Results tagged ‘ Interview ’

Q and A With Ray Black

Ray Black was drafted by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, but the journey to draft day wasn’t exactly a smooth one. Black underwent Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school after suffering an arm injury — the first of what would turn out to be many bad luck injuries. Thankfully, although the Tommy John surgery meant Black would have to be redshirted his freshman season, the University of Pittsburgh still honored their baseball scholarship offer to him, allowing Black to head there to play ball in 2009.Black

But the poor luck continued for Black in college when he tore his right meniscus during a workout before his sophomore season. Following a broken hand later on, Black then suffered a torn labrum after being officially drafted in 2011, which postponed him making his professional debut until all the way to April of 2014, despite being drafted almost three years prior. However, even after all the setbacks, when Black finally made his debut two years ago, he showed off every bit of the talent he possesses.

After posting a terrible 11.05 ERA over just 36.2 innings pitched in college, Black took off in 2014, and has done nothing but impress in his professional career, striking out 122 batters over his 60.1 career innings and holding opposing batters to a .146 average. In 2015 season alone, Black recorded a 2.88 ERA and struck out 51 over just 25 innings pitched.

Black spent all of 2015 at High-A, which isn’t where you’d necessarily expect to see a 25-year-old pitcher — one with a shot at making it all the way to the big leagues, that is. But Ray Black isn’t your average prospect, and there’s certainly nothing average about his fastball. Black can crank it up to triple digits consistently, and has been up around 103-104 at times. It’s that fastball that’s keeping Black as a standout in the Giants’ farm system despite numerous setbacks, and that will ultimately be the key to taking him all the way to the major leagues.

Ray Black — top prospect in the Giants’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I started playing when I was around 4-5 with my father in the backyard. He was probably my biggest influence. He always told me, and still does to today, “Whatever you decided to do, do with 100 percent conviction”. I joke with him that he’s the most knowledgable farmer on the topic of pitching mechanics.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite player was Nomar Garciaparra. I was a shortstop growing up, and Derek jeter was the most popular choice amongst kids my age. To be honest, he [Garciaparra] was really good. Boston was my team growing up, and he played with hustle.

3.) You were drafted by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft is a crazy time for a lot of guys. Most people will tell you the draft process didn’t go as expected for them. A lot of scouts had told me they didn’t see me going after the 5th round. So on draft day, I got a call in the 4th round and 6th round by the Phillies and White Sox. After brief negotiations, it was likely we wouldn’t come to an agreement, so they passed on me. I was frustrated at this time, so I started to walk out the door to meet with some friends, and my dad yelled out to me, “You just got drafted by the Giants”. I was excited. They had won the World Series in 2010, and I knew they were a good pitching organization. Shortly after, I was relieved the process was over.

4.) With you going through several surgeries before you ever even began your baseball career, what kind of effect did that have on your overall mentality? Did you ever have doubts about being able to pitch while staying healthy?

Injuries have taught me not to take the game for granted. My career could have — and probably should have — ended with my shoulder surgery. The process was difficult; I would ask “why me?”. But I kept my faith and worked through the process, knowing that light was at the end of the tunnel. There are times I overreact even to this day when I have arm tenderness, because I always assume the worst. But mentally and physically, I feel healthy and believe those injuries are in the past now.

5.) Once you were finally 100 percent healthy following the first month of the 2014 season, you were lighting up the radar gun in a way that you never had before. Hitting 100 consistently with your fastball, what do you attribute to you being able to throw faster than ever after being given a low chance of ever reaching high velocity again?

I think a lot of it had to do with the rehab process. My trainers put a program together to strengthen my arm. I’ve continued doing those exercises daily, and I take pride in my work ethic. There are always places to improve an individual’s game. For me, I strengthened my lower half, increased core exercises and continued shoulder rehab.

6.) You were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League this past year. What did you work on most over your time spent out there? What did you take away from pitching against some of baseball’s best hitting prospects?

