Minor League Profile: Tyler Bullock

There are always a lot of good stories in spring training, but this one might take the cake. How about a former catcher switching to the mound and becoming a solid prospect for the Atlanta Braves. Meet Tyler Bullock.

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Tyler Bullock was drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 draft by the Braves out of Baylor University. He pitched in fourteen games with the Danville Braves, saving three and posting a 3.60 ERA. He then pitched in one game for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, going three scoreless innings. Now he's headed to Rome in 2006, but for possibly another new role. Here's our interview with right-hander Tyler Bullock.

SHANKS: How is spring training going so far?
BULLOCK: Great so far. I've been here a month so far, actually a month today. It's pretty intense. I haven't had a day off yet, but I'm enjoying it. Getting back with all the guys I met last year in my short season. So it's fun to see those faces and get back to work, get in shape, get the arm healthy for hopefully a good season.

SHANKS: Were you drafted out of high school?
BULLOCK: I was not. I signed with Baylor University in Waco, Texas. I played for the U.S. Junior National Team that summer after my senior year. I was offered a free agent contract from the Dodgers after that, but I decided to go to school. I was drafted after my junior year. I've got a year left of school to finish sometime, but I'm going to enjoy being here with the Braves.

SHANKS: What was the college experience like for you?
BULLOCK: I started out as a catcher. I went to Baylor as a catcher. I didn't get much time early in my freshman year, so they ended up putting me on the mound. I ended up getting about 20 innings that year. I was pretty much self-taught. They put me out there because I could throw strikes. I caught my sophomore year and got about 100 at bats. I decided my best chance to get drafted fairly decently was to be on the mound. So me and my college coach decided that was the best decision, and I pitched about 25 innings my junior year. I was fortunate to get picked by the Braves.

SHANKS: Did you pitch in high school?
BULLOCK: You know I was the only catcher in our high school so I caught. I closed a couple of times, but I pitched when I was little. I kind of enjoy being out there, being the center of attention. It's kind of hard to get used to not playing everyday, sitting in the bullpen. But I've adjusted to it, and I'm starting to get the hang of it better. I've got some good coaching around here to help us out.

SHANKS: So were the 25 innings you pitched last year at Baylor the most you've ever pitched?
BULLOCK: I pitched 25 there and 30 in Danville.

SHANKS: But before you go to the Braves that was the most you had ever thrown?
BULLOCK: Correct. So hopefully this year, I've talked with several guys in the organization, and they're going to try to get me as many innings as I can this year to get some experience and get some good habits. I'm looking forward to that.

SHANKS: So this is unusual. Many 22-year olds out of college might have six years of pitching from high school and college. You had 45 innings.
BULLOCK: You know the thing that I think worked the best in my favor on the mound was the fact that I hadn't pitched forever. I had a fresh arm. I was just out there throwing as hard as I could trying to strike people out. Obviously, that's backfired several times as I've had to learn the strategy behind it developing the off speed pitch and change up. But I like the challenge of facing hitters. I feel like I'm at a little bit of an advantage because I caught and I hit so I kind of know what they're going through up there. It's just a mind game.

SHANKS: I'm going to ask a question that might sound denigrating but I think it's appropriate…do you really know how to pitch yet?
BULLOCK: That's a good question. I'm confident my potential can be realized. I don't think I'm anywhere close to it. If you stop learning, you're done.

SHANKS: But you really just started. I mean you're learning as you go, aren't you?
BULLOCK: I am. One day you think you've got it figured out, and then it'll humble you the next day. But I like the challenge and I look forward to learning more and getting more experience on the mound.

SHANKS: So to pitch 25 innings at Baylor and then get drafted in the sixth round, you must have been doing something right. Did you have a pretty good year there?
BULLOCK: It's all about getting seen at the right time. I guess I had good outings when I needed to. I was blessed to have those opportunities. Luckily, someone saw potential in me that I know I have. Hopefully, I'll prove both of us right.

SHANKS: Did you know the Braves were interested in you?
BULLOCK: Yes sir. I was in contact with them. I knew that they were interested in me. They had tried to see me several times and missed. They took a chance. As much as I'm trying for myself to make it, I'm also going to try to make good on those expectations also.

SHANKS: Were a lot of teams looking at you?
BULLOCK: Yeah. I was fortunate at Baylor because we had a bunch of prospects. There were also people in the stands at practice and games. I got a lot of exposure because of the guys around me than I would have just by myself. I just try to keep it all in perspective. I've tried to have the attitude that in baseball you can't really try to hard to make things you can't control work out. You've just got to work your butt off, and things will happen.

SHANKS: What all do you throw?
BULLOCK: Well my experience so far has been in relief, so I pretty much come in and throw hard stuff …fastball, slider. I've thrown a change in the past, but I'm now working on a split-finger.

SHANKS: How good is your fastball?
BULLOCK: I got it up there to 94 a few times this year. I'm still working out some kinks in my mechanics trying to get the most out of my whole body. Being a catcher I was kind of used to just snapping it from my ear. So I'm getting used to using my legs and getting more of a good arm motion going. So hopefully, I've got a few more miles an hour in there. I've learned that it's not about just throwing it by them. You've got to put it where they can't hit it.

