Jamie Baker: I didn't end up getting drafted out of Wheaton College this year and the first step was to sign with the Nashua Pride in New Hampshire. I had a pretty good year up there and had fun. I learned a lot from some guys up there who have been in the minor and major leagues; I picked their brains. I learned a lot from their experiences and had a fun summer.
I got invited to a workout with the Padres in Chicago. I got that from my manager Butch Hobson. I went to that and it kind of rained for two days, which was a shame. The pitchers ended up throwing on the side the second day, even though the position players couldn't do all their running because of the rain.
The pitchers ended up throwing and I did pretty well and they called a few numbers out after the workout and called us over to the dugout and said, ‘We have liked what we have seen from you guys. We are doing another workout in Arizona so I recommend you guys go even though it might be a hassle for you guys to get down there. We like what we saw and if you can come and workout with us in Arizona it will be beneficial.'
I ended up going to Arizona for a two day workout in front of about 75 players. I ended up doing well and they called four numbers out and those four guys went over and they said, ‘Congratulations, come to spring training.'
Did you get a chance to talk to those four guys because one was a catcher and two other pitchers all worked out in Chicago, if I am not mistaken.
Jamie Baker: Right, the four guys that ended up getting signed, and it was kind of funny, all knew each other from the Chicago camp. We went to Arizona and already knew some of the people that were there.
Mal Fichman was the main guy who organized it. Bill Bryk as well.
You went down to Peoria because the Padres had their Instructional League starting up. Was that daunting to you being in front of all these guys who have already been signed?
Jamie Baker: Not at all. You are given an opportunity to come down, especially when they recommend you, and you just look to go out and have fun. I looked to do my best and make the best of an opportunity. I am glad something worked out. If anything, it pumps you up even more.
The Padres are one of a few teams who actively pursue players who were not drafted or went to Independent League ball. Does that give you confidence going into spring training?
Jamie Baker: Definitely. Hearing that definitely gives you confidence. It is just great to have an opportunity, knowing they will look at a guy who hasn't had a shot before and they recognized your abilities in Independent ball. I probably threw the best I have thrown and I am looking forward to the opportunity.
I think it was your coach at Wheaton College who said he was surprised you didn't get drafted. Did you feel the same way?
Jamie Baker: I was pretty surprised. I didn't want to get to high or too low with the whole thing. If I built myself up in my head that I am going to get drafted and it didn't happen I wouldn't have been able to stay calm and go out and find another place to pitch. I just tried to have an even keel with the whole thing. Nothing really came up and the Pride were the next option to start playing right away. That is all I really wanted to do – keep playing. And it all worked out.
Have the Padres told you anything as far as expectations?
Jamie Baker: They haven't told me much. I know spring training is in February. Be prepared and go in their full bore.
Let's talk about your game since we have not had a chance to see you pitch. What is your repertoire like, what do you like to throw and what speeds?
Jamie Baker: A four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball, high-80's to low-90's. Usually low-90's pretty consistently. My slider is my out pitch and I also have a changeup and a splitter.
The changeup is a big pitch in the Padres organization. Is that a pitch you can rely on or is it a pitch you are still perfecting?
Jamie Baker: I am definitely still working on it. I am not at a point – certain pitches I feel more confident throwing. This summer, getting a chance to pitch to guys right out of college – I didn't really have a changeup in college. I didn't throw it that often. Fastball and slider was enough. This summer, I fooled around with the changeup and splitter and I found myself very confident in the changeup. My pitching coach was surprised and thought it would be useful. It is not that I really needed those pitches but something else thrown in there that could be deceiving.
Did you find the splitter or changeup would work better against a particular hitter – say right-handed hitters?
Jamie Baker: Usually with left-handed hitters I will set them up on the inside part of the plate with fastballs and I will throw that changeup primarily to lefties. The splitter will finish them off and show them something different. Also, the slider I can throw down and in to them or backdoor it. To righties, predominately fastballs and sliders. I can throw the changeup or splitter if I am out there a couple of innings to show them something different. I am definitely gaining confidence in my changeup and splitter. The other pitches are as good as they have been and I am just trying to get better at everything.
Do you have any personal expectations on where you want to land, especially since you went to college and had success?
Jamie Baker: I am looking at one opportunity at a time. Once I get down there they will throw me in the mix. I am just going to do my best. It sounds like what everyone else would say but you just have to get down there and do your best and whatever happens will happen.
I go by, ‘the harder you work the luckier you will get.' I put a lot of time in really going in prepared to take advantage of it and I will be just fine.
Have you always been a reliever?
Jamie Baker: I started in college and I really haven't been pitching too long. My first full year of pitching was summer my junior year. I was recruited as an outfielder and really learned to be a pitcher in college. My first full season of pitching came my junior year, as a starter. I did well and my senior year became the closer. Coach figured it would be more beneficial.
Are you the type of pitcher who is a finesse pitcher, control pitcher – I notice you didn't walk many guys.
Jamie Baker: I guess there is a fine line there. I definitely rely on control. I don't throw 95 or 96 – you never know with more years being a pitcher and developing myself more what the velocity could be. I am in the low-90's and you definitely have to rely on control and you have to put guys away. Get them when they might chase. Guys have always said I am herky-jerky. I throw a lot with my knees and elbows and shoulders.
What has been the biggest adjustment coming from the outfield to the mound? Is it mechanics?
Jamie Baker: I don't know. Quite frankly, I went in as an outfielder and my coach had pitched in the Cape League and was a successful pitcher in Division III. He is a very knowledgeable guy and knows a lot about pitching. I went in as a freshman and he said you are going to be used in the outfield but long-term we might see you as a pitcher. It was kind of a surprise at the time since I never really pitched before. He said, ‘you have a good arm and we want to use it.' I guess the biggest thing, coming from a guy like him, is being a good listener and picking his brain. Everything he says you have to take in. He did a great job with the transition and giving me confidence. Junior year was the first year of pitching. I pitched a lot the summer before, going after college batters.
How can all these guys, many of who have been in the majors, can help you even more?
Jamie Baker: Right – I am looking forward to the opportunity where major league/minor league coaches – guys who have been in the game forever – learn from them and pick their brains. I think that will be a good situation for me.