Cubs Prospect Interview: Joe Simokaitis

The first full professional season proved to be an up-and-down year for Joe Simokaitis, the 10th-round Cubs draft pick from the University of Nebraska in 2005. The shortstop started off slowly out of the gate, but toward the end of the year, he picked up more at-bats and made the most of them even while dealing with a strained hamstring.

Simokaitis batted .259 in 110 games at Class-A Daytona in 2006, hitting .315 in his final 23 games. Not known as a power hitter, he hit one home run and drove in 32 runs while drawing 37 walks for a .347 on-base percentage.

We'd heard you were scheduled to go to the Instructional League, but didn't make it.

Yeah, it's funny. I was on the list to go and then toward the end of the year, I tweaked my hamstring a little and had to pull out. I had gone the year before and was scheduled to go again.

Any guesses as to how the injury came about?

It just popped up on me. In the second half of the season – late July or early August – I tweaked it running the bases and felt it pull a little bit, so we rested a little. I tried strengthening it and came back. The last two weeks or maybe the last week of the season, it came up again and I tried pushing it. I don't know if it was fatigue or what, but I felt it pull again. Just to stay on the safe side, we just rested it after that.

How does the hamstring feel now? Are you completely recovered?

Oh, yeah. I rested it a good three to four weeks after the end of the season and I think that was the key. After that, I just slowly stretched and built strength back up in my legs. I'm back to a full 100 percent, working out and everything.

Interestingly enough, your numbers got better toward the end of the year in spite of the hamstring. Was that something you noticed?

At the plate, as far as hitting and seeing the ball, I felt great. It was unfortunate that the hamstring kind of sidelined me, but I guess I started to get hot at the right time because we were in the playoff hunt and started clicking. Hitting is contagious and other guys on the team started hitting. It's unfortunate that it slowed me down, but I felt good. I thought I ended on a high note.

You seem to be a pretty versatile and flexible guy that can play a couple of different positions and bat anywhere in the lineup. Do you have a preference between batting higher up in the lineup or lower?

No, I really don't. Wherever they put me is fine. Being with a National League club, you have to be able to handle the bat at the top and the bottom as far as moving runners over and stuff like that. I really didn't feel there was much of a difference.

Being 23 this season and with a good college background from your days at Nebraska, did you feel you were too old to go back to Peoria?

I felt Daytona was the right place for me and it was where I wanted to be. Wherever they feel I needed to go, they've been through it all as far as players and putting them places. You can't really worry about it; you just have to go out and play. I was happy with going to Daytona. I don't know if it was a big jump, but a lot of the guys had gone through a short rookie season and then their first full season was in Peoria. This year being my first full year and in Daytona, it was a little bit of a jump, but I felt I was ready. At times, I proved I could play at that level and other times I struggled a little bit. For the most part, I think I proved I could play there.

Throughout college and last year at Peoria, you were exclusively at short, but you played both short and second at Daytona. Do you see yourself playing one position over the other in the long haul?

I think as a natural shortstop, that's my natural position. You kind of prove that you can play the other positions like the second's and the third's. I think if you have the arm for short, you have the arm for third. As far as range, if you have the range for short, you have the range for second. And as far as the future, I think it's good that I showed some versatility as far as going over to second and handling that well. For a game or half a game, I went over and played first a little. Just showing that I'm versatile and can accept that and play well, I think it's good for me in the future.

How pleased were you with your defense overall (15 errors at short and two at second)?

At Nebraska, I definitely was known for defense. To be honest, I don't know if it was because I played well or because I was old, but I had the Big XII record for most assists. I played short all four years there, so I proved there that I could play. At the beginning of the season, I think I was a little shaky at short. Like hitting and everything else, it's an adjustment. You have to get used to the fields, the speed of the game and everything else. I think I started out a little rocky, but at the end of the year, I think I was definitely solid defensively.

You told us earlier that when you first strained your hamstring and missed a few days that the time off helped you get your feet back under you as far as strength and energy went. What else helped your average the past couple of months?

It was one of those things where I didn't try to press or do too much. I worked a lot with Richie Zisk, our hitting coach. Our first base coach in the second half was Antonio Grissom, Marquis's brother. Working with those two guys, you try to stay relaxed because your numbers aren't where they want to be, and you try to take it day by day and do whatever you can to help the team win. When you're going with that mindset, everything else will fall into play and it kind of did at the end of the year.


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