Results tagged ‘ Interview ’

Q and A With Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly was drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, despite recording a 5.65 ERA his final year at the University of California-Riverside.

Joe KellyFollowing the draft, Kelly performed well in the minors and made a steady progression through the ranks from 2009 to 2012, earning a mid season call up in 2012 to the Cardinals, where he proceeded to post a 3.53 ERA over the course of 107 innings pitched.

Kelly had a terrific following year in 2013 with the Cardinals, recording a 2.69 ERA over 124 innings and looked to be on his way to becoming one of the Cardinals’ top pitching options in their rotation. But after a 4.37 ERA seven game start to the 2014 season, Kelly was traded to the Red Sox where he has remained ever since.

The 2015 season saw Kelly take the mound for the Red Sox 25 times, but his outings varied in consistency and his overall results were subpar. Following the up and down year, Kelly was shut down for the final portion of last season due to shoulder soreness, after a cumulative 4.82 ERA.

Despite the poor year for Kelly in 2015 and subsequent talks that he may be moved to the bullpen full time, many people still feel that he can turn things around to become an effective major league starting pitcher once again. After all, he still owns a decent career ERA of 3.82, and there have been plenty of signs in the past that he has the potential to still pan out.

Joe Kelly — pitcher for the Boston Red Sox — 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 most interested when I was about 5 years old. Growing up, my biggest influences were my parents. They were always so supportive and loving.

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

My favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. He was the best player in the league. Everyone loves a winner.

3.) You were drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an awesome feeling. I was with my family and closest friends at a local pizza parlor. It was also my 21st birthday, and we had a great time celebrating all night.

4.) You made it to the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals, and started game three. What was that overall experience like for you?

Being in the World Series is a great experience that I will never forget. I can’t wait to hopefully make it back and get a ring.

5.) For the Cardinals, you pitched in around 70 games before being traded to the Red Sox midseason in 2014. What were the biggest differences you noticed about switching to pitching in the American League? How difficult was it to make the transition during the season?

The biggest difference is that you don’t get to face the pitcher hitting. You actually have to focus on the number nine hitter and work for your out. It was hard in the middle of the season, because it was such short notice. I had to live in the hotel for two months in Boston.

6.) Throughout your career in the minors and majors, you’ve made the switch back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation numerous times. How do you enable yourself to thrive in whatever role you are placed in?

I just try to keep pitching simple, whether it’s in the pen or being a starter.

7.) The Red Sox made the major additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel this past offseason to bolster your rotation and bullpen. How do you feel their presence will impact the overall makeup of the Red Sox in 2016?

I think we have a really good team, and should compete for the top spot in the AL East. Adding those two guys is huge. They are great teammates and leaders. I can’t wait to play with them.

8.) After a somewhat poor start to 2015, you won eight consecutive starts from August through September before being shut down due to shoulder soreness. What do you feel you were doing differently that allowed you so much success?

I just started to locate my fastball with more consistency and mixed my off speed pitches well. I hope that I will pick up right where I left off at last season.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite show is ‘Breaking Bad’, and favorite food is ‘In-N-Out’.

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

I would tell kids to just have fun, throw the ball as hard as you can and swing as hard as you can. You can always teach proper mechanics later on in life.

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Big thanks to Joe Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JosephKellyJr

Q and A With Josh Hader

Josh Hader was drafted by the Orioles in the 19th round of the 2012 draft, after going 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 125 strikeouts his senior year at Old Mill High School in Maryland.

HaderSince the draft, Hader has switched organizations twice, going to the Astros in 2013 and being traded once again to the Brewers this past season. However, all the transitioning has seemingly had little impact on Hader and his ability to post stellar stats. In 2015 alone, Hader recorded a 3.03 ERA with 119 strikeouts over 104 innings pitched and held batters to a mere .224 batting average.

Due to his consistently good numbers, Hader has seen a steady climb in the overall prospect rankings, winding up all the way at number 61 in all of baseball heading into this season.

