The Chicago Cubs spring training opener tonight against the Oakland A’s at Mesa’s Sloan Park will feature Tucsonan Juan Gamez — formerly of Cienega High School and Pima College — on the mound as a reliever for the Cubs.
First pitch is at 6:10 p.m.
For Gamez, a 25-year-old right-hander, it is an ideal opportunity for him to impress the Cubs with the hopes to play for the organization this season. He signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs during the offseason after excelling in the Mexican Pacific Winter League.
He played primarily at catcher throughout his high school and college career.
Gamez graduated from Cienega in 2012 after playing as a four-year starter and two-year letterwinner as a catcher. He batted .475 with five homers and 43 RBIs in 32 games as a senior.
He went on to play at Pima in 2013 and 2014. He played in 52 games as a sophomore, compiling a batting average of .247 with eight doubles, one triple and one home run and drove in 30 runs. He stole 11 bases and scored 25 runs.
North Dakota State, coached by former Sabino and Arizona pitcher Tod Brown, recruited him and he played primarily catcher for the Bison for two seasons. As a senior in 2016, he struggled at the plate, batting .197. That’s when he toyed with the idea of pitching because of his velocity.
Pitching in the 90-mph range, Gamez made one appearance on the mound for the Bison, and he surrendered no earned runs on two hits in one inning with two strikeouts.
He earned a degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology at North Dakota State.
The Twins drafted him in the 31st round of the 2016 draft as a catcher but he switched to being a pitcher soon after.
“I’ve had a good transition from the college game to the professional game thanks to the work ethic driven into me ever since high school,” Gamez, a right-hander, told the Twins Daily in 2017. “I’ve been lucky enough to be in good programs all throughout my amateur career, which has definitely made the transition to pro ball a much simpler one.”
Along with his two-seam fastball, he has developed a slider and his changeup. His slider has required plenty of work but Gamez has shown improvement.
In three seasons of rookie ball pitching only in relief with the Twins, he compiled a 2-2 record with two saves and a 6.91 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. With his fastball developing into the 90’s he did show the ability for strikeouts, registering 50 of them with 37 walks.
Gamez left the Twins last year for the Mexican League, where he pitched for Monterrey. He struck out 31 and walked 24 in 46 innings of middle relief.
Playing for Los Mochis in the Mexican Pacific Winter League recently is what caught the Cubs’ attention and made them sign him to a minor-league deal. He recorded 11 saves with 32 strikeouts and 19 walks in 33 1/3 innings. His ERA dipped to 2.43.
Media that covers Chicago have compared Gamez to former Cubs pitcher Rich Garces because of Gamez’s stocky 5-foot-11 and 250-pound frame. Garces also played with the Twins before signing with the Cubs.
Gamez’s fastball has now been clocked in the 95-100 mph range.
He is the son of Francisco Gamez, who is the owner and founder of Mexican Baseball Fiesta. The elder Gamez pitched in the Mexican League for 10 years.
Former Tucson minor-league general manager Mike Feder works with Francisco Gamez to promote the MBF, which showcases teams from the Mexican Winter League in games at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in October as part of the Vamos a Tucson Mexican Baseball Fiesta.
“I give all the credit to my family,” Juan Gamez said. “It’s safe to say I have the best parents in the world who are always pushing me to better myself. They support every decision I make and always have my back.
“My siblings who I know support me as well and motivate me to do great things. Lastly all the coaches who have helped me out throughout my career on and off the field. Without them I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.