “He’s a great person and a great player.”
A collector of gloves (he has 14), Stanifer wore a mint green one in high school and has recently added a red, blue and baby blue to the collection.
Gage, who turns 20 in November, is the son of Butch and Melissa Stanifer. His two older sisters are former Westfield cheerleader Skyler (Class of 2017) and volleyball player Raigan (Class of 2019).
Butch Stanifer played one year of football at Indiana State University then turned his attention to bodybuilding and was part owner in a gym before going into real estate.
His father has taught his son about nutrition and weightlifting.
“He’s given advice along the way about how to lift and eating the right food to stay healthy,” says Gage.
Melissa and Skyler are also realtors. Skyler Stanifer is an Indiana University graduate. Raigan Stanifer is an IU senior speech pathology major.