Though 22nd round pick Joey Bergman has decided to return to school, the other selection from the school, right-handed pitcher Jesse Simpson, is already paying dividends. After a dominant start at Johnson City, the 22-year-old struck out six in four innings in his second start for Batavia on Wednesday night.
Coming into the 2009 college baseball season, expectations were high for the ace of the Cougars' staff. He was named to the Brooks Wallace College Player of the Year Watch List after an outstanding junior season. During that 2008 campaign, Simpson posted a 9-3 record with six saves and a 3.88 ERA. He worked 72 innings, logging 83 strikeouts as both a starter and a reliever.
Though his senior season did not go as hoped, he has not let that affect his professional debut. In 36 innings, he has an ERA of 2.00 to go along with his 38 strikeouts compared to only 12 walks.
Recently, Simpson was kind enough to take time out of a day trip with his father to Niagara Falls to answer some questions. He talked about draft day as well as what it is like to be promoted.
Dustin Mattison: Tell me about your early professional baseball experience.
Jesse Simpson: I am loving it; it has been awesome. You wake up every morning and you get to play baseball. It is a breath of fresh air from school ball.
DM: Is there anything that stands out as being really surprising?
JS: Everybody is competitive and everybody wants to win but the pressure is not on the coaches here like in college. When we don't win, they take it as an actual learning experience. Nobody is upset about it as long as you learn from it. That is such a change from college.
DM: Tell me about draft day.
JS: I was home from school for the summer and we had watched a little of it on the computer. I was leaving to go to a friend's house when I got the call from the scout over in North Carolina. He told me that I had been drafted and that I was going to go to Johnson City in three days.
DM: Were the Cardinals the team you expected to pick you?
JS: The Cardinals were actually the team I least expected. I had talked to their scout a little bit before the draft but I had been drafted by the Braves out of high school. I was sure it was going to be them and then the Marlins called me on draft day and told me they were going to take me. But it ended up being the Cardinals, which has turned out great for me.
DM: Was there any disappointment going in the 40th round? I know going into the season you had to expect to hear your name called much sooner.
JS: Obviously, there was a little bit of a disappointment because you go later than you think. My junior year was much better than my senior season so I was just happy to go get a chance to play.
DM: How did you find out about your recent promotion?
JS: I pitched the night that I left. I went that whole day without hearing anything about it at all. After I came in from pitching, our trainer mentioned that he heard they were going to call some pitchers up. Luckily, I pitched a good game that night and I believe they all knew but I didn't. Our manager, Mike Shildt, got us all together to tell us we were moving up. It was kind of a surprise because I didn't even know I was even in the mix for a call-up. (Writer's note: Justin Smith, Matt Adams, and Michael Swinson were also promoted with Simpson to Batavia that night.)
DM: Tell me about the move from JC to Batavia. Do the Cardinals set up the travel?
JS: It was a neat experience. They were like, "Congratulations, you've been moved up and now go get your stuff and be at the field at 3:30 in the morning." We all got our stuff packed and flew out at five o'clock that morning. We got to Batavia and played that night.
You find out you are being promoted and you're happy but then you realize you have to get packed so you don't have time to think about it.
DM: Do they have housing set up for you?
JS: When we got here (to Batavia) the other players already had their host families set up. So they put us up in a hotel for the night. Each team has a team mom that coordinates where everybody goes and then after the next game she had found a house for me right next to the field.
DM: You worked in relief as well as starting at the College of Charleston. Do you have a preference?
JS: I like starting. It gives you time to get a feel for the game and you get to throw the most innings. I feel that in the later part of the game that I have my better stuff. Either way has its advantages. Coming in relief or a closing situation, you are hyped up with your adrenaline pumping. Coming in with the game on the line is one of the best feelings you can get.
DM: Tell me about your repertoire.
JS: I throw a fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. Here lately, I have been working on a sinker. I have been throwing that more than anything.
DM: That is a Cardinal thing, isn't it?
JS: I noticed that after I got here. While sitting in the bullpen, I would ask situational questions to the rovers and no matter the question I would ask, he would respond, "I would throw a sinker." You keep asking questions hoping that he would respond with one of my strengths, like the slider or the cutter that I throw, but it was always "I would throw a sinker, I would throw a sinker". So, I got the hint that I need to learn how to throw a sinker.
DM: The Cardinals picked your teammate at the College of Charleston, Joey Bergman in the 22nd round this year. He announced that he was going to return to school the day after the draft. Have you talked to him recently and told him he might want to reconsider?
JS: Yeah. I called him on draft day to congratulate him and tell him he should sign. I told him it would be nice to have someone around that I knew but he said he wanted to go back to school. But here lately, he has been talking that he still might sign. So I am trying to force him to do it but who knows.
DM: Speaking of having people around that you know, do you feel the move from Johnson City to Batavia might have been a little easier since you had teammates going with you?
JS: It really does make a difference. It doesn't matter where you go nor your personality, when you are the new guy in town, it is different. And you are going to be the new guy until someone else comes. Coming with Adams, Swinson, and Smith, it made the transition much easier.
DM: When you are not playing baseball, how do you like to spend your time?
JS: There is not much free time right now. When I go home, I will do a lot of fishing. I like to travel a lot. I once spent my entire summer in Costa Rica. I like to relax.
DM: What should Cardinal fans know about you that they probably don't already know?
JS: If I didn't play baseball, I probably would have went to college and played tennis. My brother played professional tennis and is the coach at the Citadel.
I thank Jesse for his time and wish him the best of luck in his professional career.
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