When Seattle pegged big right-hander Stephen Pryor as their 5th round selection in the 2010 draft, many suggested that he could be a quick moving prospect. Entering just his second Spring Training with the club and already in big league camp as one of the Non-Roster Invites, the fast track seems to be working just fine so far. The number 13 prospect on SeattleClubhouse's initial Top-50 list has allowed just 61 hits (6.5/9) while racking up 116 strikeouts in 85 professional innings (12.3 SO/9) while pitching at four levels in two seasons.
SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall caught up with the big Tennessean after his second full day of workouts in big league camp to talk about his family, his early 2010 struggles and his goals for 2012 and beyond.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Stephen.
Stephen Pryor: You bet Rick.
SC: I understand from the Mariners' team blog that you drove out here from Tennessee with fellow bullpen arm Shawn Kelley. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and about you and Shawn's relationship?
SP: Yeah, we only live about five miles apart in Tennessee, outside of Chattanooga. I saw Shawn's wife at the mall, asked when he was leaving, gave him a call and asked if he'd mind me riding with him. Figure I could save a little money on airfare and get the chance to pick his brain a little bit. It was a good experience -- I got to ask him about the different mentality of pitching at the next level and about what to expect and that kind of stuff.
SC: Had you two talked much prior to this little cross-country excursion?
SP: We have. I met him last year in Spring Training and we've been in touch via phone calls and texts and such since. We didn't get a chance to work out together this off-season since he worked out during the day and my wife works, so I did my work outs at night.
SC: This is your first big league spring training invite. Although we're only a couple of days in, have you noticed any big differences from your experience last season when you were on the minor league side?
SP: I'm enjoying it, that's for sure. So far, we're only a little ways in so it's sort of laid back. We're getting good reps in on our PFP's (Pitcher's Fielding Practice) and bullpens and I'm just trying to soak up and learn as much as I can as quickly as possible.
SC: When was it, and how excited were you, when you found out that you were getting the big league ST invite?
SP: I got the call from Jack Zduriencik maybe a week or a week and a half into January. I was hoping that I'd get the call, so I was happy, not too surprised, but happy. My hopes and expectations were that it would happen, but you don't want to take anything for granted, so I was definitely happy when it was official.
SC: You had some struggles at the beginning of last season in the Cal League before really turning it on once you got to Double-A Jackson. How much of those early struggles were related to health issues from last spring?
SP: I got injured right before Spring training started on the minor league side last year. I rehabbed through the whole month of March and through April. I went to High Desert in May, and my arm felt good, but I just couldn't throw a strike to save my life. Once I finally got my timing and my mechanics back in order everything started to feel right again.
SC: Those struggles definitely all went away with the promotion to Jackson -- back home in Tennessee.
SP: Yeah, I started feeling better while I was getting my work in out in High Desert and once I got promoted to Double-A I just kind of went on a roll from there.
SC: I assume you worked on locating your fastball and developing the off-speed pitches down in Venezuela where Pedro Grifol was your manager. I know that was your first out-of-country baseball exposure. How was that experience for you?
SP: Yes I did. It was good. A lot of the hitters down there have big league experience or at least Triple-A experience and they've been around the game for a long time so you really had to work the zone and be able to throw your 2nd and 3rd pitches for strikes.
SC: I know you have thrown both a slider and a curve in your career, have you settled on one breaking ball for good as of now?
SP: The slider is gone. Right now I'm mainly using my cutter as my secondary pitch. That's something that I developed last season with the help of Rich Dorman and Rick Waits in minicamp before I got hurt. I'm still working on choosing one of either my curveball or my change-up to be my third pitch.
SC: How is the cutter coming along?
SP: Pretty good. I've got about a 4 - 6 MPH difference on it from my fastball and I've been working on it a lot ever since I got back from being hurt last year.
SC: Are you a goal-setter during the off-season?
SP: Yeah, I try to set goals for myself during the off-season. Just small things that I want to work on to get to my ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues. I've done well so far since I was drafted. Last year my big goal was to get to Double-A by my birthday and I beat it by like eight days, so that was good.
SC: What have been your main areas of focus in improvement since being drafted by the Mariners in the 5th round in 2010 -- the biggest changes you've had to make since college?
SP: Really working on my mechanics to have a more repeatable delivery, number one. Sometimes at the top of my big leg kick I'll get a little lean back towards second base and that throws everything off. So I have to focus on staying tall through the delivery instead of leaning back over the rubber. That helps me finish my pitches and get down. Other than that, just learning more about how to pitch to hitters rather than just throw at them; in college I could just attack with the fastball. Now I'm starting to learn that I have to throw my 2nd and 3rd pitches for strikes.
SC: Being from Tennessee, and judging by your age, should I assume that you were a big Atlanta Braves fan growing up?
SP: Yes. Braves and Cardinals, really.
SC: And who was your favorite player from those teams?
SP: I'd say Mark McGwire.
SC: McGwire. The big slugger. Did you hit at all at the college level?
SP: No, I didn't get to hit at all. I went just strictly as a pitcher.
SC: Who would you call the most influential people to this point in your baseball career?
SP: I'd have to say family. I got married early, had a daughter early and I've got a really good support system through my family and my wife's family. I have really leaned on my family for support and they've helped me tremendously with enabling me to keep with my baseball career and not have to move it aside.
SC: And your daughter's name is Peyton, right?
SP: Correct. She will be three in April. And I've got another girl due March 2nd. I'm going to go home for the delivery in a few weeks then they're going to meet up with me sometime in late April.
SP: Thank you.
SC: So what are you hoping that 2012 holds for Stephen Pryor?
SP: My goal this year is to make it to the big leagues at some point. I'd love to break camp with the club, but if I don't, I'd still like to work hard and get up there at some point during the 2012 season. I at least want to make it to Triple-A at the end of camp to take that next step forward.
SC: Sounds good. Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Stephen. I wish you the best for the rest of Spring Training and on through the 2012 season and beyond.
SP: Okay Rick, Thank you.