FutureBacks: You've really made your mark this season, but a lot Diamondbacks fans won't be that familiar with you, so let's start at the top, what do you throw?
A. J. Shappi: Fastball slider and change. The slider is my out pitch, I've been throwing it since my senior year of high school. I learned a cut fastball grip when I was about 13, but I couldn't throw it. In high school I started messing around with it again and made it more of a slider grip, and it's become a really good pitch for me.
FutureBacks: As a guy who doesn't necessarily overpower hitters, are you still able to learn from guys like Garrett Mock, who can throw gas?
A.J. Shappi: Sure, just because he throws hard, he's still very accurate, and any pitcher can learn from him. I really learned a lot from the way he goes inside, backs guys up, and then he throws his curve. That's a really great pitch for him. Nobody talks about it because he throws so hard, but that curve is a really great pitch too, and I can learn by watching the way he moves in and out to hitters.
FutureBacks: Has there been a difference in what you throw, and how you throw it, from the Midwest League to the Cal League?
A.J. Shappi: Not the way I throw, but what I've learned is that I have to make the pitches the first time. In the Midwest League you can get by even if you make a couple of mistakes. Up here, and I'm assuming the further up is the same way, these hitters jump on mistakes. You just have to make quality pitches, be accurate with them and really always be in the game. That's the biggest adjustment, a bigger one that I thought it would be. I'm a student of the game, and just staying focused on every pitch it so important here, these hitters make their money by making adjustments, and if you're not ready to make adjustments as well they are going to jump on you.
FutureBacks: Are the coaches working a lot with you or are they basically just leaving you alone?
A.J. Shappi: For the most part they talk with me about working to specific hitters. The pitching coaches I've worked with have all been at the highest levels, and so they really have first hand knowledge of how to approach different kinds of hitters. They haven't tweaked my mechanics that much, I've been pretty mechanically sound because I had a really great pitching coach in college, Andrew Checketts, and I learned a lot from him, a lot of things I was able to transfer to a higher level.
FutureBacks: Compare the competition from a pretty high profile college program (UC Riverside) to the Midwest League, and then to the California League?
A.J. Shappi: In college, it's tough to say, I guess honestly I thought the competetion in college was better than the Northwest League, because guys were hitting with wood bats for first time. Once I got to the Midwest League, a lot of the hitters were still behind, but you'd have some holdovers who were really locked in, and those guys were tough. In the Cal League though, everybody here can swing the stick. It doesn't matter it it's a #1, a #3 or a #9 hitter, especially if you put these guys in hitter's counts, they are going to hit the ball hard. If it's not a home run it's going to be a hard shot in the gap. In hitter's counts even if you make a good pitch, it's like back in college when you left the ball over the middle of the plate and guys were swinging aluminum bats, the ball just gets ripped.
FutureBacks: I know everybody wants to move up, but with 20/20 hindsight, after your struggles in Lancaster, do you think it was a good thing that you got the mid-season promotion from South Bend?
A.J. Shappi: I think it's much better that I moved up. I you stay in the Midwest League, and put up good stats, and the end of the year you say, "That's great." But moving up showed me some of the weaknesses that I needed to work on, showed me exactly what I needed to do, whereas if I'd stayed in South Bend, those holes wouldn't have been seen as much. It's tough to take your lumps, and I'm glad for my success in the Midwest League, but I'm also glad that some of these holes in my game were shown, because I can start working on them, and that will help me next year and in the future.
FutureBacks: You've had a lot more success against right handed hitters this year, and lefties have hit you pretty hard, is there something you're working on to combat left handers more?
A.J. Shappi: I think for me it's about becoming more confident in my change up. When I throw it well, I have a lot more success. Against right handed hitters, I have a lot of confidence in my slider, but especially here against lefties, if they can get the ball up in the jet stream to right field, the ball is going to go a long way. I know that the change up is the key for me, and as I throw the change more, and get better location with it, I'll get more confident, and that will really help me against those left handed hitters.
FutureBacks: Was it a situation where in the Midwest League you were essentially a two-pitch pitcher?
A.J. Shappi: I made 15 starts in the Midwest League, and in maybe four of those I threw a lot of changeups. I just didn't face that many lineups where there were a lot of lefties, so I could get by with two pitches. When you get to the Cal League, you start seeing teams like Lake Elsinore, that have six and seven lefties in the lineup, so I have to have that third pitch now, and I have to be able to use it, instead of just using it as a 'show' pitch.
FutureBacks: You've faced, and played with, a lot of great hitters this year, is there something you can learn from the hitters, that will help you?
A.J. Shappi: I've seen some great hitters. Guys like Billy Butler, the 19 year old phenom, he got moved up now, and it's just amazing to watch him, because he hits like he's been here a long time, and he's still so young. You throw him a good pitch and he still muscles it into the outfield, luckily he's gone up to Wichita, so we don't have to worry about him in this playoff run here. Guys like Fernando Valenzuela Jr. and even though I didn't actually pitch to him, a guy like Danny Putnam, who's got power to all fields. These are tough hitters. We lost three great ones already in Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew and Chris Carter, and we've still got some guys that are really tough. Jeff Cook can flat out swing the bat. He's one of the most underrated guys in the league, he just always seems to be driving in runs and hitting the ball all around the park. Alex Frazier, shoot, sometimes when he connects he just seems to put the ball 500 or 600 feet away, and Jay Garthwaite is a guy that's been around awhile, but he's always learning, making better contact, and he's another guy with just unbelievable big league pop.
I don't know if I learn so much on a pitch to pitch basis from the hitters, but I pick up on their hitting philosophies, on what they like to see and what they don't like to see. If I hear them in the dugout complaining or getting frustrated by the way a guy is pitching them, I know that I can attack that hole in another hitter the same way. The way they take pitches is big as well. I hear guys saying they aren't going to swing at a certain pitch, and I know that is going to be the same for a lot of hitters in this league, and I can learn from that.
FutureBacks: You were lights out in the Midwest League, and it's been a little more up and down in the Cal League, how do you stay in a positive frame of mind after being so consistently successful earlier in the year?
A.J. Shappi: One thing is to look back on what you did well, make sure you're not changing what you try to do, just to make sure you don't get too far away from what your game is. You have to be careful not to try to be somebody you're not. One thing for me has been my personal faith in God. It just lets you relax when you know there is something greater than the game. I had a few starts when I first got here where I got beat up pretty bad, and when you can remember that it's just a game, and that there's something more for you out there, that makes it a lot easier to turn it around, and to keep staying positive.
FutureBacks: I know your family is really supportive, how big a plus is that for you?
A.J. Shappi: It's huge. One thing that I have, that a lot of guys here don't, is being married. I know I don't have to bring my game home with me. My wife is an incredible woman, if I want to talk about it she will, if not we'll talk about something else. I know that one bad game doesn't a career make, and she helps me remember that. Whatever happens out there, if I put my best foot forward that's all anybody can ask of me, and family really helps keep that in the front of your mind.