From D3 to 98 MPH - Gabe Noyalis
FROM D3 TO 98 MPH: GABE NOYALIS' UNLIKELY SURGE TO PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL
Gabe Noyalis burst onto the scene last December at a Toronto Blue Jays tryout, sitting 95-98 mph and quickly earning an offer into pro baseball. His peculiar story isn’t typical of flamethrowers, most of whom draw crowds from an early age, and are on scouts’ radar before they finish puberty. Gabe graduated from college undrafted and unknown. But where most players accept that pro baseball has closed its doors and begin to move on with their lives, this is where Gabe’s inspiring story begins. Now a member of the TreadAthletics team, we asked him to take us through his incredible journey from undrafted division-3 college pitcher to a mid-90s professional pitcher.
Give us a little background on your baseball career up until college.
Sure. I’m from Williamsport, Pa., I’ve been playing baseball since I could walk and have loved the game ever since. I had decent enough natural ability out of high school, and elected to go to Bucknell University, where I played my freshman year. I then transferred for my sophomore year to Misericordia University (a Division III) and played 1 year there. I then made the hard decision to walk away from the game after that season due to a number of circumstances, and instead picked up a 2nd major and started hitting the weight room hard. I majored in Government, Law & National Security as well as History, and picked up a job at Vitamin World to help support myself financially.
Gabe graduated from college un-drafted and unknown...but where most players begin to move on with their lives, this is where Gabe’s inspiring story begins.
Why did you end up stepping away from the game?
I just got burnt out from playing after my sophomore year and the game just was not fun anymore and that was the last straw for me because baseball is a game that is meant to be enjoyable and once that joy is gone than what is the point? So, since I didn’t play after my sophomore year I was not in a position to be drafted or offered any Indy ball contracts since I wasn’t playing. Though, doing it this way is more of my style anyway, I like to do things differently. I’m also a very determined individual and if I seek to achieve something I put in the work necessary to achieve it. So, after stepping away and (unknowingly) putting in the work to allow myself to throw harder than before and realizing I gained velocity I decided to see where I could take the new-found velocity.
Speaking of newfound velocity, take us through how it happened and when you realized you had unknowingly made gains during your time off?
For the 3 years I was away from the game I trained in the weight room pretty rigorously. I was just trying obtain as much size and strength as possible for the simple fact that I loved pushing my body and seeing the results of my hard work… I became addicted to it. During this time, my training only reflected the previously mention goals; baseball performance had zero influence over my training style. So, over these 3 years I was able to add around 40lbs of quality weight by focusing on my diet, first and foremost, and also utilizing smart training principles.
Gabe lifts weights occasionally.
Come late May 2015 my former high school coach came calling and wanted me to throw live bp to his team to prepare them for the state playoffs. He knew I used to throw relatively hard, but also knew I had been out of the game for several years and just wanted me to be able to get up into the low-mid 80s, since that was the speed they were going to see the next day in their game. So, I went out to the mound, being 40lbs heavier and a hell of a lot stronger than the last time I toed the rubber, I threw mostly fastballs as hard as I could. I figured max effort would be needed in order to be able to produce low-mid 80s velocity since I had not thrown in years.
The hitters (who were 2-time defending state champs and had several D1 recruits on the team) seemed to have trouble catching up to my fastball, which I chalked up to them not being used to hitting off of meatheads wearing cutoffs on the mound (I had just come from the gym and didn’t stop home to change). So, just for the hell of it, the coaches whipped out the gun to see what I was throwing.
After I faced the whole starting lineup I was completely drained and walked off the field into the dugout in desperate need of some water. The coach came over to me and asked, “So what are you doing these days?” and I told him that I had just graduated from college and was looking for a job. He then informed me that I was sitting 88-91 the whole time and figured if I started to throw again I could increase that even more.
So, his suggestion to me was to give baseball another shot and see if I could get picked up by someone. Now, 88-91 isn’t anything to get all worked up about by any means when talking about trying to sign a professional baseball contract being 3 years removed from the game, but I had never sat 88-91 when I played and I agreed with him that if I threw and got my arm into shape there might be some more velocity in there. So that’s when I realized that I had inadvertently increased my velocity through getting bigger and stronger, and once I started to get my arm into shape the velocity kept rising.
At what point did your mentality transition from “hey this is cool that I gained a few mph without throwing for 2 years” to actually deciding to make a full on comeback?
About 2 months after throwing to the high school team I went to a Phillies tryout and hit 94, which made me believe that a full on comeback was something I should actively pursue. Then, about a month later at a Braves tryout I hit 97 but was not signed, although I then knew that it was a real possibility.
Take us through your preparation for the tryout last December. What did you do to train for it? Did you have any expectations leading up to the tryout?
