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A Golden Bear Changing Cities: Q&A with Louie Varland

During the 2018 Major League Baseball draft Oakland dipped down into the Division 2 ranks and selected Gus Varland from Concordia University St. Paul. Mark “Lunch” McKenzie isn’t unfamiliar to working with big league talent. He’s been involved with USA Baseball for over two decades, has a half century of coaching experience, and had both Jake Schmidt (2009) and Bryan Lippincott (2012) selected in the amateur draft. A year later, Varland’s brother Louie was the top candidate to go and Minnesota nabbed him with their 15th round selection.
Image courtesy of Josh Deer, Concordia St. Paul
Louie is a North St. Paul graduate, and being selected as a junior, this was a prioritized signing by Minnesota. Like Matt Wallner before him, Varland falls in the category of Twins selections that have grown up watching the evolution of the organization. It’s one thing to have your professional dream realized but doing so in the jersey of the organization from your own backyard is another level. Louie provided some insight into who he is and what lies ahead.

Twins Daily: You often hear about talent standing out no matter where it plays. You went the D2 route at Concordia and have now followed in the footsteps of your brother being drafted last year. What has set you up for success and allowed you to shine with the Golden Bears?

Louie Varland: What really set me up for success was the atmosphere and coaching staff of the CSP (Concordia St. Paul) baseball program. Concordia being my only D2 offer, it was always the plan to shine and stand out. I could not have done it without the help of Lunch McKenzie, Neil Lerner, John Gaub, Marcus McKenzie, and Alex Alverez. They helped me make huge leaps with pitching and helped me tremendously to stand out, shine, and give me the opportunity to play professionally. The competition and support from the teammates I’ve had through my three years here really helped. I’d like to give special thanks to Gus Varland and Zach Lauzon.

TD: You played for baseball royalty in Minnesota being coached by “Lunch.” He’s had ties to the Twins and USA Baseball forever. What can you tell us about his impression on you and guidance over the years?

LV: "Lunch" is the mastermind behind all the baseball at Concordia. Starting fall season of my freshman year I remember a teammate saying, "When Lunch talks, you shut up and listen" because you knew he was going to spill some knowledge that could be useful. Lunch is the real deal and his impression and guidance has shaped me into the ball player I am today. He always has tidbits of information to add. With many connections, and a special friendship with Tom Kelly, he has insight at the big-league level.

TD: Speaking of your brother, he’s now been in pro ball for roughly a year after being a 14th round selection by the Athletics. What has he told you about what to expect, what’s next, and this process as a whole?

LV: Gus has been very helpful with the whole draft preparation. Seeing him go through it last year and him telling me what he figured out through it all, he’s really paved a straight path for me that made it easier to organize it all. This past year he would always call me after he got an update from me and say, "Ok now this is what you have to do, and this is what’s going to be coming for you". Pretty cool to have him in my corner helping me out. One helpful thing he told me on what to expect is that it is just like the Northwoods (League) schedule. With all the travel and food and what the team is like. He also told me that I may think I know a lot about pitching right now, but just to wait to get to rookie camp, a lot more information is coming my way that I haven’t heard before.

TD: Being a Twin Cities kid, what does it feel like to be selected by your hometown team? Obviously, you’ve grown up with the organization. What are some of your fondest memories of the big-league club?

LV: It is an honor and a dream come true to be selected by my childhood favorite team. I couldn't believe it when the Twins were the first to pull the trigger on me, really cool experience. My fondest memory of the Twins is watching Joe Mauer get drafted and play for the Twins my whole childhood. I met him at the Twins fest in 2008 thinking it was the greatest day of my life. Another memory is pestering Juan Rincon as he warms up in the pen at the Metrodome, I was telling him, "Hey Juan, give me the ball, hey Juan right here, can I have the ball?” Over and over I was in his ear until finally he got tired of me and pointed at me saying, "OK!" I sat back down and waited till he was done warming up before he flipped me the ball.

TD: Without the benefit of television your repertoire and stuff hasn’t been widely viewed by Twins fans. What’s your approach on the mound and what do you feature?

LV: My approach on the mound is a heavy fastball approach. I like to challenge hitters up with my fastball before I use my slider or change up. Especially early in the game, hitters must prove they can hit my fastball before I will start pulling out the slider and change up. This has been my approach through college but now obviously this is better competition and I might have to adapt or adjust my approach.

TD: Lastly, is there a big league you’ve modeled your game after of emulate? If not, who’s someone you just look up to as a competitor?

LV: I really like to compare myself to Justin Verlander. The last name is similar along with the delivery, but the aspect that I like the most is his high spin rate fastball that gives him a rising illusion and a high vertical break number. Sort of like my fastball. He’s also really fun to watch and an amazing pitcher.

Louie did attribute much of his growth to coaches Lunch (Head Coach) and Marcus (Pitching Coach) McKenzie. Here’s what they had to say about him.

"Louie is a hard working dedicated player, that understands the process of becoming a baseball player, or in his case a baseball pitcher. He possesses self discipline. His fastball sits at 92-94, he's quick to the plate and is a strike thrower. Louie is extremely coachable, respectful and driven to succeed." Lunch McKenzie

“Louie Varland is an incredible young man that comes from an amazing family. He came in from day one and wanted to get better at his craft. No one was going to outwork him in the weight room or during baseball activities. He was always asking questions and came with a smile and energy that was contagious. I have no doubt that Louie is going to work as hard as he can to make his dream come true of becoming an MLB player. He will be missed around campus and our program and I wish him nothing but the best in this next journey of his life.” Marcus McKenzie

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Jun 09 2019 12:26 AM
Great story! We'll certainly keep our eyes open watching for him.
operation mindcrime
Jun 09 2019 10:35 AM
Congrats Louie!!! Best of luck!!!

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