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Fifth-round pick forever linked to Strasburg

Fifth-round pick forever linked to Strasburg

It seemed only fitting that pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg made his Major League debut Tuesday night, the same day Virginia second baseman Phil Gosselin was drafted in the fifth round by the Braves.

All summer, all fall, and even this spring, Gosselin couldn't escape the link between the two of them. The question constantly persisted.

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Were you the guy who homered off Stephen Strasburg?

It happened in last year's NCAA Tournament, in the opener of the Irvine Regional, more specifically. The game would be Strasburg's last at San Diego State, and though he struck out 15 Cavaliers, the highly acclaimed prospect suffered his only loss of the season. The catalyst? None other than Gosselin, who smacked a first-inning, first-pitch fastball off the scoreboard in left field.

The at-bat has become the stuff of legend, as has Gosselin's prowess at the plate. His coach, Brian O'Connor, and associate head coach, Kevin McMullan, have been at Virginia for seven years. They have seen the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds come through Charlottesville, but they hold Gosselin in even higher regard.

"I think he's the best hitter we've had," McMullan told the Charlottesville Daily Progress on June 3. "Phil consistently hits against the best arms -- guys that are throwing 75 [mph] and throwing 95. We've had good hitters, but he's the most consistent. We have two guys in the big leagues, and in their time here they made progress, but Phil was very good when he got here and also made progress."

O'Connor has agreed, and it's easy to see why. In his first two years as a Cavalier, Gosselin hit .305 and .310, respectively. But this season, those numbers ballooned to .378 to go along with 94 hits through the Charlottesville Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

"I've really worked a lot with coach McMullan on my hitting and defense," Gosselin said. "I just feel like I've matured on the field. [I am] able to handle failure a little bit better. I think that's the biggest difference from last year to this year."

Gosselin had talked to the club on Monday night and again on Tuesday morning. They expressed some interest in him during the fourth round, but it would be another round before Gosselin found his destination.

But with the Wahoos preparing for an NCAA Super Regional series against Oklahoma this weekend, the Virginia second baseman wasn't exactly sitting by the phone for a call.

"I found out in the locker room, actually," he said. "The Braves area scout called me, and I was in the locker room. We had just finished our team meeting, and we were getting ready to lift. It was great to find out with the rest of my teammates, and being able to celebrate with them a little bit. They were all great. They were all really happy for me. I couldn't have been in a better spot to find out."

Gosselin reiterated that he's focused on getting back to the College World Series, and hasn't made up his mind if he'll sign. But if he chooses to pursue the Braves route, he'll be doing so at a fairly familiar position: second base.

When he first arrived at Virginia, that wasn't the case. Gosselin initially played shortstop, but a logjam at the position -- established starter Tyler Cannon already manned the spot -- left Gosselin with a dilemma. He decided to continue in the infield, spending about 40 percent of his time at second base. The other 60 percent would be spent in left field.

Still, don't look for that to continue.

"The preliminary talks before the Draft have been leaning toward putting me at second base, but nothing is finalized and obviously I'm up for whatever," Gosselin said. "They expressed interest in me being a second baseman."

If that's the case, and if Gosselin someday gets called up to the Majors, the link between himself and a rival National League East pitcher might be rekindled. Gosselin might just get another first-inning crack at Strasburg.

Chris Hempson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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