With a fastball in the mid-to-upper nineties, an above average slider and a work in progress changeup, Hader could be seeing time at the major league level in the very near future if everything continues to go as planned.

Josh Hader — top prospect in the Brewers’ 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 baseball at the age of 3. My father got me interested in the game, and I fell in love with it.

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

I loved Randy Johnson — watching him on the mound and attacking hitters.

3.) You were drafted by the Orioles in the 12th 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 wild experience — a lot of emotion going through the process. I was actually headed to Camden Yards for the high school senior All-Star ceremony, and I got a call saying I had been chosen by the Orioles in the 19th round. Everything kind of stopped. I definitely felt like my truck was floating in the air. The next day I played at Camden Yards for the All-Star game and was able to throw in front of Buck [Showalter].

4.) When you were in high school, your fastball sat in the upper 80’s, but after being drafted you saw a jump to the mid 90’s. What do you attribute to such a rapid burst in your overall velocity?

That’s one of the most asked questions I get. All I can think of is being on a set program long tossing, keeping my upper body loose and throwing everyday. Having me grow into my body also helped. I started to gain more weight and was on a set weight program which helped me build leg strength.

5.) Back in 2013, you were traded from the Orioles to the Astros organization, and in 2015 you were sent to the Brewers. Being traded midseason each time, what overall impact did the swap have on your mentality and effectiveness for the remainder of each particular season?

Being traded the first time, it was different, but very easy for me because the guys at the time from the Astros were very welcoming and helped me transition easier. We were a winning team and had one thing in mind, and that was to win games. Being traded the second time with guys I knew helped out because you at least know some guys. If anything, being traded midseason helped, because you get the couple of extra days rest, so it gets your arm a little more amp.

6.) After a great 2015 season, you were sent to the Arizona Fall League where you had a terrific showing, winning the ERA title with a mere 0.56 ERA. What was the overall experience of the Arizona Fall League like? What type of things did you work on most during your time out there?

Going to the AFL helped me out a lot, being able to get some extra time to work on my changeup and slider. The slider — I changed the grip midseason, so it was a whole new feel. In the AFL the slider became one of the bigger pitches for me. Being able to pitch against the best of the best there also helped me because I knew 1-9, everyone could do damage. It helped me be able to work hitters and made me throw offspeeds behind in the count, and made me keep the hitters off balance.

7.) When you began your career, you were used solely as a relief pitcher, but were switched to a full time starter in 2013 before being used as both a starter and reliever again over each of the past two seasons. How do you go about making an effective transition between starting and relieving throughout the season? 

The biggest thing is the warm up before the game as a starter you have a routine you go through and you have time to get ready, but as a reliever you don’t have that luxury of the pre game warm up. No matter the role the job still stays the same, doesn’t matter if it’s the 1st or last inning, you have to get hitters out and keep the game in our team’s favor.

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

Changing where I stood on the mound and my slider grip was the best thing for me in 2015. It made all of my pitches become much better and easier for me to command. My goal for 2016 is to be in the big leagues and to keep the same momentum going into this year.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Spaghetti would have to my favorite food hands down. [For TV show], any hunting show on the outdoor channel. 

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

To never give up on the game; to always work hard, because you never know who is watching you play. Never take the game for granted because it goes by so fast. Always have fun playing. It’s a kid’s game no matter how old you get.  

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Big thanks to Josh Hader for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jhader17

Q and A With Scooter Gennett

Scooter Gennett was drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, after hitting .470 his senior year at Sarasota High School.

GennettMaking a steady climb through the minors from 2010 through 2013 — including an appearance in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City — Gennett debuted at the big league level in June of 2013. By batting .324 with 6 homers and 21 RBI’s over 69 games his rookie year, Gennett set himself up nicely to be a big part of the Brewers moving forward.

Gennett once again had a solid year in 2014, where he hit 9 home runs with the Brewers to go along with 54 RBI’s. However, this past year not everything went quite as smoothly as the previous two seasons for Gennett, with him hitting a few rough spots throughout the year.

