Relief pitcher Garrett Mundell stands at 6’6” tall and he’s not even the biggest person in his family of athletes.
Mundell, the New York Yankees pick in the 23rd round of the 2015 draft and is currently assigned to the Charleston RiverDogs, has a brother, Matthew, who stands at 6’9” and another brother, Josh, that stands at 6”4′. “Well, with shoes on, I give myself 6’7”. My youngest brother, he’s like a solid 6’8” if not 6’9”. And he kind of just sprouted up. I don’t know how to quite explain it, but it was humbling, being the biggest one in the family for so long and being surpassed, it was crazy,” Garrett Mundell said.
Much of Mundell’s athletic prowess comes from his parents. His father, Thomas, played baseball at Western Illinois University. His mother, Ann Mundell-Noel, graduated from Michigan State in 1983 as a highly accomplished track and field athlete. “Both my parents played sports in college. My mom ran track at Michigan State and was an All-American, just an athlete. They just gave me a competitive edge. No matter what, just keep playing, keep having fun. Leave it all out on the field is basically the best tips they could give me,” Mundell said.
Not only did Garrett grow up in an athletic family, with Josh and Matt playing collegiate water polo, but when Garrett was in high school, he was surrounded by excellent talent on his baseball team at El Toro. He was a freshman when Colorado Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado was dominating and played along side recent Oakland A’s call up Matt Chapman, who also plays third base. “Those guys are like men amongst boys out there. You could just tell that they were going to be the next big thing. I remember I was a freshman in high school watching Nolan and I just couldn’t fathom how good he was. And playing along side Matt, we played my junior and senior year together. He just had such a strong arm, could hit the ball so far. You knew he was going to be a stud,” Mundell said.
He remains close with his two former high school teammates and they worked out together in the off season. He texted Chapman after his first major league hit ended up beating the Yankees in Oakland. “I did text him and it was a pretty big night for him. I’m stoked he got the first one as well. Too bad it was against us though!” Mundell said.
Mundell chose to go to Fresno State as he fell in love with the school the first time he visited. “I went on my official visit to Fresno and I fell in love with the place. You know it’s like a college town and people just really rally around the sports, kind of like here in Charleston. Big fan base and it’s a great baseball school. They won the World Series in 2008. They’re just a winning program and it was something I wanted to be a part of,” Mundell said.
While on his official visit, he had a chaperone that would become quite famous. Current Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge showed him around the campus during his visit. “Me and Judgey, we keep in touch pretty regularly actually. He’s just such a cool dude, really good guy to know,” Mundell said.
Mundell and Judge still stay in touch, but they don’t talk about baseball as much as just life in general. “It’s more of just, ‘Hey, I’m here for you.’ It’s keeping up. ‘How are the big leagues?’ ‘How’s Anaheim?’ Like, ‘did you see the parents?’, just more stuff away from the field. We got a lot of that going on, on the field, just try to keep each other up away from the field.”
Mundell was drafted in 2014 by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round. Mundell decided to stay in school, as getting his degree was important to him. “It was a feeling that it wasn’t the right opportunity. Ended up wanting to get my degree. That was really important to me going back to Fresno. Being with the boys for one last season. It ended up being one of the best decisions because the next year I ended up getting drafted by the New York Yankees and I haven’t looked back on it,” Mundell said.
When Mundell was drafted after his senior season in 2015, he was excited, but it created an instant dilemma for his personal life. “I was super excited. Being part of the New York Yankees organization is the most prestigious of all sports in my opinion at least. What’s funny is my fiancee is actually from Boston, so her whole family, they love the Red Sox, so she was a little quiet at first, but she said ‘I’ll love one player on the Yankees. I’m not sure I’ll love the team, but I’ll love one player,’ so that works for me!” Mundell said.
Mundell was assigned to Rookie level Pulaski where he impressed right away. He pitched in 13 games out of the bullpen and posted a 4-0 record with a 0.00 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched. Those numbers earned him a call up to Low-A Charleston where he finished off 2015 with the RiverDogs. In five games in Charleston, he earned three saves in seven innings pitched, struck out 10 batters and kept his perfect 0.00 ERA in tact for the season. “I think looking back on it, I didn’t quite understand what was going on at the time, having a zero ERA, I was just kind of going out and having fun one outing after the next. And there were a lot of situations where it could have gone really bad, but we have guys in the infield, in the outfield like backing me up and that really goes out to them because without them those guys in the right position, right coaching putting them in the shift or whatever we needed to do, runs definitely would have scored,” Mundell said.