SHANKS: This is really on-the-job training, isn't it?
BULLOCK: It is. I had a training class last year, and I've thought about that before. Trial and error, experimentation. I've definitely watched the guys around me to try and pick up on stuff. It's been a learning experience and it's been fun. It's just the start, I hope, that I can continue to learn things to help me improve as a pitcher.

SHANKS: But to know that you had success and that the Braves drafted you so high and that you've got so much to still learn…that has to be exciting for you?
BULLOCK: It is. Everybody watches the Braves. When I was a kid, and when all these guys were kids, they were good. They've been good since. In my first rookie season, in the Instructional League, and now so far in spring training, all the things I've learned about the Braves are true. They treat you with a lot of respect. All these coaches around here are dedicated. I've really been impressed with the way things are run around here, baseball-wise and administration-wise.

SHANKS: Can you tell now that you're a better pitcher than you were when you got here last summer?
BULLOCK: Oh yeah. I happened to watch my draft tape from the MLB scouting bureau a couple of weeks ago. My buddy showed it to me. I looked like a catcher on the mound, trying to turn it loose. So I've come a long way so far I think, and it's only been a few months so hopefully I'll continue on that pace.

SHANKS: Do you feel yourself becoming a pitcher?
BULLOCK: Yeah, mentally and physically. You've got to think about it. The hitters are up there trying to be up there just bash the ball around. But pitching is more of a finesse game. That was the biggest adjustment for me, just getting used to that. It's a different game on the mound, a different mentality. I guy asked me today, out in the outfield, he said, ‘you don't talk much.' I told him, ‘I'm not used to being able to shoot the breeze in the outfield. I'm used to paying attention the whole time.' So it's been an adjustment in all areas.

SHANKS: Are they keeping you in the bullpen? Do you know what they're going to do with you?
BULLOCK: The word's still out so far. I'm not sure how things will shake out in the beginning. I think the initial plan is to try to get me in a long relief situation this year to maximize innings and experience.

SHANKS: They're going to piggyback you, aren't they?
BULLOCK: Possibly, yeah. My first experience with piggybacking was last year in Danville. I wasn't apart of it, but that would definitely be good for me, to get loose and get four innings or so. I could see guys twice through the lineup and make adjustments, as opposed to just coming in and facing a couple of guys at once.

SHANKS: That will stretch your arm out even if your long-term future is in the bullpen.
BULLOCK: Right. You know I've read a book by the Braves' pitching guys, and it says that with these young guys, they start them out in long roles, and if they're meant to be in the pen they'll stick them out there. But I think it's a good idea not to just limit myself to relief, especially since I just started.

SHANKS: Do you enjoy relieving?
BULLOCK: Yeah. I like being in there with the game on the line. But I'm also excited about seeing it from the other end.

SHANKS: Do you feel like that's your long-term role, as a reliever, or does it depend on how you do?
BULLOCK: Yeah I guess so. I wish I could say. I wish I had it all planned out. The competitor in me wants to just scoot right through this thing, but I know it takes experience and takes seeing all kinds of different hitters and different situations.

SHANKS: I guess there's two way to look at this, coming in here being new to pitching. You know you can see all these kids that have been pitching for so long. That could be overwhelming. But you can learn from them as well.
BULLOCK: Exactly. Me and my buddy, Jamie Romak, who is an outfielder, he said, ‘You see somebody do something and you try it out yourself and you think that might be the secret. And everyday there's something else you're going to pick up on.' Like I said, this game is humbling. Nobody's got it figured out, so I'm right there with them in that respect. We're all just working for the same goal. It's a good group of guys that's here right now to work with.

SHANKS: Could you have ever thought when you were catching that you would one day be a Braves' minor league pitcher?
BULLOCK: Never. I thought I was the best hitter that ever stepped in the box. I miss hitting. Guys catch me on the side swinging a bat and say, ‘Give it up.' Hopefully if I get to AA I'll get to hit again. Going to Baylor was exciting for me. They have a great program. I thought I was going to be a big-time catcher. I'm a believer that things work out like they're supposed to. I've been blessed to get this far in baseball, and my dream is to play professional baseball. I'm made it this far, and I'm going to keep working to see how far I can go.

SHANKS: How can being a former catcher help you in your preparation with hitters, and what to throw what in counts. Are those some of the advantages in being a former catcher?
BULLOCK: You know the scout that signed me out of Texas, Chris Knabenshue, said, ‘you should have an advantage being a catcher and calling games forever. You know what guys are going to try to do up there since you were a hitter.' I think it's an asset to me for the running game. I know on a running count the catcher likes to have the ball where he can turn it loose. I've got a fairly quick delivery to the plate, so that can help him out that way. I feel like I understand what guys are trying to do in certain situations.

SHANKS: So that may make it easier than if you had been an infielder or outfielder converting to the mound?
BULLOCK: Yeah. Right. I think the adjustment was much easier coming from behind the plate because I was apart of the battery. So I guess the main adjustment, and still is, gaining command of pitches. Concentration is a big thing out there. As a catcher, you've got to have it. I think that helps me out as well, especially if I'm going to try this piggyback role. You've got to concentrate for several innings, which can be tough. It's definitely helped me from coming from behind the plate.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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