Two Gonzaga pitchers have agreed to professional deals to join the St. Louis Cardinals organization as undrafted free agents. Left-handed pitcher Mac Lardner signed on with the club on June 15, and fellow teammate Nick Trogrlic-Iverson, a right-handed pitcher, inked the dotted line with the same organization the next day on June 16.
“We are extremely happy for them both and they both did a great job of representing our program, for Nick the past two years and Mac the last four,” said Brandon Harmon Gonzaga pitching coach. “We’re going to miss out on the opportunity to coach them going forward but now we can shift gears and be their biggest fans as they’ll be alumni the next time they come on campus.”
Lardner and Trogrlic-Iverson were both seniors on GU’s baseball program this past year. The pair recently graduated from GU, Lardner with a degree in sports management and Trogrlic-Iverson with a degree in communication studies. During the course of their respective careers, both pitchers proved that they have the skills to take the mound at the next level.
Lardner compiled a 3.75 lifetime ERA during his four years as a Zag with a 212/68 K/BB ratio that trended upward every year, with it culminating in 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 24.2 innings of work during the shortened 2020 season.
“Scouts like Lardner’s 6-foot-4 frame, which is projected to add more strength, and his ability to get ground balls,” an mlb.com article highlighting all of the Cardinals’ recent signings said. “The lefty has a smooth delivery that allows him to command the ball well and the potential for three plus pitches, including an advanced changeup.”
In four appearances in 2020, Trogrlic-Iverson was posting a 3.8 ERA with a 20/3 K/BB ratio. It was only his second year playing for GU, as Trogrlic-Iverson started his collegiate career pitching for Central Arizona Community College as a freshman and a sophomore.
It was at Central Arizona where Trogrlic-Iverson, a 6-foot-1 right hander with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, was first put on the radar for professional scouts. During his sophomore season he won eight games with a 2.35 ERA and a K/9 over 10 in 76.2 innings, and his performance led to him being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 15th round (455th overall) of that year’s draft.
Trogrlic-Iverson turned the offer down, instead electing to come play for GU with the hopes of improving his game and thus his draft stock.
“I didn’t think I was ready to enter pro ball at that time both physically and mentally, I think I really needed to develop especially my mental game and the way I carried myself on the mound,” Trogrlic-Iverson said. “Coach Harmon did a great job of helping with that as well as refining the pitches I did have, adding another pitch with a curveball.
“Last year as a junior I didn’t have the year I wanted to have and I didn’t end up getting taken in the draft or offered a free agent deal. But it honestly worked out for the best because I ended up graduating with a degree from a great school like Gonzaga and I still get to pursue professional baseball, so it really is the best of both worlds.”
Both pitchers were projected as rounds 10 through 15 level talent going into this year’s draft, but the coronavirus pandemic forced Major League Baseball to cut its draft size down from 40 rounds to five in order to avoid severe financial losses.
That meant that like many other graduating baseball players with prospects of being selected in this year’s draft, Lardner and Trogrlic-Iverson found their baseball careers to be in limbo. The NCAA had allowed universities a unique option to uphold the scholarships of their senior athletes for another year to give them a chance to play the 2021 season, and GU had extended this offer to all of their student-athletes in this position.
Both Trogrlic Iverson and Lardner were set on exercising this option and returning to GU for another year, all the way up until last week when talks began between both players and their future organization.
“Less than a week ago, I was fully set on coming back to Gonzaga to study my master’s degree and play another year,” Trogrlic-Iverson said. “But with the circumstances and uncertainty of baseball coming back whether next year or a couple years because of this, I just wanted to make sure I got my chance at professional baseball, and this was going to be the chance so I really needed to jump at it and grab it.”
Both players said that when the situation to play for the Cardinals presented itself, they knew it was the right move for them after learning of the organization’s strong reputation for player development and a winning mentality.
“It was a really tough call not to go back to Gonzaga because it was really easy to choose Gonzaga over the other schools I was being recruited by, but leaving Gonzaga was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” Lardner said. “It’s such a special place with special people, but I just felt that the Cardinals were the best thing for my career going forward.”
Lardner signed with the Cardinals on the first day it was possible for big league clubs to reach agreements with undrafted free agents following the 2020 draft. He said that he passed up the opportunity to be drafted in the fourth and fifth rounds by two other teams because he was so dedicated to becoming a Cardinal, and that if St. Louis hadn’t extended their offer then he probably would have headed back to GU.
Trogrlic-Iverson accompanied Lardner when he signed with St. Louis the next day.
“Mac signed very early in the morning when the restrictions were lifted and when I saw that, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for us to go in the same direction,” Trogrlic-Iverson said.
The two of them didn’t coordinate the decision to play together, and Trogrlic-Iverson’s signing with the club even came as a pleasant surprise to Lardner who found out about the move through Twitter. But the opportunity they have to play together going forward will serve as a bonus as they head into the same Minor League camp.
“There’s so much unknown in Minor League Baseball, especially this year when we don’t know when it’s going to start or what it’s even going to look like," Lardner said. "So to have one of your really good buddies and teammates right by your side through all of this is something I can’t even put into words how big of a relief it’s going to be, and I’m fired up about it.”
The duo knows that they work well off of each other not only from their time playing as Zags together these past two years, but also from a shared experience in the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts last summer when they both played for the Bourne Braves.
Not only did this further their relationship with each other, but it also helped improve their draft stock as solid showings from both of them in the highly competitive summer league was sure to draw a lot of eyes in their direction from big league clubs.
Trogrlic-Iverson maintained a 4.43 ERA throughout the summer and had one save in 22.1 innings of work, and Lardner impressed with a 2.35 ERA and a 36/3 K/BB ratio in seven starts.
Both former Zags are heading into the mist that is Minor League Baseball right now, where much is unknown for when games will start again, where games will be played and how newcomers like Lardner and Trogrlic-Iverson fit into that equation.
“The [Cardinals] are banking on something in the fall, probably around September where we go down to Jupiter [Florida] and are maybe doing inter squads,” Lardner said. “We’re not really sure what capacity yet, but they’re just trying to figure what they're going to do with the big-league club first and then after that it will trickle down to the minor league guys.”
Between the draft and free agent signings, St. Louis has picked up 15 prospects within the past week to filter into their minor league system. Including Lardner and Trogrlic-Iverson, nine of those 15 new Cardinals are pitchers.
The road to the show is rarely an easy one, but the two prospects have each other, and a history at GU to will help carry them through the challenges that lay ahead in their careers.
“The people at Gonzaga have done a great job showing us how to take pride in what we do and take pride in our work,” Lardner said. “I’m forever grateful to the coaching staff, our academic support group and all of the professors who helped me get to where I am today and take different lessons with me from my experiences at Gonzaga. They completely transformed my life.”