After a fantastic introduction to professional baseball in 2007, Mark Hallberg skipped the South Bend Level and made his debut in Hi-A Visalia by singling four times. The very next day, the shortstop injured his glove hand on a freak tag play, and would miss more than two months.
Hallberg performed well upon his return, and he organization gave him the chance to make up for lost time by playing in the Hawaiian Winter League alongside fellow Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Cyle Hankerd. Hallberg played mostly second base in Hawaii, and his contributions on both sides of the ball earned him the title of Most Valuable Player for the league.
FutureBacks: I'll start with a really stupid question. How did you enjoy your time in Hawaii?
Mark Hallberg: [Laughs] Yeah, it was a great experience out here. Not only the baseball part, but being able to experience some different things on the island was pretty nice.
FB: Did you have a lot of time to do that, or did baseball take up most of your time?
MH: You get one day off a week. On that day off, I tried to get out and do some different things in Hawaii, not just Waikiki. I got a chance to go to North Shore and Pearl Harbor and a couple of other things around the island.
FB: Did you expect to perform as well as you did in Hawaii?
MH: You've got to have confidence in yourself to do well. Obviously, I did really well out here, but that's kind of a hard question for me to answer. But I had a good year out here, and hopefully it opens up an opportunity for me in the future.
FB: Did you and Cyle become really good friends over the past few months?
MH: Yeah. I mean, we lived together, so we built a friendship.
FB: Can you talk about the hand injury you suffered in April?
MH: Yeah. I tore a ligament in my left thumb on a tag play at second base. I missed two months. It's something new for me; I've never been injured before, so that was kind of a difficult transition for me, missing so many games. I've never not played before, so I kind of learned what patience was all about.
It's still healing, but I don't think about it. It's probably never going to be the same, but I'm not going to use it as an excuse at all.
FB: Was it a clean slide, or do you feel you got spiked?
MH: It was a clean slide. It was just a timing play where there was bad timing... The guy's foot actually took off my glove.
FB: Do you feel that that injury was part of the reason your power output fell a little bit this year or was that more because you were facing better pitching?
MH: I don't know. I don't think that was the reason, but who knows. I think it's a combination of both. I think the level went up, but also I'd like to see what I could do if I was healthy too. But like I said, it's not an excuse. It probably was the pitching.
FB: What are some of the biggest differences you saw between Northwest League pitchers and Cal League pitchers?
MH: Oh, I think just all around. The talent level goes up, the velocity goes up a little bit. They can throw more than just their fastball for strikes So they become a little bit better pitchers.
FB: And how does that compare to what you faced in Hawaii?
MH: It's pretty similar. It's hard for me to say, but I think the velocity out here was up a little bit. I think the guys out here throw a little bit harder on a consistent basis. I think it's similar to Hi-level A. We try to figure that out out here as well. I think all the players out here one day will have an opportunity to become big leaguers. So it was a good level of play out here as well.
FB: How do you stay so consistent at the plate? It seems like every time I look - even after your injury - you've got some kind of a hitting streak going.
MH: [Laughs] Well, I take pride in my defense and in doing the little things right on offense. I think that's what separates players, is how consistent they can be on a daily basis and what they can bring their team. I try to not give up pitches and not give up at-bats. I think it's more mental than anything else. Whether you do give that up or not, throughout the grind of the season, if you can mentally withstand that or sustain that, then you put yourself in a better opportunity to be successful.
FB: Speaking of defense, are you starting to feel as comfortable at second base as you are at shortstop?
MH: Yeah, I am. I got a chance to play there my sophomore year in college, and a couple of games at third base over here. It's a just nice option to be able to say, "Hey, the coach needs me to play somewhere. I can play that position; I feel comfortable there and confident that I can do a good job at that position."
FB: Did you and Pedro Ciriaco develop a good rapport as a double play combination?
MH: Yeah, we did. Ciriaco had a great year at Hi-A; he's a great player. We did have a pretty good relationship there, and hopefully we get an opportunity to play with each other down the road.
FB: A lot of the guys in the front office give you really high marks for the way you position yourself on the field. What are some of the factors you consider when a batter steps to the plate and you decide where to play him?
MH: Basically, their swing plane and their swing bat-path and how they take pitches. Even where the pitcher's throwing that particular hitter, you can kind of get a read on where the ball's going to be hit or anticipate a little bit. Every little advantage you can get. You've got to pay attention to the details and take the little things out. Anything that gives you an edge, I try to pay attention to those details.
FB: What is your main goal for the 2009 season?
MH: Hopefully, I get the opportunity to progress up the ladder. That's all anybody can ask for, is an opportunity. And so whatever opportunity the Diamondbacks organization gives me, I'm going to try to make the most of it and do the best job that I can.
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