Austin Kirk Interview

Left-hander Austin Kirk was the first pitcher taken by the Chicago Cubs in the 2009 draft. A third-round pick from Owasso (Okla.) High School, Kirk made five starts in the Arizona Rookie League before getting a promotion to Class Low-A Boise.

Kirk went from Arizona to Boise, then back to Arizona for the annual Fall Instructional League, where among other things he worked on improving his curveball. We visited with the left-hander and asked him to open up on his first professional season, his work in Instructs, and more.

* * *

Q: Coming right out of high school, how would you describe your first half-season of professional ball?

A: The Arizona League was a lot of fun and it was cool getting to meet a lot of the guys. It was nice having other guys in your situation there. Some guys come from high school and some from college, but we're all the same. The coaches were really helpful and it was all really fun.

Q: How much of it was "work" work versus you just getting your feet wet?

A: The thing they (Cubs) said when I first got there is for the first season to just show them why they drafted me and in Instructs we'll talk about what all I need to work on and carry that over into the off-season. So for this first season, I was just really doing what I'd always been doing.

Q: Do you feel you were able to adapt fairly quickly?

A: My first outing (on Aug. 5, against the Mariners), I was really hyped up and had a lot of nerves going. I went out and did really well. I only got to throw one inning, but I struck out the side and walked one guy. So I said maybe I was giving pro hitters at this level to much credit. My next time out, I don't want to say I got hit too badly, but it was definitely a bit of an awakening. (In Boise), there definitely was a big difference; I was playing against a lot of older guys than in (Arizona) because some of the guys had been in professional baseball for two or three years. It was a good way of getting me ready for a full season elsewhere because there's a lot more responsibility.

Q: Aside from some of the individual drills that everyone associates with Instructs – fielding your position, getting down bunts, etc. – what did you work on in terms of actual pitching?

A: Me and the coaches got together and one thing we really wanted to focus on was improving my curveball. We were all in agreement that when it was on, it was really good; we just needed to make it more consistent. We focused a lot on that and a lot of the fielding drills, we did a lot of that in high school so that wasn't too much of a change for me. Something we did that I wasn't expecting was we did a lot more hitting than I thought we were going to. I guess since it's a National (League) team, it's not a surprise. For every five swings, we probably did 20 bunts.

Q: And you had a lot of experience swinging the bat in high school as an outfielder. Was that something that impressed your coaches when you went to Instructs and they saw you could also hit a little bit?

A: I actually think it did, especially the last couple of days when we played a hitting game against the position players. In that game, I actually hit a home run. It was funny looking at the expression of (Hitting Coordinator) Dave Keller. He was keeping score and said he didn't know I could swing the bat like that.

Q: When you talked about improving your curveball, how so?

A: I throw a softer 12-6 curveball, but I have a harder, more sliding curveball and that's one thing we focused on … that slurve because I have the velocity more on the slurve than the (traditional) curveball.

Q: Speaking of velocity, you were 89 to 94 mph at Owasso. Did you feel that velocity was still with you when you started throwing in Arizona?

A: My first couple of starts, it was right where I left off (at Owasso) and then I think it kind of slowly declined. I think it was because my body was just getting tired because I'd been playing baseball and had been throwing since August of '08. The whole year, I think it caught up with me a little bit. I was upper 80s and touched 90 every now and then. I was seeing guys throwing mid to upper 90s getting hit to the wall, so I wasn't worried as much about velocity as I was hitting my spots.

Q: Your repertoire coming out of Owasso was fastball, curveball, and changeup. Are you still throwing that changeup?

A: I wouldn't call it my best pitch, but it's in there. They want me to focus more on my curveball right now and once I get my fastball and curveball there, maybe we can work more on the change and make it more deceptive. For now, they said its fine. The pitch needs a little work, but I'm not afraid to throw it.

Q: Were you happy overall with the way your season and the Instructional League went, and also how you were able to get yourself in position to break camp next spring?

A: Yes, I'm very confident and definitely after I played a little, it just reassured me that the decision I made to turn pro over going to college was the right one because I couldn't imagine being any happier than what I am right now. I'm looking forward to spring training every day and it's all I can think about.

Q: You were the first left-hander taken by the Cubs – the first pitcher overall, in fact – in the draft this year. Where would you rate yourself right now?

A: I haven't gotten the pleasure to meet (Jeff) Antigua and I've heard he's a pretty good lefty and that his stats are pretty good. The other lefties I know like (Chris) Rusin and (Brooks) Raley, they obviously have a couple of years on me so they have more experience. I honestly couldn't say that I'm the best lefty out there, but I definitely think I'm right up there with any of those guys.

Q: For the off-season, do you have any goals – adding some weight, losing some weight?

A: I'm home right now. I have a personal trainer and everything, so we're working out and getting my body in shape and where it needs to be so that come spring training, I'm ready to go. I don't think our goal right now is to gain or lose weight, but more to replace some of the fat with more muscle and to just get my body better fit for a full season than I was before.

Northsiders Report Top Stories