I was a two-way guy throughout my whole career in college. The Orioles actually selected me as a first baseman, but wanted me to be just a pitcher shortly afterward. I haven't played any infield in pro ball yet.
Were you originally an infielder growing up or a pitcher?
I was always a hitter growing up. It got to the point where I kind of grew up a little in terms of height. In junior college my freshman year, my coach really didn't want me to hit at all. He just said he thought I had a good arm, so I spent my whole year working off the mound. To me, I was always a hitter. My first two seasons in pro ball were the first two seasons I really considered myself a pitcher.
How excited are you to join a National League club with the opportunity to get some more at-bats?
I laugh about it because it's kind of funny to me. I love to hit and it's always been fun to me. After I got traded to the Cubs, I was really excited because you get to take more BP's and maybe have a chance to hit in some games depending on what level you're at. I always joked around with some of the hitters with the Orioles that I could hit so it's fun for me.
Do you feel that you can still help your team with the bat?
I have no idea. I still have a buddy that is a shortstop who I work out with. He throws me a little BP and I still work on it a little here or there. It's going to be tough hitting at the professional level after not hitting in a game since college, but it'll be fun to see.
Going back to pitching ... looking at the numbers, you were second in the Carolina League in walks (65 in 148-plus innings) a season ago. Are the walks something you're really concerned with at this point in your career?
Last year was the first year that I actually had a problem with them. It kind of came about with that sinker. Working on that pitch, it was me trying to make the ball sink or trying to do something different with my arm action and working behind instead of just attacking hitters. It was the first year I'd ever really dealt with it, but to me, it wasn't like I was wild. I'd start off getting behind and any time you do that, you get yourself in trouble. I've worked really hard this offseason to refine my mechanics and get the same release point every time.
So the walk totals were somewhat tainted?
I was working a lot on locating fastballs and I think it caused me to be a little passive instead of being aggressive and attacking the strike zone. I think there were some games where I had four or five walks and that would hurt. Last year, I felt like every time I walked a guy, they scored. I've been really conscious about it this offseason and it's something I want to correct and make sure doesn't happen anymore.
Going back to the trade that brought you to the Cubs, what was your reaction when you heard the news? Most every player says it's something of a shock to be traded this early in their careers.
(laughs) I guess I'm going to sound like everybody else, but I was really shocked. I got a call from David Stockstill, the Farm Director for the Orioles, to let me know that I'd been traded. It was a couple of days before the Rule Five Draft. He told me I was traded for Freddie Bynum and that they really didn't want to let me go, but that any time they have a chance to get a major league player for a minor league player, they need to do it. I was definitely shocked, but at the same time I was also excited. I've heard nothing but good things about the Cubs organization and after talking to my agent, we were really excited. It's a chance for me to get in front of a whole new organization and make another good impression.
Tim Wilken is the Cubs' Scouting Director and he told us you were something of a late developer. Is that primarily because of your status as a first baseman in college?
I was a late developer on the mound because I'd never focused solely on pitching; I'd always had to do both. But I think physically I'm a late developer as well. I consider myself a late developer because I physically matured later than everybody else. That's the reason that junior college was best for me coming out of high school; just because I felt I was still a baby. I was 18 and had kind of a big frame, but I really had no idea what was going on. All of a sudden I was 19, then 20, and I knew I was starting to figure things out a little more. My junior year, everything started to click.
You've moved up a level every year since you were drafted. Do you see yourself going to Double-A this season?
My goal is to move up every year, because you never want to repeat a level. At the same time, I'm going to leave that to the Cubs. I don't know who saw me play from their organization, or what their reports were on me, but I'm just getting prepared to go to Spring Training and will let them make that decision. I would like to go to Double-A; I would like to go to the big leagues (laughs). In reality, you don't ever know where you're going to go. Every offseason, I say the same thing – that I'd love to go to Spring Training and have my best one ever and get to the big leagues.
It could happen. We've seen certain players do it.
Exactly. Last year, Jim Hoey started off in Frederick at Low-A ball. He went from Low-A to High-A and then on to the big leagues. I saw it happen and I definitely see the possibilities. I just want to be ready for the opportunity when it comes.