Undrafted GVSU star heats up in Lakeland
Brugnoni belts back-to-back home runs in 5th game
After posting one of the most impressive careers in Grand Valley State University baseball history, all Giancarlo Brugnoni wanted was a chance to prove himself in the big leagues, an opportunity to get his foot in the door.
That door appeared to slam shut, however, when the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft came to a close on June 7. Brugnoni, GVSU’s all-time leader in 12 statistical categories from home runs to RBIs, wasn’t drafted.
“I thought I gave myself a good chance to get a phone call during the draft,” he said. “I was kind of disappointed, but I wanted to play. A day or two after the draft, the Traverse City Beach Bums called me and said they needed a guy to come play.”
Playing in the Frontier League wasn’t exactly what the first baseman had in mind, but he agreed to join the Beach Bums nonetheless. The team planned on picking him up in Grand Rapids on its road trip to Illinois and Missouri shortly thereafter.
Brugnoni never boarded the bus.
That’s because the slugger received a phone call from a scout who said he had a better idea. Brugnoni, who grew up in the Detroit area, was told he’d have an opportunity to play for the team he grew up watching: the Detroit Tigers.
“My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe it,” said Brugnoni, who was tabbed as the Daktronics National Player of the Year in May. “It was an opportunity I’ve been waiting for my entire life. The chance to play for the Tigers was a dream come true.”
The dream started to become a reality when he signed a contract on June 12 and joined the rookie league Gulf Coast League Tigers along with the organization’s drafted players in Lakeland, Fla.
Then it hit him.
“It started in the locker room,” he said. “There was a Detroit Old English D uniform hanging up in the clubhouse with my name on it. Everything was Detroit Tigers. That's where it all started, it was incredible.”
Brugnoni notched a pair of singles in his first game on June 21 against the New York Yankees’ rookies, but had more strikeouts (five) than hits (four) or walks (four) through his first four games.
He said his timing “wasn’t quite there” at first, so he shortened up his swing to account for the velocity of opposing pitchers, who were delivering the ball a bit faster than what he was used to seeing at the NCAA Division II level.
At the Division II level, Brugnoni was known for his ability to hit home runs and make adjustments in the batter’s box when needed. His new teammates and coaches – along with the GCL Blue Jays – caught a glimpse of these strengths in his fifth game on July 1.
In his first at-bat, Brugnoni delivered a double to left field. Then, in his second trip to the plate, he knocked a home run over the left-field wall – and he wasn’t done yet.
In the top of the sixth inning, he lifted a moon shot to left center for his second roundtripper of the game. He flied out in his last pair of at-bats, but went 3-for-5 on the day with a slugging percentage of 2.000.
“Two days before that I made a little adjustment and I was crushing the ball in batting practice,” Brugnoni said. “I continued to work on it and once I got in the game it seemed to have carried over.
“Everything finally clicked that day and I finally felt comfortable in the box.”
Through nine games, he is hitting .367 with 11 hits and leads the team in walks (nine), stolen bases (four) and on-base percentage (.513). He also ranks second on the team in home runs (two) and slugging percentage (.600).
The undrafted free agent still has much to prove in order to climb the organizational ladder, but it’s safe to say he’s raised a few eyebrows with his performance thus far.
“I just need to hit and work my way up,” he said. “Hit and hit well and there’s no way they can't want that at the next level.”
The 23-year-old is one of four former GVSU players in the MLB ranks along with Matt Thornton (New York Yankees), Cody Grice (Tampa Yankees (High-A, New York Yankees)) and Kyle Schepel (Visalia Rawhide (High-A, Arizona Diamondbacks)).
GVSU head coach Jamie Detillion, whose GLIAC record of career home runs was broken by Brugnoni in May, said more Lakers could have a chance to add to that list in the coming years.
"We’ve got several other players that will be in the same situation in the near future or down the road," said Detillion, who also spent time as a player in the Tigers’ organization. "It comes with the territory of bringing in these players, but I think our whole team is excited for him. Getting the opportunity now – and that’s all it is – gives him a foot in the door."
That’s all Brugnoni wanted.