Batavia Muckdogs Starting Pitcher of the Year

On a championship team with a very deep starting rotation, Thomas Eager proved his mettle and is our Batavia Muckdogs' Pitcher of the Year for 2008. Dustin Mattison talks with the St. Louis Cardinals prospect about the award and much more.

2008 was a fantastic season for the Batavia Muckdogs.  Not only did the team win its first-ever New York-Penn League Championship but the St. Louis Cardinals began to see the payoff from their academies in the Caribbean.  Arquimedes Nieto (Panama) and Miguel Tapia (Dominican Republic) recorded solid regular seasons while Hector Cardenas (Dominican) was dominant in the postseason. 


But it was a 2007 fifth-round selection in only his third year as a starter that proved to be the most consistent.  Thomas Eager posted a 6-3 record to go along with a miniscule 1.76 ERA.  Eager recorded an almost two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding the opposition to a .193 average against.  His ERA would have been the second-best mark in the league if he had tossed enough innings to qualify.  Eager's six victories tied him for sixth amongst the league leaders. 


Eager started the 2008 season with Quad Cities, where he struggled to find his rhythm.  In 15 games, Midwest League hitters tagged him with a 5.92 ERA.  The then-22-year-old struggled with his command, walking 27 compared to only 30 strikeouts. 


So Eager was returned to Batavia, where he started his professional career in 2007.  For the Muckdogs that season, he posted a 1-6 record along with a fairly respectable 4.30 ERA. 


I was able to catch up with Eager and inform him of his award.  


Dustin Mattison: First off, congratulations on being named The Birdhouse's Batavia Starting pitcher of the year. 


Thomas Eager:  Thank you very much.  It is a good honor and I am very happy that I was picked for it. 


DM:  Tell me about the championship-clinching game against Jamestown.  That had to be very exciting.


TE:  It was my first title since I was a sophomore in high school in California.  It was just a great team effort.  Jamestown and us battled all season for first place and it was the two of us in the championship game.  It was a pretty good battle.  It was something special. We came together really well as a team, and I am glad that I was part of it. 


DM: Some of our readers may not know this but you just finished your third season as a pitcher. 


TE:  In high school, I was an outfielder and some schools recruited me as an outfielder.  Cal-Poly wanted me to pitch and they have a great pitching coach in Jerry Weinstein so I agreed.  I thought this was the best way for me to get to the next level so I red-shirted because I really didn't know what I was doing.  In my red-shirt sophomore year, things started to come together and I have slowly but surely learned how to pitch and just not be a thrower. 


DM: How influential has Weinstein on your career?


TE: Jerry Weinstein has been very, very influential. He taught me how to pitch.  He taught me how to be a pitcher mechanically and emotionally.  I owe a lot of my success to him and he definitely laid the foundation for me becoming a pitcher. 


DM:  Compare what you learned in college from Weinstein to what you have learned since joining the Cardinals' organization.


TE:  It is very similar.  Funny thing, (St. Louis Cardinals Roving Pitching Instructor) Brent Strom who handles our mechanics and Jerry Weinstein are very close friends. They teach pretty well the same stuff.  I understand what he is talking about and what he wants the body to do. 


DM: You were drafted along with Clayton Mortensen and Jess Todd whom have already found their way to Triple-A.  In fairness, they have much more experience on the mound than you so they should be farther along.  But athletes are competitive in nature, is it hard not to compare your development to theirs?


TE: Yeah.  I look at those guys, sure. Clayton Mortensen is a phenomenal pitcher.  The run he has on the ball and the maturity he shows on the mound is amazing.  He is a guy that has been pitching his whole life.  He knows how to pitch and what he wants to do with a hitter. As far as being a pitcher, he is far ahead of me.  Stuff wise, I feel we have similar stuff; he is just more consistent making the pitches. 


Jess Todd is a phenomenal story.  You look at the way he throws, with the movement and the control, it's unbelievable; it is something that's not taught.  They are both really good pitchers.  I talk to Jess on a regular basis; we have become pretty good friends (the two were teammates with the Muckdogs in 2007).  Talking to him has helped me out; we talk about what he thinks about on the mound. 


I made strides here in the second half at Batavia and I felt I put up good numbers.  I feel I had comparable success to theirs comparing where we were at last year.  I think I took a few steps forward.


DM: You started 2008 at the Quad Cities and struggled before being sent back to Batavia.  Can you compare the Thomas Eager that left the Midwest League to the Thomas Eager you are now.  


TE: I think they are similar.  I don't know what the story was in Iowa; it was very frustrating for me.  Talking to Dyar (Miller) and (Brent) Strom, they felt it would be best for me to go back to Batavia and it was the best thing for me.  Being back with DJ (Muckdogs' manager Mark DeJohn) was great.  He never lets you settle for what you are doing, he makes you continue to get better.  It was really good for me to go back and learn how to pitch. 