I really worked on my secondary pitches out there. When a good hitter is sitting fastball they’ll be able to hit it regardless of velocity. So with throwing my slider more often and showing it for strikes it takes people off my heater. I was humbled out there giving up some hits, and I held my own as well. But playing against some of the games best prospects is a privilege.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road is difficult at times. I enjoy hunting, so it’s hard missing archery, but being around guys your own age with similar interests is enjoyable. We’ll play cards, usually watch almost every sporting event when it’s on TV, and play video games. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid, blessed to be able to continue playing the same game I’ve been since I was a kid.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

This past season was a tough year for me. I got hurt early, tried my hand as a starting pitcher (which didn’t go well) and by the time I was back in the pen and throwing again I questioned my own abilities. I got to the point of being afraid of contact. I tried throwing my best pitch, every pitch, and it would make my mechanics difficult to repeat. I ended the year with a better ERA than 2014, but my WHIP was higher. So I was able to improve on stranding runners in situations I had to, and I was able to get strikeouts in key situations, like runners in scoring position with less than two outs.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I like ‘Gotham’ right now. My favorite TV series was ‘Sons of Anarchy’, and I enjoyed ‘Band of Brothers’. I have a very deep appreciation for our military. It amazes me what they can do. And there’s nothing like deer back straps. I think everyone should experience venison.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

I think the best advice I can give is what my father told me: Work for what you want. You can’t just wish for something to happen. If you want to be successful in anything, it starts with a strong work ethic; commit to something and do it with 100 percent conviction. Also, believe in yourself. I wasn’t always a starter; I sat at times in little league; I didn’t make every team I tried out for; I didn’t always throw the hardest. Just keep your goals in mind and work towards them daily.

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Big thanks to Ray Black for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @rayblack37

Q and A With J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford was drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .452 his senior year at Lakewood High SchoolCrawford.

Since the draft, Crawford has made quick work of the minor leagues, thanks to his all around great gameplay that includes fantastic defense at shortstop.

Making it all the way up to Double-A in his second full professional season, Crawford recorded 6 homers and 42 RBI’s in 2015 to go along with a .380 OBP, and could very well make it to the big leagues in the very near future.

Crawford has already played in two futures games and is the bright spot at the top of a loaded Phillies farm system that looks to get them back into contention within the next few years.

J.P. Crawford — the number five prospect in all of baseball — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became interested in baseball when I was about 4-5. My older sister was my biggest influence. We would always push each other to do better.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

[Derek] Jeter and [Jimmy] Rollins were my favorites growing up because I played shortstop and my dad told me to watch how they respect the game.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that moment like for you?

That moment was great. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Hearing your name called by the commissioner, and knowing your life is about to change. That moment really changed my life.

4.) You were selected to play in the Future’s Game in both 2014 and 2015. What was the experience like each time? 

It was such an honor to be there to partake in those events; to play with future all-stars, future hall of famers. It was great.

5.) In 2015, you were promoted to Reading after 21 games due to a superb start of a .392 average. Following your promotion, what kind of adjustments did you find yourself having to make with the transition to Double-A?

In AA, the main thing was just staying with your plan, and not trying to do too much. [Also], the pitchers knew how to pitch a lot better.

6.) With the Phillies having struggled for the past few years, how confident are you that the crop of talent (yourself included) making their way towards the big leagues will help transform the Phillies back into a competitive club?

I think we’re going to make a huge impact in a couple years if all this goes as planned. We have a great group of guys who are really close and play great team ball.

7.) Striking out a mere 54 times in 430 at-bats last season, what type of approach do you take at the plate that enables you to make contact so consistently over the course of any given season?

It’s just staying with my plan. If the pitch is a pitch you don’t wanna hit, then I take it. With two strikes, [I] shorten up and put it in play.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think everything went well last year just fell one game short [of the Championship]. But next year [my goals are] to just stay consistent and healthy, and whatever level I reach I’ll be happy and ready to help my team win.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

The ‘Walking Dead’; my dad’s BBQ.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice would be to want to win — but have fun doing it!

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Big thanks to J.P. Crawford for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jp_crawford

Q and A With Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1st round of the 2014 draft, after posting a 2.62 ERA over 16 starts his final year at Florida State University.Weaver

Since the draft, Weaver has been even more remarkable, holding a 2.12 ERA over the course of two seasons of pro ball, including a stunning 1.62 ERA in 2015.

For his efforts this past season, Weaver was chosen to participate in the Arizona Fall League where he continued to work towards being the caliber of pitcher that he’s capable of becoming.

Many believe it won’t be all that long before Weaver makes it to the majors. With the stats he’s posted, it would seem that Weaver is certainly poised to be on the fast track. He holds a good fastball and a changeup that many scouts marvel at, as well as a slider that he’s been working on. If Weaver can continue to put it all together, he should be pitching for St. Louis before all is said and done.

