IOWA CITY, Ia. — His baseball journey has certainly been circuitous, from nearly passing on college baseball in 2014 to Wednesday’s excitement as his name rolled off the MLB Draft board.
But Nick Gallagher wouldn’t have it any other way.
After thriving this season as Iowa’s Friday starter, the 6-foot-3 junior was selected in the 16th round by the Cleveland Indians at pick No. 492 overall. Gallagher will sign with Cleveland and forgo his senior season.
"They met the offer that we were kind of looking for,” Gallagher said Wednesday, "and them being such a great development organization, it was a really hard offer to pass up. I'm so thankful for the opportunity.”
Gallagher was strong in his first season atop the weekend rotation, producing an 8-2 record with a 3.48 ERA over 95 2/3 innings. He racked up second-team All-Big Ten honors and was Iowa’s most reliable arm in a year that saw the Hawkeyes encounter substantial pitching adversity.
But backtrack a few years, and none of this seemed even remotely possible.
The former Iowa City West star is happy with his choice to keep playing ball.
As an Iowa City West senior in 2014, Gallagher initially had no plans of playing college baseball, instead hoping to become an Iowa basketball manager under coach Fran McCaffery. Gallagher was a diehard Hawkeye, and becoming one overshadowed any potential baseball chances.
But those opportunities merged with just a few months left in Gallagher’s senior season, when Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller offered the right-hander a walk-on spot for the upcoming 2015 campaign. Gallagher eventually decided to give it a try and began his ascension up the Iowa pitching ranks, throwing well in five midweek starts as a freshman before becoming the Hawkeyes’ top reliever in 2016.
Another bump up came this year. Gallagher transitioned without many hiccups.
“To get this opportunity is incredible,” said Bill Gallagher, Nick’s father. “I never would’ve envisioned this in my wildest dreams that he could be drafted.
“My emotions are we didn’t see this coming. A very, very unexpected surprise. A very nice reward for the hard work that he has done. This is on him. His mom and I have tried to instill work ethic, but he’s gone way beyond what our wildest imaginations could’ve been.”
Gallagher said he was hoping to go Tuesday on the draft’s second day, acknowledging a little anxiety surfaced when the first 10 rounds passed by without hearing his name. But the logistics ultimately worked out Wednesday after the Indians delivered an offer that mirrored Gallagher’s expectations.
Now, the right-hander flips things forward. Gallagher pegged Cleveland as a “big, forward-thinking organization” and “one of the best development organizations for minor-leaguers.”
“I think what’s going to allow Nick to be very successful is he never sits on his current success,” former Iowa pitching coach Scott Brickman said last week. “He’s never complacent and is always looking at how he can get better. He’s never pointing fingers at anybody else. Whatever happens that day, it’s because of him.
“That’s ultimately what makes him pretty good.”
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Taking a moment to reflect, Gallagher heavily praised Heller and the Iowa coaching staff for taking a chance on a late-blooming walk-on from down the road.
It’s safe to say Gallagher made the most of it.
“It hasn’t really been the most normal route someone would go on,” he said, “but I’ve just been really fortunate.”
'An unreal moment'
Ryan Erickson was just hoping for a chance.
It’s been a common theme for the Iowa left-hander, who had to email the Hawkeyes' coaching staff as a sophomore just to get a walk-on tryout. The redshirt senior then nearly called it quits before his final year, but decided to come back for one more ride.
The choice paid off Wednesday. The White Sox selected Erickson in the 30th round of the MLB Draft, making him the fourth Hawkeye picked over the course of three days.
“Probably around Round 28, Round 29, I get a call asking if I want to be a Chicago White Sox, and I told them, ‘Absolutely,’” Erickson said. “And right then, my body went numb. I almost started shaking. It was like an unreal moment.”
Erickson joined the weekend rotation as the Saturday starter in mid-March, going 4-3 with a 3.00 ERA over 75 innings. Two of his biggest outings came during Iowa’s postseason surge, as Erickson helped the Hawkeyes topple Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament and Houston in the regional.
'Odds are I'll be at Iowa'
Despite losing two weekend starters, it seems Iowa will retain a crucial piece for 2018.
Hawkeyes signee Brady Schanuel, a junior-to-be right-hander from Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., appears to be staying with Iowa despite being selected in the 20th round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
“(My advisor and I) talked about our financial demand, and if we didn’t get that, I was going to stand true to it and head to Iowa," Schanuel told Hawk Central. “And at this point, that looks like what I’m going to do.
“… Odds are I’ll be at Iowa next year. Something crazy could happen, but yeah.”
Schanuel committed to Ole Miss in April 2016, but left last fall and returned to Parkland for a second year. He then went 10-1 this season, producing 130 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA in 80 1/3 innings. Schanuel said his goal in Iowa City is to “become a weekend starter and contribute right away.”
“I know I’ll have to earn that spot,” he said, “and if I do, I think we’ll have a good year.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.