Winning the 2012 Northwest League MVP seemed like it could be a long standing highlight for Patrick Kivlehan, but just one year removed from being recognized with that award, Kivlehan now seems more poised for bigger and better things in his future after enjoying another standout season on the baseball field for the Mariners.
Kivlehan recently spoke with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about the daily challenges and learning opportunities that come with being a pro baseball player, looking back at his time on the gridiron and soaking up the awesome experience that is being able to play baseball as a job.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking the time once again to talk with me, Patrick.
Patrick Kivlehan: You bet Rick.
SC: So the last time we spoke in January of 2013 you were fresh off of your first pro season and your Northwest League MVP. You were also still pretty fresh off of the football field at that point. Does football seem like a distant memory now?
PK: Yeah, it seems like every year that passes by now it just seems like longer and longer. Especially looking back now. It seems like whenever I talk to someone I played with it feels like decades ago to me. So it really does seem like a bit of a distant memory.
SC: Having taken those four years off, it has been very impressive how quickly you have been able to adapt -- not only back to just playing the game, but how quickly you've adapted to each new level and each new way that pitchers have tried to attack you. How have you been so successful in that regard?
PK: I think it's just that I have a good mentality and understanding that, with each jump that I make there is going to be a little bit of an adjustment period just knowing that I've never faced pitchers from this level or of that caliber before. So I think that having that understanding but keeping that confidence in myself and still knowing that I can do it so that when things do start to turn around for the better I don't really have to adjust my mentality at that point at all.
SC: Now at Double-A, the quality of pitching that you're facing night in and night out is the best you have seen, yet you seem to still be making improvements in certain areas, specifically in your plate discipline. Do you think that comes from your increased exposure and comfort to being back playing, or certain things you're learning about yourself as a hitter, or...?
PK: I think it's a little bit of everything. Seeing Double-A pitchers day in and day out, seeing Double-A curveballs day in and day out and gaining a better understanding of the mental side of pitching and how guys are going to pitch to you. That definitely helps and gives you a little bit of an edge, I think, and gives you a little bit of a better understanding of things like, 'a pitcher might throw a chase pitch here, be careful', things like that. That's something that me and the coaches have worked on. Mike Kinkade, the hitting coach here, he's been working with me on those sorts of things, and working on maybe choking up a little bit, making sure that I stay on the ball and keep seeing the ball [longer]. It's all attitude, I think. So all of those sorts of things I think help in the approach and maturing as a hitter.
SC: Well that leads into a perfect time to bring this up; I was texting with Jack Howell earlier and let him know we were going to be talking again and asked him what I should grill you on. He said that I need to ask you what 'C the Z' means to you.
SC: I know that's a competition you guys run through in spring training, so what does that concept mean to you?
PK: 'C the Z' stands for 'Control the Zone'. To me, that means to make sure you know what you're doing when you go up to hit, don't just go up there without a plan. And then when you get that pitch that you can hit, make sure you do something with it. But if you get that chase pitch or something that you are not looking for then you let it go. I hope that's the right answer. I don't know, I guess we'll see what Jack says.
SC: So you touched on the primary point there that I hope you would and it is something that fans and people that cover the game hear a lot. Talking with coaches, PD guys, instructors, I hear that a lot; 'go up there with a plan'. What does that mean for Patrick Kivlehan, and what does that mean for players in the organization in general?
PK: Well, for me, it means like I said to just go into the game with an understanding of how each team is going to pitch me. Before each game we have a video guy that will give us a sheet if we've faced a guy before that shows us how he's attacked us and what he's thrown. Just to have a better understanding of what a guy throws and how he's going to go after us. Just so when you go up there you don't guess, you want to be able to anticipate with how he worked you or got you out last time. That way if you get it that same way again you have a better chance to make good contact and get the barrel to the baseball.
SC: You've done that pretty consistently as a pro as you had a 25-game hitting streak last July and August in High-A and you recently had a 17-game hitting streak and 29-game on base streak snapped here in Jackson. Do you consider yourself a streaky hitter or feel like you can tell when you have a hot streak coming on?