Luke Weaver — top prospect in the Cardinals’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I want to say around 5 years old. Those memories are a little blurring. My biggest influence was my dad. He was always there no matter what and spent countless hours helping me get better. It didn’t matter what he had going on, he would always make time for me.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

I can’t say I ever had one die-hard favorite player. I always enjoyed watching a bunch of players. If I had to say one it would be Juan Pierre. I loved watching him use his speed to make things happen. He’s a low key guy, who is a Christ follower and went about his business the right way. He’s very involved in the community, and is a great role model all the way around.

3.) Back in your college days at FSU, you had the opportunity to pitch for the 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. What was the overall experience of that like? What did you take away from playing with some of the best college talent from around the country?

That experience was amazing. It was such an honor, not only getting to play with some of the best collegiate players out there but to wear the country’s colors. I took a lot away from it. Being able to pick their brains about all kinds of things was really insightful. Getting to mesh with the fun personalities was a blast as well.

4.) You were drafted by the Cardinals in the 1st round of the 2014 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

That process was exciting but also nerve racking. Not knowing what the future had planned was a moment where I had to rely on God and trust in His plan. It meant a lot that I was able to have my family, fiancé, her family and friends join me in that moment. My thoughts were thoughtless. It was such a surreal moment where reality vanishes for a short period a time and I’m thinking, “Did that just happen?”. Just an awesome night!

5.) Although you can still crank it up when needed, your fastball has seen an overall drop from consistent mid-90’s in early college to lower 90’s now in the minors. How (if at all) has that decrease in velocity impacted your approach when going after hitters?

When you get into professional baseball you learn that it doesn’t matter how hard you throw. There are so many guys who have electric arms, so for hitters it’s nothing they haven’t seen before. I went through a time frame where my velocity dropped due to fatigue from a long season. It’s all back now, but it is something I’ve been working on to see where I am comfortable pitching at; where I can be consistently efficient and have full command of all my pitches. It’s all part of the process to be the best pitcher I can be.

6.) You were selected to participate in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. What type of things did you work on out there to improve as a pitcher moving forward?

I worked on a couple of things. First off trying to get these hitters out. They are super advanced and they make hitting seem like it’s the easier thing out of the two. I’m always trying to work on command, but mainly staying at the bottom of the strike zone. I also worked on a slider that is coming along very nicely and will be a huge boost too for me.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

Definitely try to steer clear, but if there is one stat that I try to stay attentive to it is walks. Nothing drives me more crazy than walking people.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think throwing a lot of strikes and keeping the walks down was a huge part of it. Good things tend to happen when you can stay on top of those two things. I’ve spent a lot of time in bullpens and just playing catch to repeat my mechanics. The more comfortable and less I have to think about those things, the more I can concentrate on throwing it over the plate. [Goals for 2016 are] to continue to glorify God and the platform He has given. None of this is possible without Him. Keep growing as a pitcher and to learn some more as I go. Simple as that. Never a time when you can’t learn something and get better.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Big ‘Modern Family’ guy, but more of a variety than a particular one. [For food] I would go anything Asian. They got the good figured out.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to them is to have as much fun as possible but make sure you’re working hard along the way. Practice doesn’t make you perfect, it makes you better. Believe in yourself and remember to give God the Glory no matter what.

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Big thanks to Luke Weaver for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @DreamWeava7

Blogging Plan for the Final Month of 2015

It seems like just yesterday that I posted my first blog post of 2015 way back in January, however, the month of December is truly only a few short days away. But just because the year is winding down doesn’t mean my blogging is.

While the month of December is never an exceedingly busy blogging month, there are some things I’m planning to write about.

The MLB Winter Meetings are quickly approaching, set to take place from December 6th to the 10th in Nashville, Tennessee. With some of the biggest offseason transactions usually taking place during those meetings, there is sure to be a ton to write about as teams begin reshaping their teams into what they hope will be 2016 contenders.

Following that, at some point (the date hasn’t been announced), the GIBBY Awards (Greatness In Baseball Yearly) are due to be announced, though I haven’t seen anything about that yet. That seems rather odd, with there usually being something about it written several weeks in advance. But as far as I know, the awards are still being handed out. If so, I’ll be sure to post something about it.

Most of December, I’ll just be writing about what seems relevant at the particular point in time, but the one thing I know I’ll be doing, other than what I previously mentioned, is interviews. I posted my first 2015 offseason interview last weekend, but there are two more already complete, with there to be more in the works, theoretically. Those two interviews will likely be posted this coming month.

Other than that, everything is up in the air. You’ll just have to check back to see what I decide to write about.

