Padres Prospect Interview: Manny Ayala

Manny Ayala was the Golden Baseball League rookie of the year in 2005. After posting a 12-4 record and 3.05 ERA, Ayala joined the parade of independent league players lured to Peoria by Mal Fichman and joined the Padres the day before the instructional league opened. Still only 20 years old, with fluid mechanics and a good approach on the mound, the righty is one to keep an eye on this year.

How's it been to go to your first spring training with an MLB team?
I'm kind of excited. I've never gone to spring training at all before, so it was one of those firsts. [I] didn't know what to expect and was a little nervous – in a good way.

How are you feeling so far in camp?
Manny Ayala: I feel great! I definitely felt that going through instructs was a boost for me. I kind of have a feeling for this group of friends… you don't want see them as competition, but you know how everybody is.

With the team's focus on the change-up, how are you trying to develop that for yourself?
Manny Ayala: Luckily for me when I signed, the very next day I started instructs and we had a meeting… and talked about throwing the change-up more effectively; fastball away and a change 20% [of the time]. That's pretty much all I do is throw fastball, change. My third pitch is still in the works right now – a slider. I definitely need to get a slider down.

What are your goals for yourself looking ahead to the season?
Manny Ayala: One of my goals is to start off in Lake Elsinore – that would be great. I'd also like to make the starting rotation on a club. If not necessarily that, I'll just try to continue to win games and play at the level where I had been playing before I signed.

Have you gotten game action this spring yet?
Manny Ayala: Yeah, I've gotten three innings in. The first day, I threw an inning and gave up a hit and walked somebody, but got out of it. It was kind of shaky, a little jittery. The next outing was much different. I went against the Royals for two innings. Six guys went up to bat, six guys down on 12 pitches. Sticking to Grady Fuson's plan!

With your fastball in the low-90s, is that the pitch you're most comfortable with right now?
Manny Ayala: I like throwing my fastball – you know, I can locate it. But I really like throwing my change; I love throwing it 3-0, 3-1, full count, it doesn't matter. I have confidence in that pitch and it's pretty much my out pitch.

You were part of the first season of the Golden West Baseball League. How was that experience for you?
Manny Ayala: It's not a road most guys take. Most guys that play independent ball are toward the end of their careers, or somehow, something happens that they get released and they're trying to get signed and picked up by somebody else. So, a lot of those guys had had much more experience than I had. I was fresh out of college, never had professional experience at all, so I had to go out there and perform, and at the same time, I was out there just soaking everything up - how to act, how to become a professional baseball player.
It was kind of a struggle being a first-year guy. If you've got some experience and got more time in, you're going to get that chance before an inexperienced player, so I started off as a reliever, kind of – not pushed to the back, but [Mesa manager Les Lancaster's] primary concern was on guys who had just gotten released and had been starters, or some veterans, so it was hard for me to get my chances. And there's not much I could say. I was kind of timid to ask about getting in the rotation or getting a start. So I took it all in stride.

Was Lancaster, a former big-leaguer, able to help you with your mechanics and approach?
Manny Ayala: When I got that spot start, he helped me with putting together a solid seven, eight, nine innings. Being able, mentally, to stay on par throughout that seven, eight innings, instead of throwing two, getting into a jam, getting back into the groove… he helped me transition myself into being able to control tempo and trying to keep guys off base.

Are you glad you had that experience?
Manny Ayala: I do. Because I feel like I have an edge, because I've had the experience of facing Ricky Henderson – even at the end of his career. I see it as life experience – I mean this guy has faced just about anybody I've ever looked up to, and here I am and I struck him out. If I had gone to college, I would have been in short-season last year, and now I – you know, I've won at the professional and I've been playing, so I feel like, if I'd signed last year, I'd be at the same level, or I'm a little higher now.

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