07/01/09 — Gourley signs with Pittsburgh

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Gourley signs with Pittsburgh

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on July 1, 2009 1:46 PM

Walker Gourley had to choose between Pirates. In the end, the professionals won.

The Eastern Wayne graduate inked a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday evening.

"I had to sit down and weigh the options and after taking some time I decided I wanted to play pro ball," said Gourley. "My dad (John) and I were in contact with Pittsburgh before the draft and we worked out an agreement that led to me signing."

Gourley, an all-Eastern Carolina Athletic Conference performer, will make his way to the Gulf Coast League Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. tonight. He plans on being dressed for Monday's game.

The road from high school star to Gulf Coast League prospect was a long one with a lot of time spent with family and friends.

"Pittsburgh sent a scout to some of my high school games and asked me to take part in a workout in Charlotte," said Gourley, who signed with East Carolina in 2008. "They talked to me before the draft and on draft day when they were ready to select me.

"The team made an offer, and the only real negotiation was over the money for school. They came back last week with what I asked for and we got the deal done."

The terms of the contract were not released.

Gourley noted that East Carolina head coach Billy Godwin gave him some simple yet profound advice.

"Coach Godwin told me to make a smart decision and do what's best for me and my family," said Gourley. "I honestly think that I did that."

Lifelong friend John Wooten, who has also committed to ECU and was also drafted in the Major League Baseball amateur draft, has offered his encouragement throughout the signing process.

"John is a great friend and a great ball player," said Gourley. "He has an opportunity to play at the next level and I wish him nothing but the best in whatever he does."

For Gourley the next level means a stint in Bradenton where the Pirates hold their spring training and play their Gulf Coast League games. Former major league catcher Tom Prince manages the team full of prospects.

Gourley will continue to hone his skills at shortstop while he makes the transition from aluminum to wooden bats.

"It will be a challenge, but I have played some fall baseball with wooden bats so I hope I can adjust quickly," said Gourley. "You have to square the ball up a little better with a wooden bat."

A new class of pitchers will put a greater emphasis on making good contact.

"The guys in the Gulf Coast League can really throw," said Gourley. "No offense to any of the high school pitchers I saw this season, but the guys in the minor leagues throw a lot harder."

After the Gulf Coast League season ends in August, Gourley will have a few weeks off before heading to a two-week instructional league in the fall. Workouts and conditioning occupy the winter before minor league camp opens in April.

Gourley has lofty goals for his professional career.

"I would love to move up one class each year," he said. "Play rookie ball this season, then Low-A, High-A and then Double-A. Once you get to Double-A, you're pretty much just one call from the majors."

One advantage of being a Pittsburgh prospect is that the organization is willing to develop young players quickly. Major Leaguers like Freddy Sanchez, Andy LaRoach and Jack Wilson all enjoyed meteoric rises through the ranks.

"I am really happy to be a Pirate and I am thankful for the opportunity that they have given me," said Gourley. "They have a history of getting the best out of young players and I look forward to being a part of that."