Q and A With Ryan O’Hearn

Ryan O’Hearn was drafted by the Royals in the 8th round of the 2014 draft, after batting .292 with eight home runs and 44 RBI’s in his final season at Sam Houston State College.

RoyalsSince the draft, O’Hearn has seen his power numbers explode in a big way. In O’Hearn’s very first professional game in 2014 with the Idaho Fall Chukars, he went 5-5, including a home run in his very first at-bat on his way to winning MVP honors with the Pioneer League, with a .361 average to go along with 13 homers and 54 RBI’s in 64 games.

In his most recent 2015 season, O’Hearn saw a substantial drop in his batting average, but still managed a decent .263 on the year between two levels. What stands out the most, however, is O’Hearn’s continued power surge, hitting 27 blasts over the course of the year.

Many question whether or not O’Hearn’s amazing power increase can be sustained as he climbs the levels of the Royals’ minor league system, but I see no reason to believe it won’t be able to be replicated in 2016 and beyond. If O’Hearn can keep posting the same type of numbers, it’s only a matter of time before he’s making an impact at Kauffman Stadium for the Royals.

Ryan O’Hearn — top prospect in the Royals’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I have been interested in baseball as long as I can remember — from little league all the way up, it’s been constant. My older brother played, so I remember going to all of his games in high school, and my dad loves baseball, so we were always at a baseball field. My dad was definitely the biggest influence growing up. He gave me every opportunity to play and be around the game.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite baseball player growing up was Josh Hamilton. I always loved watching him hit, and wanted to hit like him! Also, his story is pretty amazing. It shows how faith can get you through anything.

3.) You were drafted by the Royals in the 8th round of the 2014 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft process is unlike anything else; everything you’ve worked for and dreamed about your whole life comes down to one moment. For me, getting drafted was as motivating as it was exciting. For one, the 8th round isn’t where I wanted to be, and just getting drafted isn’t the goal. So when I got picked, I just thanked God and the people who helped me along the way, and I took it as an incredible opportunity. I was at my house with my family. It was definitely an amazing day and moment that I will never forget.

4.) After hitting a combined 11 home runs in your three seasons at college, you’ve topped that number in each of your first two pro seasons, hitting 13 in 2014 and 27 in 2015. What changes (if any) have you made to your game that you attribute to the power increase you’ve seen?

My homerun numbers in college have a lot to do with the ballpark that I played in. Also, I played in the worst time for homeruns in college baseball. Both the new bats and raised seam baseballs didn’t help — at least all that is what I tell myself [laughs]. With that being said, I just really think I matured physically and just kind of figured it out in short season. That was a time that I really gained a lot of confidence in myself as a player and learned a lot about myself. When I was drafted, the Royals director of scouting, Lonnie Goldberg, just told me to be myself and let it fly. They gave me the freedom to really just get after it and develop as a player.

5.) On the topic of power hitting, you won the 2015 South Atlantic League home run derby during their All-Star festivities. Did you approach the derby with any different of a swing than you do in an at-bat during the season? After the derby, did you notice a negative change in your swing that many big league home run derby participants complain about?

The home run derby was a lot of fun. I had never been in one before. During batting practice every day, I usually turn it loose and hit homeruns in my last round, so I didn’t really change my swing at all. I think the trick is to not get too pull happy so you can create backspin. For me, it didn’t have any effect on my swing after at all. It was just a fun event that I was fortunate enough to win.

6.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road is probably the biggest adjustment going from college to professional baseball. It’s not easy getting used to overnight bus rides and living out of a suitcase. There’s no doubt that the minor league baseball season is a grind. It’s not glamorous, and getting through those long road trips will test you. For me, bus rides are a good time to read my bible, listen to music and sleep as much as possible.

7.) You made it to the Mills Cup finals as part of the Carolina League playoffs with the Wilmington Blue Rocks this past season. Although you ultimately didn’t pull out a championship, how would you describe the overall playoff experience?

Playing in the playoffs is an awesome experience, and I think it really helps to develop you as a player. The playoffs aren’t easy to come by; many players and coaches never get to experience that. Also, that helps prepare you to play in the postseason in the big leagues, which is really why you play the game in the first place!

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think that there were positives and negatives for me in 2015. Obviously, as a first baseman RBI’s and homeruns are very important. So as far as that goes, I’m pretty happy with that. Now, with that being said, there is always room for improvement! I think that I am just now starting to really figure out my swing and learning how to be a good hitter. Defensively, I want to be an asset on defense, and continue to get better in that area as well. I just hope that in 2016 I can continue to grow as a player and consistently get better.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I don’t watch much T.V. outside of sports, but I did watch the show ‘Workaholics’ on Comedy Central a lot in college. As for food, I love steak. That’s always been my favorite food!

