Q&A with A.J. Joseph

Don't hit, don't play. That's the harsh realization that a quiet player such as 21-year-old outfielder A.J. Joseph has come to understand.

Selected in the 15th round of the 2004 draft at age 17, Joseph was one of the youngest U.S.-born players ever taken by the Cubs on Draft Day. Three years later, he finds himself in the outfield at Daytona, where the race for playing time can be just as demanding as the late-August temperatures.

Joseph joined the Cubs' Advanced A team in mid-July after batting .246 in 77 games with Class-A Peoria in the Midwest League.

Early on with Daytona, he wasn't hitting. Consequently, he was not playing.

When asked what he wanted to accomplish between then and the end of the season, Joseph had a very simple answer.

"I'm actually right now just accomplishing to get a base hit," he said.

And so after going hitless in his first five games (a span of 11 at-bats that took over two weeks to accumulate), Joseph erupted with four hits on Aug. 5 in a game against Fort Myers and has since been used more frequently while lifting his average to .255 and his on-base percentage to .367 in 19 games.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound right-handed hitting outfielder has shown the ability to hit well for average while displaying gap-to-gap power in his pro career. But after batting .306 with 14 doubles a year ago in the Northwest League at Boise, the 2007 season has been hot and cold for Joseph and several other players at his level of the Cubs' system.

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You've been with the Daytona team for over a month, but your playing time has been kind of spread out. What do you attribute to that?

A.J. Joseph: This year has been a real strange one, not only for me but for everybody. I don't know what the problem is; there isn't really too many people hitting like we did last year. As far as playing time and the whole thing I've learned about my dealings with baseball, I feel if you're hitting, you're going to play. You don't hit, you don't play.

So I started off pretty good (at Peoria), but it kind of got a little harder as time went on. Sometimes you work so hard, but you don't see any results. You get out there everyday and try to do what it takes, but you aren't seeing the results. That's kind of what happened. It kind of plays with your mind a little and as that happened, my playing time got cut down and they (Daytona) had other outfielders that were hitting, so they were playing.

Regardless of everyone else, what can you say about your at-bats and the adjustments you've made to speed things up?

A.J. Joseph: I think with me, the first step toward hitting is making sure I'm prepared mentally before I even step into the box. That even starts with my outfield approach and making sure that stays consistent. ... I'm still getting out here early and am still hitting early, preparing myself.

I was trying to work a little more on not letting my front hip go too soon. It was at times and if it wasn't my front hip, it was my hands coming out of the zone too quickly. I'd go right to the zone, but then I'd come out too quickly, so I wasn't covering as much of the plate as I know I need to cover. ...

But I'm still here working on the same things. I've gotten a lot better with a lot of things. I get inside the cage and everything is fine with my swing. You can't really say anything about that because it's fine. It's just a matter of me taking what I do in the cage and bringing it with me into the game.

We've seen some of the numbers you've put together and have heard what some of the coaches have said about you. But in your own words, how would you describe yourself as a hitter and the kind of swing you have?

A.J. Joseph: To me, I'm a line drive hitter. I put the ball in play. I'll put the ball in the gaps. I'll hit singles, I'll hit doubles, and here and there I'll hit triples. I have a little bit of power, but feel I haven't grown into it. I feel it may show up in a couple of years or so. Right now, I'm just trying to progress as a hitter and to learn how to take care of the little things first like putting your body in a good position to hit. I feel if I can get those little things down, the big things will come along a lot easier and I'll be more prepared. For me, I feel I haven't learned my swing fully and that there's a lot for me to learn. I'm still growing not only as a hitter, but as a player.

Without really having a lot of stolen bases to show for it, you've also flashed some speed at times in your career and you've obviously spent some time near the top of the lineup. Is your running game something you're happy with?

A.J. Joseph: I think it's more just my first step. When I'm on first base, I take a lot of pride in getting a good jump to steal the bag. It's all about getting a good jump and that's what I do. I watch a lot of other guys like Matt Camp, Chris Walker, and Jose Reyes from the New York Mets. I look at those speedy guys and try to take as many notes as I can. Speed is something that's very hard to teach and that first step comes in handy.

Given what you just said, how much have your fellow teammates helped in your development?

A.J. Joseph: You learn a lot, especially from Chris Walker. That's my boy. He calls me his younger brother. He's taken me under his wing and he looks after me. If he sees me doing something that he knows I'm not really supposed to be doing character-wise on the field, he'll pull me aside and talk to me like a brother. So he really looks out for me.

I've learned a lot from him as far as getting jumps in the outfield, jumps on the bases and just hitting-wise. These older guys, they've got a lot of wisdom in baseball and in life as well. He pours into me and I try to pour into him as much as I can. We make each other strong.

What are some of the things you're looking to accomplish this late into the season now?

A.J. Joseph: Right now, I'm just trying to prepare myself for my next opportunity to play. I'm preparing myself for tomorrow. As far as goals, just to be the best ballplayer that I know I can be because you don't want to have any regrets for anything. After this season, I want to say that I gave it my all and that I put in as much as I could. Not only as the best ballplayer, but that I'm doing what God has called for me to do here. Nothing is ever done just for the heck of it; there's always a purpose for everything and I know that I wasn't brought up here to Daytona for nothing.

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