AUBURN | One year could make all the difference for Cody Gunter.
The third baseman, selected in the sixth round by the Washington Nationals in 2013, returned to the Auburn Doubledays (Short Season-A) this season one year older, a little bit bigger and much wiser.
One of the youngest players on the 2013 Doubledays, Gunter is more comfortable heading into his second year of pro baseball.
"I’ve really just calmed down, that’s the main thing," said Gunter, who has put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. "I’ve been playing less timid. Last year when I came in, I was speeding everything up and my heart was just pounding. This year I’ve learned to just slow everything down, joke around and have fun."
While few players spend more than one season in the New York-Penn League, Gunter is one of a half-dozen Doubledays that are returning to Auburn, who finished in last place in 2013. Gunter finished with a .224 batting average, five doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI last season.
"He’s a young guy and he needed a lot of work," said Doubledays manager Gary Cathcart of Gunter. "He may have been pushed a little bit last year at this level. But he experienced a lot of failure, and in the long run he’ll be better for it."
Now 20 years old with a full year of pro baseball experience, Gunter looks to make a difference in the field and at the plate. Over the first 10 games this season, the Flower Mound, Texas native has gone 6-for-30 with an RBI and a pair of doubles and runs scored.
Gunter is ready to put his rookie season behind him.
"We just couldn’t put anything together last year," he said. "We’d either hit and not pitch, and then we’d pitch and not hit. We struggled on defense. Everybody was speeding the game up last year."
Gunter was originally drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 19th round in 2012, but chose to attend Grayson Community College. While some teams at the draft thought about selecting Gunter for his pitching, the Nationals decided to select him and make him Auburn’s regular starter at third base.
"He can really, really throw. So we're going to send him out as a third baseman," said Nationals Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline after the 2013 draft. "He's got a good approach, he's got power. He's got that major league swagger. Very confident aura about him on the field that he makes present. And he's got some good tools. Not a runner, but he'll end up playing third or right field as a big leaguer."
Gunter has become a mainstay in the Doubledays lineup and has frequently been slotted in the middle of the Auburn batting order.
"I feel incredibly comfortable at third base right now," Gunter said. "I feel like anything that comes my way I can scoop it up and throw it over."
Just a few weeks into the season, Cathcart has already noticed Gunter’s growth.
"He looks like a more efficient player this year -- his footwork on defense, his approach at the plate," Cathcart said. "After a year, you can tell a big difference in what he’s doing."
VIDEO: Auburn Doubledays top Mahoning Valley Scrappers with walk-off hit in 10th inning (with all 4 Auburn runs) http://t.co/tM5xHYRTuH— Jeremy Houghtaling (@CitizenHough) June 24, 2014