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

I would just say to them that there is no easy path to accomplish your dreams, not everything is going to go how you plan it. There will be coaches, scouts, and people along the way that don’t believe in you, and you can’t let that discourage you. Also, there will be people along the way that will help you. Rely on them and learn as much as you can from coaches and other people who have been there before. Nobody gets to play this game forever; never take a day on the baseball field for granted. Remember that being able to play baseball is a gift; this game will give you a platform the higher up in it that you go. Use it to give all the glory to God. I think that’s really why we’re here, and we get to enjoy the game of baseball along the way.

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Big thanks to Ryan O’Hearn for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @Rohearn11

Q and A With Daniel Vogelbach

Daniel Vogelbach was drafted by the Cubs in the second round of the 2011 draft, after batting .467 with 19 home runs over the course of 34 games in his senior year of high school.

VogelbachFollowing the draft, Vogelbach continued to hit, ripping 17 homers, driving in 62 runs and posting a stellar .322 average in his first professional season in 2012. A .285 career hitter, Vogelbach has slugged no fewer than 16 homers a season, and has been able to keep his strikeout numbers very low — a rarity in power hitters nowadays.

In 2014 with Daytona, Vogelbach put the ball in play a ton, striking out just 91 times in 482 at-bats — helping him to drive in a total of 76 runs for the second straight year, and further putting himself on the map in a farm system that is extremely strong at the moment.

A member of a top ten prospects list that includes the likes of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Albert Almora, players such as Vogelbach are helping the Cubs look to be finally making the climb back to a contending team.

Daniel Vogelbach — top prospect in the Cubs’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I have played baseball since tee ball. I always knew that was my first love, but I played all sports growing up. My family has been my biggest influence on me. They are always there for me and would do anything for me.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Chipper Jones was my favorite player growing up. I was always a Braves fan, and I always liked the way he played the game.

3.) You were drafted by the Cubs in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

Going into the draft, I had a pretty hard commitment to the University of Florida.  I always wanted to be a gator my whole life, and anything else was a plus for me. So when draft day came, I just left it in God’s hands, and I knew he would lead me down the right path. It was for sure one of the best days of my life, and being able to spend it with my family was even better. I am for sure blessed with the way things turned out.

4.) You’ve stated a desire to continue playing first base as your career progresses, but have been projected in the past by some as merely a future designated hitter. What have you done both offensively and defensively to help put you on the path needed to be a major league first baseman and not just DH?

I don’t get caught up in what people say I can and can’t do. I work hard everyday to pursue my dreams. And I continue to improve my game every day to be the best I can be. I love playing first base and I love being on the field. And that’s what I plan on doing throughout my career.

5.) Always posting great power numbers over your baseball career thus far, you’ve also been very consistent in hitting for average. What kind of adjustments do you make to keep from being the type of power hitter that hits for a very low average, while still maintaining the pop in your bat?

When I go to the plate I have a plan and I always try to stick to that plan. I always try to take what the pitcher gives me and not try to do to much. The home runs will come if I just stay with my approach. I pride myself in not striking out and hitting the ball to all fields.

6.) You had the opportunity to participate in the Arizona Fall League this past season. What was that experience like, playing with and against some of the best talent minor league baseball has to offer? What did you take away from your time there that you plan to use moving forward?

The fall league was for sure an honor to be in. I had such a good time with some guys I will be friends with forever. Being with the best of the best you can always pick up on stuff, and I tried to take little things from everyone every day. It was for sure something I won’t forget.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

Stats are something I try to stay away from. I just try to have good at bats and hit balls hard.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

We had a great season as a team in 2014 and just fell short. I’m expecting to win a ring this year.

9.) Favorite food?

Chicken is my favorite food . . . .

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to kids is chase your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

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Big thanks to Daniel Vogelbach for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @DanielVogelbach

Q and A With Billy McKinney

Billy McKinney was drafted by the Athletics in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .372 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s during his senior year of high school.Billy McKinney

Since the draft, McKinney has posted solid numbers between three different levels of professional baseball, hitting a combined .283, and truly showing why he was so highly thought of by the A’s in the 2013 draft.

However, despite seemingly being a big part of the Athletics’ future, McKinney was traded to the Cubs’ organization in July as part of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija (now with the White Sox) to the Athletics.

