Zach Cates: There was a good chance of it happening. But when it actually did happen, there was definite feeling of excitement. This is what I have been wanting to do for 20 years. When it actually did happen, it was a very surreal moment. I realized how fortunate I was to get selected in the third round by the Padres.
You come out of a smaller school. You converted to pitcher this past year. I know you threw a little bit your sophomore year. But talk a little bit about that progression and how it came about?
Zach Cates: As a freshman, I was catching. At the end of the year, I had an injury where I dislocated three fingers on my left hand. So I had to take a little break off catching and hitting because my hand was pretty bad and I had to get surgery a few times. During summer ball all I did was pitch. I realized that there was where I had the best chance of having a pro career. I called my coaches and told them that I felt comfortable just pitching. The following year, that is what we did. Things kind of went from there.
You get two different perspectives there – one from catching and one from pitching. How has the catching side helped you as a pitcher?
Zach Cates: As a pitcher, sometimes I am out on the mound and I might start losing focus because things are not going my way. I remember as a catcher that is when I would go and start talking to the pitcher and tell them what they need to do. Calm down and focus on this pitch and getting this out. That is something I had tried to carry out to the mound with me - to be mature and responsible enough to handle my emotions and keep myself calm no matter what. That is what has helped me the most by being able to play both positions.
Do you feel like you have an advantage in being able to detect a hitter's swing, leaning on a fastball or missing an off-speed pitch?
Zach Cates: Yes. If a guy is laying on the fastball, that is stuff you can see. If he is catching up to the fastball, then you go after him with off-speed. As a catcher you see that a lot and it helps me as a pitcher as well.
It is pretty rare for someone of your age to have a change-up that is as good as it is. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of that pitch?
Zach Cates: My freshman year and in the fall semester I realized I needed a changeup and the one I was throwing was not very good. I was throwing a circle but it was not working for me. My pitching coach showed me what he called a "Vulcan". It is a split-finger deal. The very first one I threw was really good. I knew then I was going to stick with this pitch and work to develop it. I stuck with it. It wasn't easy. It took me a while to get a feel for it. But I stuck with it and worked hard with it and it really started coming around my sophomore year at school.
Were you surprised at the amount of juice in your arm? You were throwing out 42% of runners that first year. But you come and now you are throwing 95 mph and at the end of the year you are up to 97mph.
Zach Cates: Yes. I was surprised. I always felt I had more in me than what was coming out. I was surprised at some of the numbers I was getting up to just by pitching. I think it has a lot to do me not catching anymore. My body was getting more rest and there was not so much wear and tear with just pitching once a week. I knew I had more in me than what was coming out that first year in college. Even still, I was pretty shocked at some of the numbers I was hitting.
Is the breaking ball the pitch that needs the most work?
Zach Cates: Yes. I feel it has potential to be a good pitch for me. I will need to work with some pitching instructors to develop it more. I understand I have a lot of room for improvement. But that is the fun thing about it, knowing that I have a lot of room to get better.
Do you consider yourself to be pretty raw?
Zach Cates: I feel like I have grown a lot in the past year by getting some more experience. But I realize I have a lot to learn and I am excited about that. I feel like I have learned a good bit this year but I will try to go out and get better every day.
You walked 32 last year. Bringing that number down as well has to be a focus as well. Is there something you feel when you do miss?
Zach Cates: Sometimes when things start not going your way, I would catch myself trying to overthrow and overpower guys as opposed to just making one pitch at a time. I really feel that that is the biggest deal - to just not try to overthrow and stay calm at all times. I feel that is where most of the walks came from. It is experience on the mound and it got better as the year progressed.
What were your teammates say is your demeanor on the mound?
Zach Cates: My demeanor is that I want to attack the hitter. I was blessed with a pretty good fastball. I want to go after guys. I try to have a bulldog mentality and not worry about "I need to be careful of this guy." I just try to make my pitch and not worry about who the hitter is. I just want to go after guys and be competitive.
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