Following an unfortunate freak injury to begin the season, Gennett proceeded to produce subpar numbers for the Brewers, leading to him being sent down to the minors midseason. But despite the setback, Gennett was quickly brought back up to finish out the end of the year in Milwaukee, and wound up with 6 homers and 29 RBI’s for the season.

While 2015 was a somewhat down year for Scooter Gennett, he should see a bounce back to his former self in 2016. If everything goes as planned, he is likely to be the everyday second baseman for the Brewers all of this upcoming season.

Scooter Gennett — second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers — 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 got into baseball when I was 2 years old. My dad and I would play all the time, and he started teaching me everything about the game. I’d say he was my biggest influence in the sense that he taught me everything I know.

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

My favorite baseball player was always Barry Larkin. As a small kid growing up in Cincinnati, I admired how he played the game. He was a professional and took the time to say hi to young kids like myself. I really respected him for that.

3.) You were drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

Well, to be honest, I thought I would have gone sooner. So as an 18 year old, I was pretty upset [laughs]. But I was with my family and girlfriend (now wife) at our house listening to the whole draft on a laptop. Once I finally heard my name, I was excited and just ready to get my career started.

4.) Your official full name is Ryan Joseph Gennett, but are known as Scooter around the baseball world. While you’ve told the story a few times before, for those who don’t know, briefly retell how you received the nickname Scooter that has stuck with you ever since.

I was a bad kid and didn’t listen very often, especially in the car. I would always undo my car seat belt while my mom was driving, so she would have to stop the car and get out. One day she wanted to teach me a lesson on seatbelt safety and scare some sense into me. So when I was like 4 years old she pulled into a police station where an officer came over to talk to me. When the officer asked me what my name was, I thought I was getting arrested so I quickly thought of an alias, Scooter Gennett, named after my favorite muppet babies character “Scooter”. I didn’t respond to Ryan at all for about a year after the incident, afraid that I would still get in trouble, so Scooter just stuck around.

5.) After a couple of good seasons in the minors in 2010 and 2011, you were selected to take part in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City. What was that experience like?

Being in the Futures Game was really a great honor. To know that I was selected to play amongst the best talent was just a really amazing feeling.

6.) Over the course of your Major League career, you’ve hit .307 against righties but just .123 against lefties. As a left handed batter, how do you differ your overall approach when facing southpaw pitchers? Is there anything you’re working on to attempt to improve your production against lefties?

I can only hope I get the opportunity to face more lefty starters this year to show what I can do. Throughtout the minors I never had a problem with lefties, and I know I can hit them. Like anything, I just need consistent at bats against them. It’s the consistency that is key.

7.) In 2015, you were placed on the disabled list early in the year, and after a somewhat poor return you were sent down to the minors for around a month before being recalled. What was your overall take regarding being sent down? Did that experience change the way you go about every day in the majors now?

Being sent down last year just really showed me to enjoy everyday in the big leagues and to do my best everyday. You really never know when your last game might be, so enjoy every moment you have playing at that level because it really is such a blessing. I wouldn’t say I worked harder when I got sent down. It was just a reminder to do the very best you can everyday. That goes for life in general, also.

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

I feel my attitude was good in 2015, especially while getting sent down. I think that went well for me, and I am going to continue keeping a positive outlook. My goals for 2016 are just to play everyday and stay healthy!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I’m a Netflix guy. I watch a movie every night before bed, and I will literally give any movie a shot. As for a show I’m just now watching, ‘The Bible’ series on Netflix is pretty awesome. My favorite food is definitely beef tips and noodles — yummy.

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

I would tell kids that if baseball is in their heart, to never give up on their dreams. No matter how many people tell you you can’t do something or you will never make it, if you want something bad enough you can achieve any goal! It’s all about having faith and the right mindset.

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Big thanks to Scooter Gennett for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @Sgennett2

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

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