We caught up with the Cubs' pitching prospect and asked him to break down his season and what lies ahead.
Q: Can you just talk about what it means to you personally to be named Pitcher of the Year and to get to go to Wrigley Field before a game and be honored?
A: It means a lot, especially since it was my first full minor league season. I give the credit to my family, friends and coaches who helped me along the way to get me to this point in my career. Also, I couldn't have had that kind of year without my team in Tennessee. They gave me a lot of run support and played great defense behind me every single time out. As for Wrigley, it's a dream come true. To be given an award in front of 40,000 Cubs fans, that's just an amazing experience.
Q: Being recognized for your performance is always a nice honor. But what do you need to do to insure success in your career next year and for years to come?
A: I need to learn from the mistakes I made this year and build off the positive things. I didn't know what to expect when I first started out this year in Double-A, but now I've experienced it and should be better prepared next year, whatever level I'm at.
Q: What point in the season did you realize that maybe you had a chance to have a really good season?
A: Right after the first game of the season in Jacksonville. I had a bunch of friends and family there watching and it was my first start. I had a lot of nerves and I pitched five innings and got the win. After that, I gained a lot of confidence so I felt no nerves and knew I could compete. Plus, the team we had this year in Tennessee had just won the (Class High-A Florida State League) title in Daytona the year before, so I knew right away we had a chance to do something special as a team.
Q: With the playoffs, you threw 160 innings this season. How is your arm feeling after such a long season with that many innings?
A: To be honest, my arm is feeling good still. I went through a little dead-arm period in the middle of the year, but right now it still feels strong. My body, however, is a little tired from all the running in between starts and the stuff you have to go through every day before each game. My arm feels really good, though.
There was a time where I had dead-arm, but it went away. When I had success, it was because I was throwing more strikes and getting strike one a lot. I started walking people and allowed a lot of cheap runs. I was able to fix that the last few weeks of the season, which really helped.
Q: What do you think was your best pitch this season, and what pitch did you make the most progression with?
A: My best pitch this year was my sinker. I was able to get a lot of groundballs, which is key with the good defense we had, and the smaller ballparks in the Southern League. I started throwing a cutter at the end of the year, which really helped me out. I got more strikeouts with it and was able to force bad contact right away instead of going deep into counts with hitters.
Q: Which pitches do you still need to work on and refine?
A: (E)very pitch. There were times where I had everything working and it was great, but then other times, none of them were doing anything and I got hit pretty hard. I just need to be more consistent with every pitch I throw if I'm going to help our organization out at the next level.
Q: Were you overly pleased with your mechanics this season? How much time, if any, did you spend having to refine them?
A: I didn't change my mechanics this season, which was good. Occasionally, Lew (Tennessee pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn) would remind me to stand tall or get my arm up in the right slot, but overall my mechanics stayed the same the whole year and worked well for me.
Q: What off-season plans do you have, and how do you normally stay busy away from the ballpark in the fall and winter months ahead?
A: I'm just enjoying the off-season back here in Cape Coral (Florida). I need to get into the gym a lot and stay in shape and get a lot stronger. My goal is to gain about 10 to 15 pounds. Also, I'll be going out on the boat [to do] a lot of fishing and wakeboarding.