You were considered a starter coming out of the draft, but after you joined the Cubs, you pitched exclusively from the bullpen. How did you like the move?
It wasn't too bad. The first couple of outings was a little different. In my early career in college, I did a lot of relieving before I started, so it wasn't too hard for me to get comfortable in that situation.
When you started relieving again, how much of it was a natural progression knowing you'd done it a time or two previously in your career?
It was definitely different. It was something I felt more comfortable in because I could go out there each night whenever I would pitch and only have to go through the lineup once. I could throw my best stuff instead of worrying about having to get them out three or four times as a starter.
It's also an advantage knowing a hitter is likely only going to face you once and will have less time to adjust to you than he might otherwise.
Exactly. I can go right after them and do whatever the catcher wants to do, and go toward the hitter's weakness. You can go right at them instead of saying, "Well, I'll do this to set them up for the next at-bat."
You throw a fastball, changeup, curve and splitter. Which one do you consider your out-pitch?
I definitely think my splitter would be my out-pitch. I throw that a lot. I've kind of put the curveball on the back door now and I started picking up a slider at Instructs. Hopefully I can fine-tune that before I get to Spring Training, or during Spring Training so that it will be a different pitch for me to have in the upcoming season.
That's interesting, because we talked to one of your Boise teammates recently who also abandoned the curveball in favor of the slider. What else did you work on in the Instructional League?
Mainly I just worked on that setup role that I was in and getting more used to it, and then also getting to face obviously each organization's top hitters. I thought that was a real confidence booster for me, getting those guys out. And then basically fine-tuning all of my secondary pitches to where I have confidence throwing them in any count.
So what were your thoughts on the season you had in Boise? Everything we heard from the coaches and saw from the numbers was very encouraging!
I had no complaints about getting that first season under my belt. There are a few mistakes you make while pitching. You review them and kind of work from there, but as far as the season went, I'm very happy with my numbers and how the team did.
When you talk about mistakes, what are some examples?
With the secondary pitches, I feel very comfortable with the splitter now that I got back from Instructs. This season, I kind of babied it a little bit to make sure I did it good. With the slider and changeup, it gave me a good opportunity to have a lot more confidence than just being able to throw it without learning where it's going to go. Now, Instructs has given me the opportunity to have a better feel for those pitches.
It's almost Thanksgiving. What has the off-season been like for you thus far?
I took a good two weeks off and just did some things I wanted to do – play a little golf and what-not. I'm living with my twin brother (Josh) and we go to the gym together. We haven't started throwing yet, but we probably will in a couple of weeks in early December. Mainly, it's just staying in the gym, lifting weights and getting a good cardio in and doing a lot of core exercises.
How about big brother? Do you see him a lot?
No, I haven't actually; not lately, but I plan on seeing him a lot more in the coming months. His birthday is coming up and plus, he lives in Mississippi. He doesn't live in Jacksonville, which is where I live. Josh and I are going to be going to see him in Mississippi. We're also going to do a couple of signings with him up in Boston and also we're going to be together on Christmas.
That has to be nice – already going to autograph sessions this early in your career.
It definitely helps to have an older brother that's made a name for himself. Plus, the fact that they can get all three of us there is a cool promotion they can run. I don't know how many signings I'd be going to if I didn't have Jonathan!
One thing I couldn't help but notice was that your appearances at Boise seemed very spread out; almost like you were on a schedule: one game every four days and usually at least two innings of work. Was that by design or am I reading too much into this?
Last season with Boise, a lot of the starters like (Mark) Pawelek were fairly young, plus we had a couple of college starters who had a lot of innings. I think they knew that the starters were only going to be going five or six innings, and often you're the guy to go one, two or three innings and finish out the game. That's just the role I was put in from the get-go. As far as what my role will be when I get to Spring Training, I don't know, but I'm sure it will be somewhere along the relief side.
Again, most of the guys at Boise had played college ball. And the fact that a lot in the Cubs organization pitching-wise have had a lot of arm problems, they wanted to make sure you got enough rest in between each outing. I knew I wasn't going to pitch on back-to-back days or pitch on one day's rest, because we had a lot of pitchers to begin with. They didn't want to whittle us down because they obviously know we've pitched 80 to 100 innings already.
With your age (23) and college experience, could you see yourself maybe bypassing Peoria next year for the Daytona club?
I'm definitely at the point where I feel I'm a little older than the normally drafted college player. I'm looking to work really hard in the off-season to where in Spring Training, they'll say, "Wow, this guy came back. He's ready to go and is really serious and wants to get to it." Hopefully I'll get to go to Daytona or even Tennessee, which would be a dream.
When Baseball America released their list of the Northwest League's top prospects, were you disappointed not to make it with the numbers you put up?
I really didn't look at it like that. I don't really let myself get bothered by what other people say. I take it as my way of showing people what I can do and that drives me more. As long as I'm on the team and I'm getting my outs every time I go out there, I've got nothing to complain about. I've talked to my brother just about baseball in general. He wasn't always the top prospect or whatever, so it's really not that big of a deal. The only way I look at it is that basically whenever I play pro ball each season, if I'm going out there and putting zeros on the board, there's no reason why they can't move me up.