But the trade turned out to be great for McKinney, who was batting just .241 through 75 games worth of at-bats before the swap.

Following the team change, McKinney hit .301 to finish out the season, bringing his combined average for 2014 up to .264 to go along with 11 home runs and 69 RBI’s. A great turnaround after the slow start McKinney had to begin 2014.

If McKinney can continue to develop into the player he’s expected to become, it won’t be long before he’s a part of the Cubs’ future at the major league level.

Billy McKinney — top prospect in the Cubs’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I started playing tee ball when I was 3 years old. My parents [were my biggest influences], as both of them helped me in different ways. My mother helped me keep a positive attitude regardless of the situation, and my father helped with my development.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Josh Hamilton, [for] two reasons. One: I admired his swing and power. Secondly: I respected him for the challenges he overcame to become an MLB player.

3.) You were drafted by the Athletics in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an exciting and enjoyable time, balancing all the scout home visits, hitting sessions for various teams, and playing my final high school season. My family was fortunate to be asked to attend the draft at the MLB Studio. It was an opportunity to be there with eight other players who were expected to be drafted. When Mr. Selig called my name as an Oakland Athletic I was ecstatic, as I had always admired them being a great baseball team. I was pumped being picked by such a strong baseball club that focused on solid fundamentals.

4.) After finishing out 2013 with short-season Vermont, you were moved all the way up to High-A Stockton to begin 2014. Struggling at times with Stockton, what did you find most challenging about making the jump to that level of baseball so quickly?

Most definitely was adjusting to the quality of pitching in High-A. Some very, very good pitching in both the California League and the Florida League.

5.) In July, you were a part of a multi-player trade for Jeff Samardzija that sent you from the Athletics’ organization over to the Cubs’. How did you react when you first heard about the trade? What was it like making the switch in organizations mid-season?

I was shocked at first, although as time passed I quickly realized baseball is a business and the Cubs are a quality organization with great leadership. At first it was different, although my Daytona Cub teammates made it a very easy transition, welcoming me to the team.

6.) Upon your transition to the Cubs’ system, you were able to get a fresh start, recording solid numbers with their High-A club to finish out the year. What was it about your new team that made it easier for you to perform at a higher level than you did the first half of the season?

It was basically making adjustments in my approach to the quality of pitching in High-A and learning from previous experiences.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Bus rides and downtime, although being together as a team helps ease the boredom. [We] hang out together and/or watch TV.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

[In 2014, I] learned throughout the year and appreciated the opportunity to play for the Florida State League Championship with the Cubs. [Goals for 2015 are to] help the Cubs in anyway I can and to continue to develop as a player and person by being challenged.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

‘Modern Family’. Steak.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

Work hard and never give up, regardless of the situation. Also, embrace your teammates, as baseball is a team sport.

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Big thanks to Billy McKinney for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @billy_mckinney

Q and A With Adam Brett Walker II

Adam Brett Walker II was drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, after batting .343 with 12 home runs and 42 RBI’s in his Junior season at Jacksonville.

Walker 2Since the draft, Walker has posted some good numbers, with his best season thus far coming back in 2013, when he blasted 27 home runs and drove in 109 runs to go along with a .278 batting average.

This past season, Walker saw his number fall a bit, batting only .246 and driving in 15 fewer runs than the previous year, but he still managed to knock 25 balls over the wall throughout the year.

With power being the number one tool that Walker possesses, it’s likely that his home run totals will be the one thing that stands out from season to season as his career progresses. A right handed power hitter, which is currently one of the most prized assets at the big league level, it shouldn’t be too long before Walker sees himself up in Minnesota with the Twins if he can continue to record solid numbers.

Adam Brett Walker II — top prospect in the Twins’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I have been playing baseball since before I can remember. I’ve [played] organized ball since tee ball. My dad loves the game as well, so he let me play baseball along with other sports. My cousin Damion Easley played in the big leagues, and I have always looked up [to him] as someone I know that can make it.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite player growing up was always Ken Griffey Jr. I love the way he played the game. It always looked like he was having fun, and I love his swing.

3.) You were drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was a very exciting feeling for my family and I. I was sitting at home and some of my family came into town to be with me. It is a pretty crazy feeling to sit there and listen to other names getting picked before me. When the time came and I finally heard my name called by the Twins it was very emotional for me, knowing that I have worked my whole life training to have this opportunity. I dreamed of having this chance for my whole life and it was an amazing feeling.