2016 would see Mundell struggle to stay on the field with Charleston, including a scary incident coming home from a road trip in which he needed emergency to remove his appendix. “We came home from a bus trip and I had the worst pain I could ever have in my side and knew something wasn’t right and I had emergency surgery that day. It was after a long road trip, so that was scary, but it was also kind of eye-opening because it showed that this game could be taken away at any time, I thank God every day for the opportunity to play. The big result of it is being thankful every single day and not taking it for granted,” Mundell said.
Mundell has bounced back in 2017 and has put together an excellent season in Charleston. In 18 games, Mundell is 0-2 with a 2.22 ERA. He’s pitched 24 and one-third innings and has struck out 35 batters. Anyelo Gomez had started off the season as the team’s closer and earned a call-up to Tampa. Mundell slipped into the closer’s role and has picked up six saves. “I think being in that closer role, the other team’s last chance, they’re giving everything they got. You gotta come at them with your best stuff and they’re coming at you as hard as they can. I think it’s a little more intense than maybe the seventh or eighth inning,” Mundell said.
Being a closer has its ups and downs, and the lowest point this season for Mundell came against the Delmarva Shorebirds on May 6. Nick Green had pitched eight scoreless innings for the RiverDogs and only allowed one hit while striking out nine batters. Mundell came in the ninth to finish the game and couldn’t get the job done. He ended up giving up four runs and had to be relieved by fellow bullpen mate, Trevor Lane. Mundell credits the coaching staff for getting him to work past that outing and learning a valuable lesson. “Honestly it was a lot of the coaching staff just being with me, telling me to keep my head up. It’s just one outing. We’re taking it one at a time. You live and you learn that the mound is a hill of thrills. The lows are low and the highs are really high. So it’s just letting it go, forgetting about the past and just work toward your next outing,” Mundell said.
Mundell has the utmost respect for the leadership in Charleston. “I really love this coaching staff. (RiverDogs manager Patrick Osborn) Os is a great leader. He’s kind of more of the honest, and I don’t want to say gentle, but he’s there. He’s someone you can confide in. He’s a great lead. I really respect him as a head coach. Justin Pope, Popey is one of my best friends. He’s helped me a ton on the field, off the field with baseball, with life. He’s just one of those people that you have in your life that God puts him there for you. He’s just a good person, a good dude. He makes everyone better.”
Mundell throws a fastball, slider and a changeup when closing out games on the mound. “I got my fastball, I just try to be aggressive and attack with the fastball. Filling up the zone. The most important pitch is first pitch strike. Other than that I have a slider and a Vulcan changeup. It’s where you split your two middle fingers. It’s a little unorthodox of a pitch, I think it’s coming back a little bit. I have those three pitches right now,” Mundell said.
He learned the Vulcan grip on the changeup from RiverDogs starting pitcher, Nick Nelson. “With the Vulcan, I got a little bit bigger hands than most people so the regular changeup just didn’t quite feel right. It’d fly out and one of the guys, Nick Nelson, throws one and he recommended it. I tried it and worked on it for a couple of weeks and I’m really liking it. It’s kind of a grip where I can stick the ball the all the way in my hands and not have to throw it off my fingertips. It’s just more of a comfort pitch,” Mundell said.
Mundell’s always working to improve and doesn’t let success limit his potential. “Everyday, we do our dry work, our dry sides. Sides after throwing, just playing catch. There’s tons of stuff I’m working on all the time. But as soon as you step on the mound, it’s just time to go. You gotta compete and not think about it. You work on it every day before the game so it sticks in the game,” Mundell said.
Mundell described his living arrangements, which are not unusual for what players face while playing minor league baseball. “In Charleston, we’ve got eight people living in our three-bedroom apartment right now. It’s not the glorious life of the minor leagues, but we make it work. And then on the road, my road roommate is David Sosebee, who’s also a great dude. Another one of my best friends,” Mundell said. “He’s definitely got a sense of humor. He keeps us laughing. Serious when he needs to be, but just a good personality to have in the bullpen,” Mundell said describing Sosebee.
Mundell used to show off an unusual skill to show that pitchers can actually be athletic. “I can do a back flip standing up. I haven’t done that in a long time. Not in a long time. Okay, I’ll say I used to be able to do one. I haven’t tried it in years, but used to be against what the rumors are that pitchers aren’t athletic. At one point I could show that I was really athletic, so I hope it’s still there!”