DM: Can you describe draft day 2007?  What did you know about the Cardinals organization before the team drafted you? 


TE: It was something else. I was a red-shirt sophomore and I didn't know if I wanted to go back as a junior or not.  I knew my dream was to play professional baseball.  Once I heard my name, I knew I was going to sign because it has always been my dream to play pro ball.  Then to get picked by such a well-known organization like the Cardinals with the all the history was even better. 


It is great to be part of an organization that teaches class.  One of my good friends, Gary Daley, was part of the organization so I knew a little bit about them.  (Writer's note: Daley was selected in the third round of the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of the same school as Eager, Cal-Poly.)


DM: So it is my understanding that you are a Giants fan.  First, what are your thoughts on Barry Bonds? 


TE: Yes, I grew up with the Giants and we used to have season tickets.  There are very few of us but I am a fan of Barry Bonds; he is a phenomenal player.  I got to meet him in the airport one time and he was very nice and took the time to talk with me.  I wish he were still in the game.  I wish he could have gone somewhere to DH and get a World Series ring.


DM: What are your thoughts on the tandem or piggyback system?  How difficult is it to rotate from starting the game to coming in relief?


TE:  I had lot of trouble with it last year.  I came from being a starter in college where you would pitch every seven days.  You would get six days to recuperate and feel strong.   Then I came in last year and they had a four-day rotation.  It was bouncing back from the mound to the bullpen and it was tough to get used to it. 


This year it was a five-day rotation and I didn't have too much trouble with it.  I don't mind coming out of the bullpen or starting.  The biggest thing I have to realize is to make the mental adjustment when coming out of the bullpen is to throw strikes. 


DM: Do you have a preference? 


I really don't have a preference.  Coming out of the bullpen and having the pressure to throw strikes in tight situations is what you live for.  Starting a game and keeping your team in the game for six, seven, eight innings is something else.  Being in the game for that long is a lot of fun.  I really don't have a preference.    


DM: Speaking of relievers, I had a chance to interview Adam Reifer.  He seems like a wild man and seems to have the perfect personality for a closer. 


TE:  He is a gamer.  He has his own personality.  He is in his own little world sometimes.  There is no one else that I want to come in the game for us.  He goes out there and battles and he was second in the league in saves.  I think his personality is perfect for a closer.  I never saw him dwell or carry over a bad outing; he was always able to bounce right back.



DM: I know that you are in California right now.  Will you share with us what you are doing this off-season? 


TE: I am actually going to school at Cal-Poly, trying to finish my degree.  I am sharing a house with Gary Daley and another guy I played with in college who is at Double-A with the Twins, Brandon Roberts.  We are working out and have hired a personal trainer.


DM: What should Cardinal fans know about you that they probably don't already know?


TE: I really like golfing.  I love golf and on my off days I try to find my way to the golf course if I have time.  It is a great game that I really enjoy. 


Batavia Pitcher of the Year Honorable Mentions


Arquimedes Nieto exploded onto the scene posting a superb 6-1 record and a 2.95 ERA.  Take away his last two outings and he finishes with an ERA just a tad over two.  As a starter, his ERA was 1.74 in 41.1 innings while he posted a 1.42-to-1 groundball to fly ball ratio. 


Ramon Delgado might have not received the same buzz as Nieto, but was only a hundredth of a run off Nieto's final numbers.  Delgado finished with a 6-1 record and a 2.96 ERA.  When starting, he forced 1.37 groundballs for every fly ball while striking out 23 and walking only two in 32.1 innings. 


Hector Cardenas made only two starts for the team during the regular season but it wasn't due to production.  The southpaw did not allow an earned run while giving up only four hits.  He posted a phenomenal 3.50-to-1 groundball-to-fly ball ratio during his innings as a starter.   In the team's championship game against Jamestown, Cardenas spun six runs of one run baseball to clinch the victory for the Muckdogs. 


Scott Gorgen dominated in his professional debut.  In 54.2 innings, the 2008 fourth-round pick struck out 60 batters and posted a WHIP under one.  He posted a 5-2 record with a 2.32 ERA.  New York-Penn League hitters posted only a .186 batting average against the 5-foot-10 right-hander. 


Lance Lynn threw only 18.2 innings for the team before being promoted but I am sure his opponents weren't too upset.  Lynn allowed an anemic 0.96 ERA and a .179 batting average against.  The former ‘Ole Miss Rebel struck out 22 while allowing only four walks. 



Note: Master article with all 2008 Cardinals Minor League Players of the Year and the schedule for daily announcements: link. (This link is also permanently located at the lower left of The Birdhouse home page.)


Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at


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