4.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road isn’t the most fun but it helps a lot to have been with such great teammates during my professional career. We spend a lot of time on the bus traveling during the season, that is for sure. You really start to find ways to entertain yourself, from watching movies, listening to music, reading, and playing cards with the guys. It definitely isn’t the most idea way to spend hours of your time every couple days, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5.) Known for your power, you won the 2014 Florida State League’s All-Star Game home run derby. Did you approach the derby with any different of a swing than you do in an at-bat during the season? After the derby, did you notice a negative change in your swing that many big league home run derby participants complain about?

I had a blast this year in the Florida State League home run derby. I didn’t try to change too much in my swing, though. When we take BP during the season I usually try to take a few swing and have my own home run derby. I definitely swung a little harder during the home run derby than I do in game, though. Of course, I was trying to pull the ball in the derby, so the main adjustment I tried to make after was making sure I could hit the ball to the opposite field. After the All-Star break, I don’t believe that being in the home run derby hurt me.

6.) You made it to the playoffs this season with the Fort Myers Miracle, winning the Florida State League title for the first time in their franchise history. What was the overall experience of the playoffs like?

This year has been a lot of fun for me, so to be able to end the year with a championships just makes it so much better. We had a great team this year, and we were all pulling together to win the league. I had a great group of teammates to play with throughout the summer, so to win with them was awesome. I love playoff baseball, though. The intensity of the games is unbelievable. We all know that every game is going to come down to executing the last out every game of the series. I just hope to be able to experience playoff baseball a few more times in my baseball career.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

I try to stay away from checking out the stats. Every night I just try to go out and do what it takes to win the game. I know if I’m helping the team then my stats will be in a good spot at the end of the year. Winning baseball games makes the season a lot easier to handle as well. Even if you are doing great but your team keeps losing day after day it is still hard to be happy.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

2014 was a pretty good year overall. There were ups and downs throughout the season but I am happy now looking back at it. I believe I did a pretty good job of driving the ball and being able to bring in runs. Run production is a big part of my game, and I take a lot of pride in doing that. I will always keep working on being a better defender and having more plate discipline. That is always a goal of mine going into every season. I have felt I have grown in these aspects of my game, but feel I could still be better. Having plate discipline will help cut down on strikeouts, and I believe help [me] be able to get on base more.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV but I am a big Netflix guy now. I just finished watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’. I loved watching that show, so I’m pretty upset that it is over now. I can’t lie, I am a pretty big fan of watching some HGTV every once in a while. My favorite food is pizza, though, by far. I love it all and I could eat it everyday!

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to kids that have dreams of playing professional baseball is to always have fun! I think about how when I was little all I wanted to do was go out and play with my friends. I know as I got older I started putting more pressure on myself to perform, which is good because you want to be the best you can be. I have had times when I was doing well and I looked back and I wasn’t having fun. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and had to step back and enjoy the game and take it one day at a time. You will have to work hard but remember you are playing the game you loved for so long. Never forget that.

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Big thanks to Adam Brett Walker II for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @walkoff28

Blogging Plans for the Rest of 2014

We’re still around six weeks away from the end of the calendar year, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to begin putting plans into place for the schedule of blog entries I’m going to be posting over the coming weeks. Although a good number of posts will be on topics I don’t discuss, I wanted to go over the main things I’m going to be writing about.

First of all, the ballot for the 2015 Hall of Fame class is set to be revealed on Monday, the 24th, and I’ll possibly be writing something about that. Although several of the bigger names are already known, it should be interesting to see who all is on the ballot.

Then, towards the end of the month, I’ll be posting another interview with an up and coming prospect, like the most recent one I did with Tyler Danish, with plans to do two more in December to finish out the year.

On the 28th-30th of this month, I’m heading up to Cooperstown, New York, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I actually visited the Hall of Fame around eight years ago, but it was closed upon arrival due to flooding in the area, so I didn’t get inside to see anything. Therefore, I’m thrilled to be going back.

In preparation, I took the time recently to read a brief biography on every single person currently in the Hall of Fame — yes, 306 biographies in all — so I feel I’m ready for the full experience. (And, obviously, I’ll be blogging about the trip.)

Following that, other than the Greatness In Baseball Yearly awards (GIBBY) that are set to be announced in early December, there isn’t much to write about; at least things that you can plan. Hopefully there will be some trades/deals going down by then — like the mega deal Giancarlo Stanton reportedly just signed with the Marlins, coming to 13 years and 325 million dollars — to discuss, but who knows? The offseason can be unpredictable.