PK: Not necessarily, really. I don't really follow stats or anything. I feel like I usually find out about hitting streak or things like that through Twitter notifications. I'll see something and be like, 'Oh, so I guess I've got a 12-game hitting streak. Great, let's try and make it 13.' So I just try and take all of that on a day by day basis and not really try and think about hot or cold too much.
SC: You've played on the left side of the infield for much of your time on the baseball field, but with being on the same roster as D.J. Peterson -- both in Jackson and in High Desert earlier this year -- you've found yourself at first base fairly often. What is your comfort level at first base?
PK: First base is, it's obviously a little different, but it is more or less the same in that it is still corner infield. Kind of just like the mirror image of everything that happens at third. I think it's been going pretty well over there because all I really have to worry about is just fielding the ball, don't worry about throwing it most of the time. So mostly just making sure that I get my body in front of it and at least knock the ball down is your focus. So I think it's been a pretty smooth transition. I've been putting in early work on all the other stuff, like holding runners on and scooping throws in the dirt, stuff like that that I might not necessarily be the best at yet, but I think for the most part it's been a pretty smooth transition.
SC: You just tell D.J. and Ketel and those guys 'chest-high throws', right?
PK: Oh yeah, all the time.
SC: And now you just got your first start in left field.
PK: I did, yes.
SC: And how did that go? Chris Harris wanted me to ask you about your routes out there.
PK: Ha! Well, It was my first game ever playing left and we didn't even take BP because of the rain, so I was just kind of thrown out there. They had a small little lefty, I think it was their number 9 hitter, so Horner was telling me to come in so I was really shallow and he roped one over my head. I kinda took a bad route after it. I wouldn't have caught it anyways, but...yeah, that was that. Then the next one I got I caught and got a few ground balls. Not a banner day, but if we're going pass/fail I give it a pass.
SC: Has there been talk from the organization about getting you any consistent time in the outfield at all, enabling you to better utilize your speed and defensive back ball-hawking skills?
PK: Yeah, I guess ever since I came back to playing [in college] that everyone has been saying that moving to the outfield would be natural. And actually if I would have gone back to Rutgers for another year, the plan was actually that I would play center field, but obviously that didn't end up happening. But, yeah, whatever they want me to do, I'll do. Obviously the more positions that I know and that I can play the better whenever the time comes and when the big leagues hopefully call. I like it out there, it does go back to what I'm comfortable with and what I'm used to from football, playing safety, with lots of angles and coming off of reads and stuff like that. That's what I practiced every day for four years. So I feel natural out there.
SC: Have you been working in outfield drills at all this year?
PK: Actually, I think it was just about a week ago that Horner called me into his office and said that I should start working myself in to those drills whenever we do infield-outfield and before games. So I'll work in the outfield and then come back in to third or first to finish off infield. So just a little over a week.
SC: Given how far you have already come as a baseball player, what do you consider to be your biggest weakness or area that needs the most improvement?
PK: I think hitting-wise, really, still everything. And that may sound corny or cliché, or whatever, but still coming back without playing baseball for a couple of years, getting used to finding the spin on balls and adjusting to now the Double-A level of pitching, and then whenever I move up to Triple-A then it will be the same thing in learning how they attack you there. So really it is just all of those little nuances that come from the repetition of playing.
SC: When we spoke the first time I asked you about your expectations when you came back to baseball and you said that there really weren't any initially. How has that changed for you over these last two years?
PK: I realize it's a job now and I definitely take it more seriously, but I try and treat it with the same mindset in that, you know, I'm kind of playing with house money. I didn't have any expectations when I first came back to the game at Rutgers and while I'm working hard and taking it seriously, I'm just more or less enjoying the ride that I'm on. Talking with buddies back home or different guys that I played with we often talk about how far I've come or, like, 'who would have thought this could happen'. So I'm really enjoying the ride and enjoying the game.
SC: That's great, Patrick. A great thought and a great place to end it this time around. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me again, and best of luck as you continue to push towards the big leagues with the Mariners.
PK: Absolutely, Rick. Any time.
Keep up with Patrick during his baseball seasons and his everyday life experiences by following him on Twitter at @PatrickKivlehan.
Looking for more Mariners news, articles and player interviews? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.