Padres Prospect Interview: Dirk Hayhurst

Unless you are a subscriber to or are an aficionado of Kent State University baseball, you probably hadn't heard of Dirk Hayhurst, a middle relief pitcher in the Padres system, before this year.

But that has changed.

At the beginning of the year, Hayhurst began writing a bi-monthly column for Baseball America called the "The Non-Prospect Diary" which described the daily life a majority of players in the minor leagues experience; players that are not making a great deal of money and know the odds are against them making the major leagues, but aren't going to quit until they are forcibly removed from the locker room.

The Diary captured Hayhurst's dry sense of humor as well as giving fans insight into the day-to-day minutiae that goes on in the minor leagues; ranging from where to sit on the bus to breaking down pitchers shagging balls during batting practice. While the Diary is an informative and a fun read, there are a few things that regular readers may not know: Hayhurst is actually pretty good.

He was drafted by the Padres in the 8th-round of the 2003 draft and is one of only three players left from that draft [Colt Morton and Tim Stauffer are the other two] still with the team. After bouncing around as a starter for his first four years, Hayhurst appears to have found his calling in middle relief.

While he may not be shooting up many prospect lists soon, he put together a solid year for the San Antonio Missions, going 4-1 with a 3.19 ERA [he put in brief appearances in Lake Elsinore and Portland, but the Missions were his primary team for most of the year]. The right-hander's peripheral statistics look even better with a 55/9 strikeout to base-on-balls ratio, allowing 54 hits in 59.1 innings pitched. Throw in that batters hit .236 against him and Hayhurst may have a chance.

Maybe you could give us a little bit of background on how you started your column, "The Non-Prospect Diary" for Baseball America.

Dirk Hayhurst: I kind of had the idea that there are a lot of great things about baseball that people would want to read about, and there is no shortage of books on the shelves on the subject, but not a lot on what the majority of professional players go through, the ones in the minors. There are no guarantees that I'm going to make the major leagues, but there are a lot of great experiences that I've had and wanted to give people an idea of what goes on at this level.

If you spend 24 hours a day with baseball, then that is all you do. Some guys are getting their college degrees on line, and that wasn't really for me. I thought there must be something else that I can do to maintain some kind of personal value outside of baseball should I never make it. Because there is no job security for minor leaguers, maybe I could find some kind of life security and a way to take myself away from the game while still being in it.

If I don't make it, it's been five or six years out of my life with nothing to show for it, writing something on what is happening at this level could lead to a book in the future.

There really isn't that much on life in the minors.

Dirk Hayhurst: That is the thing. ‘Bull Durham' is pretty darn close to what goes on in the minors. Nobody really knows about what goes on. People assume that we are all rich and that we are all going to make it and that isn't really true. There are so many things that go on, subtlies that people aren't aware of. I wanted to try and capture some of that.

For example, in the off-season I sleep on the floor in my grandma's basement – not exactly the typical major league athlete. She's buying groceries and I'm helping out with the bills, working out and trying to make myself into a major league pitcher. I'm thinking I have to be able to do something with this experience. It's not everything that people think it's cracked up to be.

The money for most guys isn't that great, the odds are pretty long, and so there must be a very strong drive in you to find out what could happen. In your case, I have a talent to throw a baseball, how far can I take it?

Dirk Hayhurst: It's a lottery ticket job. If you make it, the work and the effort justify it. If you don't, how do you justify it? You chased it. For me that was starting to weigh heavily on me the years that I have devoted to trying to be a major league player. I knew I wasn't a "prospect" or a big-time pitcher. Baseball America's not writing about my fastball or my slider, if I make it, it's going to be on the fringes in middle relief.

As a starting pitcher, you've had some up and downs, but in middle relief you've been putting up some numbers for a "non-prospect"?

Dirk Hayhurst: Yeah, I've had a good year, [laughs] but once I start thinking that it comes back to get me.

The way I look at it, you've had less hits than innings pitched, you have a great strikeout to walk ratio, you're won-loss record is solid with a good ERA. The only negative is that you have allowed a few home runs.

Dirk Hayhurst: The reason that I chose the non-prospect title is not because I don't believe in myself or think that I can pitch well. I wouldn't be here if I didn't. It's just that so much of the hype of the sports generating machine is who is going to be the next big thing and there is so much more going on. There are so many of us that are not going to get that opportunity or are going to need to catch a break or you may be up there for a very short time and the hype machine doesn't really report on that.

I'm writing from the standpoint that there are other guys in the game too. From guys who just break into the minors and aren't around for a long time to those who stick around and slug it out. There are a ton of us out there and our stories and our experiences are just as real and valid.

It seems to me that you seem to have found your niche in middle relief. You may not have been as effective as a starting pitcher, but you can throw three pitches for strikes, pound the strike zone and that is what it takes to be in middle relief.

Dirk Hayhurst: My niche is that I have resiliency and utility, those are my niches. I have the type of arm that can throw every day.

When you can throw you're three pitches for strikes, you're tough.

Dirk Hayhurst: One of my strengths is that I throw a lot of strikes. I dump them in there whether they are high quality ones or ones that just make it in there. It forces the batter to do something with it and force batters to put the ball in play. When my stuff is where it's supposed to be, that is a great advantage. If I get the first strike, then they are going to start swinging at my pitches. I try to keep the ball down and hope that the batter hits it down, not straight or up.

My philosophy is that I know what I am capable off, I throw the ball down and get a lot of strikes. As long as the ball is down, I'm going to get a lot of outs or if they hit it, usually a single or a double. A low pitch is hard to handle.

What is the big advantage of pitching in middle relief as opposed to starting? My guess would be that the batter usually only gets to see you once.

Dirk Hayhurst: Having a good season is as much luck as it is philosophy. To me the biggest advantage of being in middle relief is that I have a chance to pitch every day. It is easier to go strike one, two and three and disappear – but things can also go wrong for you very fast. You can go in there and challenge some guys, throw strikes and change the pace up and mess up guys timing.

One of the few natural advantages that I have is that I've always been able to warm up pretty quickly and get to full strength, which is a huge advantage in middle relief.

What is the biggest thing that you have in your control to try to make the major leagues?

Dirk Hayhurst: My approach. Try to keep a positive approach and not beat myself up to badly when I have a bad outing. Try to figure out what went wrong and get back after it. Too many times we beat ourselves up to much when things go wrong so that we can feel good about ourselves when things go right; and that is wrong.

Failure is as much a part of this game as winning and you can learn just as much from it. If you go out there and you fail, it's ok as long as you controlled your approach; was I positive, did I have a plan, and did I execute my pitches? If I get beat, does that make me a failure? No, it just makes me unsuccessful. It's ok to be unsuccessful. When you fail at this game is when you don't pitch well and you start to think things like, "I suck" or "I'm a loser."

It seems that you are talking about that you are more worried about failing to prepare properly, to do everything in your control to be successful.

Dirk Hayhurst: I would say that is a part of it, but it's also how you process the results afterward. You're approach to play the game is part of preparation, but you're approach to the game, both before and after, is more important. You know good pitches get hit and bad pitches get grounded out, a good part of it is a crapshoot. The key is to evaluate how you went about your business, to break down what you can control. How you handle success and failure will make you who you are on and off the field.

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