Q and A With Tyler Danish

Tyler Danish was drafted by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft, after not allowing an earned run over 94 high school innings in Florida during his senior year, in which he struck out 156. Danish

Since the draft, Danish has posted some fantastic numbers between three different levels, proving why he was worthy of a high draft pick. Possessing a good mid 90’s fastball, along with a slider and changeup — a combination that keeps hitters off balance — one of the things that makes Danish so deceptive is his mechanics. Throwing from a 3/4 arm slot, many people see Danish as being perfect for a high-leverage situation major league reliever, but Danish wants to be a starter if at all possible.

Danish certainly made a strong case this past season for being a starting pitcher moving forward, as despite some struggles at times, he went a combined 8-3 with a 2.08 ERA over 25 starts between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, holding opponents to a .237 batting average.

Either way, as a starter or reliever, it’s likely not going to be too much longer until Danish makes it to the big leagues if he can continue to perform at the level he has to this point in his career.

Tyler Danish — top prospect in the White Sox’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

Baseball was my passion ever since I could remember. I started playing at three years old. My parents were huge influences in my baseball career. They [were] there through it all with me.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

The Captain [Derek Jeter]. Just the quiet swagger he had on the field. I just loved it.

3.) You were drafted by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft process is a very stressful process. It’s an interview with 30 teams to show why you should be picked, but it’s also a fun process to go through. It’s a dream at 18 years old to even be considered as one of the best in the country. When I first found out, I was at home watching the draft when I saw my name come across the board. It was one of the best feelings, knowing all this work and time you put in finally showed up.

4.) You were promoted to High-A Winston-Salem in May after performing so well at Single-A Kannapolis. Upon your promotion, you struggled a bit, finally finding your groove towards the end of the season. What about High-A was initially hard to adjust to? What changes, if any, did you make to become effective once again to finish the year?

Me struggling in High-A was me over-thinking the game of baseball; thinking I had to make perfect pitches, pitches that moved more, and pitches that were unhittable. But that wasn’t the case, as all the game of baseball is the same game from tee-ball all the way to the big leagues. Once I got my mental game back things went smooth. So the one change I made was me going out there and doing what I have done all my life, and that was enjoy playing the game of baseball and having fun.

5.) You were used primarily as a relief pitcher in 2013, but made 25 starts in 2014. Why was it important to you to prove that you could be an effective starter when so many people see you as a future reliever?

This year was huge to show people I could be a starter because so many people doubt me and say I can’t. But with my personality — I love that. I feast on when people say I can’t do something. So that was my thought every time I took the mound this year: “Prove doubters wrong”.

6.) Part of the reason people envision you as a future major league relief pitcher is your unique delivery of throwing out of a three-quarters arm slot. Where and when did you first develop your delivery? How much do you attribute your deceptive delivery to your success on the mound?

That motion came from me playing shortstop since I was little. It was a natural feeling on the mound, but I didn’t start throwing like that until my junior year in high school. I used to be your traditional right hander, straight over the top, but my ball didn’t move, and I was topping out at 86 my sophomore year. One day at practice in a bullpen session I dropped down to the 3/4 arm slot and my ball moved everywhere. So I stuck with it and my velocity went up. I think that there is a little deceptiveness with how I throw just because it’s funky and a new look to hitters.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road has its up and downs. Downs are definitely the bus rides; they can get very long and boring. But other than that you see new places, you play at different stadiums and you’re also playing professional baseball. To pass the time I watch Netflix constantly. That’s what I do all day, every day. Let me just say: Thank God for Netflix.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

My 2014 year couldn’t have gone any better. I became a better pitcher in all aspects. I finally failed in pro ball, and I show myself that I can bounce back from that. So later on down the road when I struggle again I know it’s not the end of the world. I also had a lot of success, but I handled that very well too. I didn’t get too high, and I continue to work everyday to be better at what I do. Goal for 2015 is to continue to work and get better. My top goal, though, is to pitch in the big leagues next year.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show has to be ‘Law & Order SVU’. Favorite food is Chipotle.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

For kids just starting the dream to hopefully one day play professional baseball — never give up no matter what happens in life. Don’t give up on your dream. Dreams do come true. But always work hard. Always give everything you have, even if you don’t want to. Respect your parents; they do a lot for you. Even if you don’t see it right now, they do. Make good grades, and stay out of trouble!

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Big thanks to Tyler Danish for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @danish_Tyler7

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