Padres Prospect Interview: Mike DeMark

SAN ANTONIO, TX.: Undrafted free agent. Division-III middle infielder who was moved to pitcher because he couldn't hit. Independent Leaguer. Twenty-five-year-old A-ball player.

None of these titles are especially flattering, but last year middle-relief pitcher Mike DeMark, 26, put up some numbers to go along with these titles.

Fifty-three strikeouts in 49.2 innings in Lake Elsinore with California League batters only hitting .196 and only allowing 35 hits. After being promoted to San Antonio, DeMark continued to add to his dominance with an 0.76 ERA.

At the end of the year, DeMark added another title to go along with what was listed above; the 2008 Pitcher of the Year.

While everyone loves the "rudyesque" nature of this story, DeMark ain't Rudy. Unless Rudy has a fastball that comes in at the mid-90s to go along with a solid slider and change.

After some early season jitters, DeMark is back on track in Double-A and possibly toward San Diego.

Can you go through your career a little before we talk about when you came to the Padres? You were originally an infielder at Marietta College is that correct?

Mike DeMark: I went there solely as a middle infielder, second baseman and shortstop. It's a pretty good baseball program and we were pretty deep there. I was like a fourth guy coming off of the bench. A few guys had some academic problems and my grades were there so I kind of got bumped up the chart.

It kind of went on like that my whole freshman year then at the start of my sophomore year they let me know that I needed to think of another position because I couldn't hit that well.

That is kind of a tough thing to hear.

Mike DeMark: Yeah, it was not fun, especially when I was told they wanted me to pitch. I talked it over with my parents and I was never one to want to quit baseball, I want them to rip the jersey off of my back.

I'll try it and a guy by the name of Matt DeSalvo, he played with the Yankees last year and is with the Braves this year, he actually was a senior and took me under his wing. He showed me the basics and pitching just kind of took off from there.

If you were a middle infielder, especially a shortstop, you always had a good arm. So was the focus more on just throwing strikes not really worrying what you were doing to the ball?

Mike DeMark: It's funny when I talk to position players, and they know that pitching is hard, they always say if you would just throw the ball in the strike zone you would get so many more outs. And I reply, when I was a position player I thought the same thing.

So when I went to the mound I thought I'm just going to throw strikes, it's hard enough to hit the ball. Now this is D-III, but I kind of thought outside of the three, four and five hitters, there weren't that many guys at that level that could do that much damage.

I told my dad this pitching thing is easier than I thought [laughs]. Now that is not the case when you get higher, but if you throw the ball in the strike zone good things will happen. At that point, all I had was a fastball.

The next stop for you was the Independent League, where you have to really love baseball and believe in yourself to succeed. What was the biggest difference between D-III and playing in the Frontier League.

Mike DeMark: One through nine in a D-III lineup is a glorified high school baseball. The top six guys can hit a little, the first four is who you have to really worry about. In the pros, all nine can hit, one through seven are the power guys, so the key was just keeping the ball down and making sure that I had a secondary pitch.

What was your first secondary pitch?

Mike DeMark: It was a slider and it was under Chris Book, who pitched with the Giants, and he told me that with my arm slot I needed to pitch more over my hips. It was weird, it clicked very quick and also helped my fastball. I went from throwing 91 to 92 in college and he got me up to 96, which kind of turned some heads.

That gets some attention. Billy Bryk signed you, who is pretty well known in the organization, and I'm sure the first thing they taught you when you came to the Padres was the changeup.

Mike DeMark: It's funny because I had actually gotten a regular job. Bill Bryk had heard about me and gave me a call. I was the first guy they signed in 30 years that they never saw play. They talked to me and gave me a chance. I thought I'm just going to try to do what got them interested, but like you said there was something there.

This organization is strong on the changeup. My first year Webby [Steve Weber, the then Lake Elsinore pitching coach and current Missions' pitching coach] let me know that everyone just sits hard on fastball and slider, so I had to develop something to get their timing off.

It seems when you have a mid-90s heater, the changeup is a pretty effective pitch? As a former hitter, you must know that is a really tough adjustment.

Mike DeMark: No doubt. If you run it up there in the mid-90s with a slider, it's tough.

So you had a pretty good year last year, you were our pitcher of the year. Even though middle relief pitchers don't get that much publicity, you guys may have one of the toughest jobs in baseball. Seventh inning, runners on first and third, one-run game and one out and the manager says, "Go get ‘em"...that is not easy.

Mike DeMark: [laughs] Yeah, its not easy. I think I still have a position's player mentality, I want to play everyday. For me, that is the way I like to play the game. I like starting, because that is what I did in college, but I had five days off. Its much more exciting coming to the field thinking you have a chance to get into every game.

You throw so hard, and as a middle relief guy you can pile up innings pretty quick, how resilient is your arm in bouncing back the next day?

Mike DeMark: I think the fact that I never really pitched as a kid that it is kind of a new born arm compared to others. Some of these guys have been pitching since they were 12 while I only started when I was a sophomore in college, when I was older, which I believe helps.

Last year everything came together, what was the big reason for your success? Was it the development of the change?

Mike DeMark: It was that and being with Wally Whitehurst in LE and he opened up my mind to a lot of things. Getting into a rhythm everyday is what separated me from the year before. I got into that rhythm and my mind just blocked out everything else. Just to completely commit to every pitch that I throw is what I believe turned me around from an average guy to someone that has a shot.

Coming in as an undrafted free agent, from the Independent Leagues and Division-III is a long haul. It's a great accomplishment to get this far. How were things different for you this spring training compared to last?

Mike DeMark: I was always worried about my age being a factor. Last year I kept thinking I'm 25 and I have to get up to Double-A as quick as I can to have a shot at the big leagues. Now 25 isn't old to me, but I consider myself like a guy that is 21 because of the mileage on my arm. Coming to the team as a free agent, you have to worry about your job everyday.

After I put up some numbers and I have a little more sense of job security and that I belong. Everyone in the organization is really behind me and its a great feeling; it really gives you a sense of worth.

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