Padres Prospect Interview: Will Startup

Missing two years can put severe mental strain on a pitcher. San Diego Padres prospect Will Startup has a unique persepective. He is using the time to learn, adapt, get stronger, and prepare himself mentally for the continued challenges.

Do you feel that you were too hard on yourself in the past and that has caused you some problems?

Will Startup: I think sometimes that can lead to being overly critical, and when you are on the mound, you want to simplify things. If you are doing that while you are pitching, it is going to make it tough to have a clear mind and execute what you are doing if you have everything going on in your brain. Yes, that can affect you in a negative way.

Last time we saw you, you had a cast on your arm during instructs. How has the recovery process gone and where do you stand today?

Will Startup: To be honest, I am a little sore in my elbow. I chose to be a little more intense with my workout. That is fine but my body is telling me I need to back off a little bit. I will listen to it.

I am getting excited because I am throwing. The first step was at 40 feet – a no stride throw. Planting my feet, setting up and throwing. We take baby steps.

How frustrating has this process been when we are essentially losing two years instead of one?

Will Startup: That is what it will be. It has been extremely frustrating at times. There was a day where I mentally shut it down. There was just one of those days and I had to be real with myself. The trainer told me to take the day off. It wasn't that I was complaining – it just happened.

It has been extremely tough. Now that I see my arm making progress – there is a hope. My arm can actually bend.

They had to go back in and scope my elbow. My body created so much scar tissue that it restricted my range of motion. At that point, I knew it wasn't progressing. It felt like every single day it was resetting in the same position. Now that they scoped the elbow (in February), it feels great.

Being on the sidelines can make you look at the game a little differently. Do you feel like you are seeing things you may not have seen before?

Will Startup: That is one thing I have looked for this whole time – how can I make myself better during this process. There have been many opportunities.

I have been going around to guys who have above average pitches that I would like to work on. I ask them how they throw it and get them to show me their grip. I take a couple of old baseballs and grip the baseball and outline my fingers. When it comes time to start throwing or working on that pitch, not only have I been holding it the right way but is also something that I can use to improve my game.

Chris Young came to us in Spring Training and I got a chance to take some notes. I have been going around asking guys for their philosophies on pitching. Although the last time I pitched in the fall of '07, I probably had the best stats of my career, I don't want to be that '07 pitcher. I want to be better. That takes asking questions and finding ways to stay sharp mentally before I can physically do the game.

Your leg kick has always been something that provides deception. Do you ever talk to hitters to see what they are thinking when the leg comes up and snaps out and then suddenly the ball is coming right after?

Will Startup: I do. I actually try and get as much feedback as I can. It has all kind of been the same – something crazy they see at first. They like to see it one time to see if they can get timing – whether that is in the batter's box or in the on deck circle. One thing I would not do – I feel so comfortable with it now that even if they said, ‘Try this or that' I don't think I would change it up. My body is used to the timing. It is good to hear their thoughts on it. It gives me confidence.

Your slider really came along in 2007 and was part of the resurgence. What was the key to the development of that pitch?

Will Startup: This is going to be the interesting point where I have to make a decision. I somewhat believe that slider led to me having a partial tear because I cupped it – I used excessive cupping around the pitch. What that means is when I delivered the pitch, I pretty much had the back side of my hand towards home plate.

Moving forward, yes, I would love to go ahead and pick up that pitch. I know that ligament will probably be stronger to hold it. But, what I want to do in the future, and I have been asking a couple of people about cutters. I am predominantly a fastball guy. I would love for them to see fastball, fastball, and for them to commit to that pitch and it is a cutter – just missing the sweet spot. I have never been one to strikeout the world, but if that opportunity presents itself, I will go for it. I would rather people put it in play with soft contact. I think a cutter would be the right pitch for my kind of situation.

You get all the way to Triple-A and are on the doorstep. Is that really the most frustrating part of this process?

Will Startup: There have been a couple of ways to look at it. Yes – even with the Braves, I thought I was right there. With the Padres, I thought I was getting close. One thing in my mind that I am OK with – if I was in the big leagues and that happened, yes, I would be on the big league roster, but that would put a lot of pressure on me to come back and perform at a big league level. Although I would love to do that, that would give me a chance, in my own mind, to add unnecessary pressure.

With this, it doesn't mean I will have any less effort. I am not going to have to face big league hitters right away. Although Triple-A hitters are very good – who knows, they might stick me in High-A and try and rehab me. I don't have that pressure.

I am going to miss the whole season but will have the whole offseason to get stronger. I am in no rush to make it back this year, which is a relief.

It was frustrating. You deal with those feelings as they happen but really need to get your mind in a positive place if you are going to make progress or have a good attitude about the game.

You sound like manager Greg Riddoch.

Will Startup: I have saddled up to Rid. He has been very beneficial to me in the mindset. He has great ideas.

Is the target to be back for instructs?

Will Startup: Hopefully. I think you will catch me at the end of instructs if things go better than I expect. Possibly the fall league – I can't say for sure. I know a lot of the guys got to go down to the Dominican complex and got some innings there.

One thing I have learned from this experience is I want to pitch. I really don't care where it is. One thing you think as you are moving up through the system and get closer to the big leagues, the money would be nice. Being away from the game – I am just not that focused on that part. It can be distracting. I just want to pitch. Racing my wife in Mario Kart is not getting all of my competitiveness out.

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