Since I was able to hit 97 with what I already was doing I did not want to change my preparation around too much. However, I was forced to change my throwing routine because my throwing partner left for college, the weather grew colder, and my work schedule also made it very difficult to go outside and throw. So, what I did was a lot of the Driveline plyocare drills in the basement of my gym, and I also simulated long toss by throwing a 7oz plyoball against the wall. During the plyocare drills and simulated long toss I did not touch a ball that weighed less than 7oz. My reasoning for this was because I wanted to overload the throwing motion; and also come tryout time, I wanted to pick up a baseball and have it feel extremely light in my hand. In the gym, I kept lifting heavy but switched my split around a little bit. I previously utilized a very “bro-ish” split of push/pull/legs repeat, but I wanted to hit my lower body twice a week so I started an upper/lower split.
Going into the tryout, I really wanted to at least get up to 97 because I felt like that was the only way I was going to get signed...so I knew this was my chance, and I knew I had to at least be mid 90s on the gun.
Footage of Gabe throwing from the 2016 season.
Did anyone try to talk you out of your goals or tell you that it wasn’t possible? What kind of support structure did you have?
My family, girlfriend, and good friends always supported me in anything I wanted to do and when I told them I was considering a comeback to baseball they had my back.. On the other hand, some people I talked to about attempting to not only comeback to playing baseball but trying to get signed by a professional team just sort of were like “yeah, okay man good luck with that.” So I never really had anyone straight up tell me it was impossible, but I had a few who sort of laughed at the ambition of it.
You put on quite a bit of muscle and strength during your time off, even though velocity wasn’t your training emphasis. Talk to us about your training process and progression over those few years and give us some before/after metrics.
When I started lifting in the summer of 2012 I was 6’3” 187lb, I could put up 135 on the bench maybe 5 times, squat 225 for maybe 3 and deadlift 275 for 1. I knew I needed to gain strength and the size would follow so I started off on Wendler’s 5/3/1 program and I quickly got a lot stronger and by the end of that first summer I was up to 220lb. Over the course of the next few years I experimented with different training splits and made decent gains on most of them and got to a point where I weighed 250lb and had a 500lb squat, 315lb bench, and could do sets of weighted pull ups with an additional 90lb strapped on. I held on to that weight for a little while and then cut down to around 230lb, which was around the same time I first threw to the high school team. The most important thing I picked up from this time in my life was learning just how crucial diet is in making gains. I changed my eating habits and that is how I was able to gain and lose weight when I wanted to, and it also allowed me to get A LOT stronger… diet was the key to all of it. I'm a bit lighter (and leaner) currently, but have hung on to most of the strength I gained during this period.
You didn’t specifically train for baseball for the first couple years of your lifting – is there anything you would have done differently or any exercises you would have avoided had you known about the comeback all along?
I would only have changed one thing, and that is I would have started doing some sort of clean or power pull all along, instead of when I started making my comeback. I believe those types of movements are very beneficial for pitchers and I saw my velocity increase along with my power clean max. I can not say the increase in my power clean is what made my velocity go from 91-98 but I do feel it was part of it. I believe if you can train your body to move explosively with 225+ pounds and be able to generate enough force and quickly enough to clean that kind of weight, then you are setting yourself up to move pretty damn well on the mound with a 5 oz ball. However, overall, I would not have changed what I had done because it allowed me to gain the general size and strength I needed for when I did make my comeback.
[Editor's note: we fully agree with Gabe's intuition in terms of moving heavy loads explosively to train lower body power. While we do program power cleans for some athletes, many athletes are not quite ready for these technical variations but can still build brutal lower body power with other exercises like Trap Bar Jumps and Speed Deadlifts].
How important is tracking your progress in training?
The number 1 thing that I believe is the most important for a high-performance athlete is monitoring strength levels. If I’m progressing up in the weight I use or at least am not losing strength while maybe shedding a little bodyfat that’s what I’m looking for the most. However, early on in my lifting career, monitoring my caloric intake daily was key. Now that I have a couple years experience doing this I can tell by what I eat each day if I’m in the ballpark of what I need to consume. Though, for someone who is new to this it is paramount that they track their nutrition because that is by far the most important thing in getting bigger, stronger, and ultimately throwing harder.
What are your thoughts on the importance of nutrition?
It’s the most important thing for athletes who want to take their performance to the highest level that they are capable of. It’s something that’s so simple, yet so important. You will not progress without proper nutrition.
2016 was Gabe's first year of pitching since 2012.
How important is consistency with your training and following a progression?
