Postseason Q&A with Mitch Atkins

No Cubs minor league starter posted more wins than right-hander Mitch Atkins in 2006. The seventh-round pick from the 2004 draft soared in his first year above short-season A-ball, posting the second best ERA of any full-season Cubs minor league starter.

Atkins, who turned 21 on Sunday, won his first four decisions in '06 at Class-A Peoria and remained unbeaten until the first week of June.

He garnered Midwest League All-Star honors later that month and finished with 13 wins and a 2.41 ERA in 25 starts, losing just four decisions and logging 138 1/3 innings.

The product of Northeast Guilford High School in McLeansville, N.C., held opponents to a .217 average and fanned 127 while walking 53. His success came after a shaky stint with Class Low-A Boise in 2005, in which he posted a plus-five ERA in 15 starts.

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Looking back on the season, how overly pleased were you with the year you had?

The year was all right. Coming into the season, I really didn't have anything to fall back on. I knew I could do well. I got off to a good start and kept throwing the ball well.

Around the All-Star break, you'd mentioned the importance of getting off to a fast start. Was that the biggest factor that led to your success?

It probably was. It keeps your confidence up a lot knowing you can pitch well, so that was probably the biggest thing all year.

Was there anything or any one pitch that you tried to develop more this year?

Not one altogether. I worked on all three of my pitches (fastball, curve, changeup). They all came together this year.

Did you or do you consider any one of those pitches your bread and butter?

I think all of them are out-pitches. It depends on the situation. I guess my out-pitch with two strikes would be my curveball.

Coming into the season, how confident were you that you could put together a better season than in '05?

I didn't really think I was going to have the type of good year that I had. I just had a good Spring Training and my arm felt good.

Being a right-hander, how often did you change your approach depending on the situation: left-handed batter versus right-handed batter, etc.?

I don't really differentiate between the two. I go at them pretty much the same. I do throw more changeups to lefty, but my approach is pretty much the same, especially as far as my fastball goes.

With the year's that guys like Donald Veal and Sean Gallagher had, do you ever feel sometimes you're overlooked in this system?

No, not really. It's a competition. They both had good years and I played with Donnie Veal. I wish the best for the both of them. You pretty much have to do your own thing and not worry about anything else and it will all work out.

Realistically, where would you rate your ETA at this point? We've seen a lot of guys recently make the jump from Class-A ball one year to the big leagues the next.

My goal is in a couple of years. Maybe next year, but probably two or three years. I'm anxious to get to Chicago and think I can do it.

If there was one thing or one particular advantage that separates you from some of the other pitching prospects at your level, what would it be?

The big thing I think is just staying healthy and being a guy that can go more into the late innings; not dying out early, and just finishing out the whole season. I think my stuff is good enough, but you have to take care of yourself.

Was it a challenge having to adjust to throwing so many innings this season?

Toward the end of the year, I started to feel it a little bit. It wasn't too bad, but I could definitely tell the difference between the end of the season and the beginning. Coming into next year, I'll learn how to take better care of myself. I didn't really know what to expect or how to take care of my body or how I'd feel at the end of the year. But I think I did a pretty good job. I think next year will be even better just because I'll have a better understanding of how my body works throughout the season.

What's the plan for the off-season? I imagine with all the innings pitched, there's no rush to start throwing any time soon.

No, once you have a long season, the Cubs usually just send you home and let you rest. I probably won't start throwing again until the beginning of next year.


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