Next to nutrition, this is the 2nd most important thing because your training is what takes you to each new level. You do not go from squatting 135lb to 400lb overnight. It certainly is a progression that takes many years. But you can’t just lift once a month or once a week in the span of those years, you have to be consistent throughout those years if you ever want to reach elite levels, otherwise your body detrains in the period you take off and your previous work is completely wasted. So, you have to train on a consistent basis in order to keep progressing.
What experience made the biggest difference in your career?
I think stepping away from the game allowed me to see life differently, because before that baseball had always been a huge part of my life and without baseball I was able view things differently. I now have more confidence on the mound and in general, and I also don’t take the opportunity to play for granted whereas I may have to an extent before because I always had it and never knew what it was like not to have baseball in my life.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to not try to throw the ball as hard as you can.”
What would you say was your lowest point along this 3-year journey? How did you rebound out of that to be where you are today?
I would say probably around this time 2.5 years ago, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I had been away from baseball for a year and was pretty convinced I was done playing and I just felt lost with really no direction. I refused to feel sorry for myself and refused to allow myself to just sit back and watch my life go by. So, I put my trust in God, really focused on my schoolwork, my training, and being a good person. After doing that, things just fell into place.
We know that scouts care about velocity, but how much did they talk about command or the need for it after you sat 95-98 mph?
They just said I would need to refine it a little, which is understandable after not throwing a baseball in order to prepare but it was surprisingly decent. I cringe every time I see someone ask “yeah, but how was his command and movement?” after an article or tweet about someone with plus or plus-plus velocity. I guarantee you the swing and miss rate of a 95+ mph fastball missing its spot is significantly higher than that of a perfectly placed 82mph fastball. Velocity isn’t everything, of course, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than 85mph cookies. That’s one thing that used to bother the hell out of me in high school. I sat upper 80’s touching 90 then, which was above average for that level, so I was a “hard thrower.” I used to throw it as hard as I could.. and even if I threw 9/10 pitches like that and hit my spot, that 1 time I didn’t I would immediately hear, “take some off of it and locate it,” or “don’t overthrow.” It doesn’t make sense to me not try to throw the ball as hard as you can.
If you could give any one piece of advice to that high school/college senior that doesn’t get any professional interest, what would it be?
Don’t give up! But don’t play in the meaningless summer/fall leagues if you’re not receiving any college/pro interest because you probably are not good enough YET. You must TRAIN until you are at that level and THEN go play in the showcases. I took 3 years off of playing and only trained and am now better than when I played 9 months out of the year. Your training is where you get better and the game is where you display what your training has produced.
"Your training is where you get better and the game is where you display what your training has produced." -@GNoyalis
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Give us the mechanical cue or tip that has helped you the most in the last few years get your velocity where it is now?
When I used to play, I had zero sense in what mechanically generated velocity and I just threw the ball as hard as I could. So, my intent was great, but I was not converting much energy into ballspeed.
After studying some hard-throwers and how they move, and seeing some other videos online I picked up on 2 things that I thought I could benefit from the most. I learned how to lead with my front hip and “sit” into the stride in order to be able to generate force. I always heard the cues “use your legs” “push off the rubber”, but I didn’t really know how to. So, by watching the videos I learned how to use my lower half.
Another mechanical change I implemented was cocking my arm later. I used to cock my arm early which would cause me to not be able to separate my lower and upper half well. So, I started cocking my arm later which resulted in better separation. I would say those 2 things had the greatest positive change in my mechanics.
Gabe's mechanics have been compared to Dylan Bundy, who threw triple digits in high school and also squatted 500 lbs.
How did your first year of pro ball go? What’s the plan from here?
Overall it was a great learning experience. I feel like I pitched a lot better than my numbers would suggest and I made huge strides with my offspeed, pitchability, and just playing the game of baseball again and managing the game on the mound. I want to work on my command and also being more consistent with my velocity. So, this offseason my goal is to get as strong as I possibly can, improve my command, and come into spring training next year sitting mid 90’s every outing.
In the end, I would also like to be a part of the new wave of thinking in baseball as far as player development is concerned. Baseball is stuck in the Stone Age for the most part as far as training principles and I would like to help usher in a new, superior way of doing things.
Any closing thoughts or words to live by that sum up your journey?
If you want something, go get it. Find out what it takes to reach the level you wish to be at and become obsessed with reaching your goal. We are all humans, no one is above another.. some are more talented, but at the end of the day we all have the same opportunity each day to take one more step closer to whatever it is we want to achieve.
Closing thoughts from the editor:
While most naturally gifted high school players coast by on talent and compete 9 months out of the year with minimal progress year to year, Gabe took the status quo and turned it on its head. If your goal is to be the best player on your team or in your league – you better be training harder and smarter than everyone else you’re competing against. Learn from Gabe’s story. Become a monster. Pour your soul into your training. Max out your body, your mechanics your mobility and everything else that goes into being the best version of yourself.