2011 MLB Draft Q&A: Derek Fisher

Possessing as much power as any prep hitter in the 2011 draft class, Derek Fisher has become the top prospect in the state of Pennsylvania. We sat down with the lefty slugger to discuss how he defines himself as a hitter, how he values his UVA scholarship, and how he stays grounded in the midst of all the accolades he has received.

I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2011 has to offer each Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.

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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are your height and weight still 6'3", 215 lbs?

Derek Fisher: Yeah. If you want to make it exact, I think the last time I weighed myself I was 218 ½ lbs [laughs].

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you adding weight through working out, or is it just a matter of you getting older and maturing?

Derek Fisher: As far as my weight, it's been something that I've worked on, but I don't really want to get much heavier at this point. I put on a lot of muscle that I needed, but now I'm working on maintaining my flexibility. When I started I wanted to gain some weight, get up around 215 lbs, and then just stay focused on conditioning.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: At what weight did you start?

Derek Fisher: Well, when I went down to East Coast Pro it was really hot and an environment that I'm not used to playing in, and I ended up losing seven pounds in four days, which put me at 198 lbs. I had about two and a half months before Jupiter, so I wanted to get some strength back and feel strong again, so for four or five days a week I was hitting and lifting, working harder than I ever had. I gained about 10-12 lbs in that time, and then put about eight more pounds on in the offseason.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You are known for baseball, but do play any other sports?

Derek Fisher: I played football growing up, and to be honest it was my favorite sport until I was about 11 years old. I couldn't really tell you what changed, but once we transitioned to the bigger field it wasn't the same. I ended up going to Cooperstown, NY when I was 12 to play at the park, had a really good experience up there, and when I came back there was no doubt I just wanted to play baseball and that was it. After that I pretty much stopped playing football at 13 or 14.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When was it that you realized you could do something with baseball – that you had a chance to use the sport as a part of your life?

Derek Fisher: I was never really much bigger than anyone growing up. When I was 10 I was still the same size as everybody else, but I'd say that it was when I was 11 that it pretty much hit me that I could do something. Then I took the trip to Cooperstown, which was the first tournament I had ever played in my entire life aside from hometown Little League stuff. I played against some of the better kids in the country there, and then ended up playing for the Rawlings National Team when I was 12. I had a lot of goals that I was setting along the way, and once high school came along and I made varsity, then started varsity, then excelled on varsity I was constantly exceeding all the goals I had set. So for me I kind of realized it when I was accomplishing so many of the goals I set, and had to set new ones.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What specifically drew you to UVA?

Derek Fisher: UVA was very different than any other place. I felt completely comfortable there the second I stepped on campus, and people that I trust in this process have told me that, even though it's sounds cliché, on your visit, if you can see yourself walking to class every day, going to practice, and all that stuff, then more than likely it's the place where you're going to end up. I made my visit at a pretty good time because I was there when they got their rings for the College World Series, which was pretty much all I needed to see. The next day we walked the campus, saw the historical side of things, and talked about the academics and the buildings. So it was a good time that I went down, and being able to meet with Coach Mack was great because he really made an impression on me from the get go. They were probably the last school I was talking to out of the ones that I was considering, but they really showed me how much they wanted me to come to their program.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: On the flip side, how much have you thought about the draft?

Derek Fisher: To be honest, what it comes down to is that this past offseason I wasn't just working towards one thing. I look at it like I'm going to always work as hard as I possibly can, and Virginia is always my first priority, they're the thing that is certain, and hopefully I'll be able to make an impact there as a freshman and as long as I'm there. At the same time something could also happen with the draft and my hard work could pay off right away. I'm not just going to say that I'm working hard so I can go early on in the draft, and I'm not going to say I'm working hard because of Virginia. They actually go hand-in-hand because if you work hard it will pay out in either situation.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When you do allow yourself the moment to dream about playing professionally, whether it is out of high school or UVA, what is the image that comes to mind?

Derek Fisher: [laughs] The first thing that comes to mind is just "the Big Leagues." That's all it comes down to. I've been very fortunate when it comes to being able to talk to professional baseball players, guys that are retired, guys that are there now, and kids that have recently been drafted, and they all tell you the same thing: it's definitely a grind. So professional baseball is definitely a big choice, but I think that when it comes down to it you shouldn't have any doubts at all. It's such a different atmosphere than what any high school or college kid in the United States has ever dealt with, so you have to make sure you're ready.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are some of the recent draftees you're talking about Sean Coyle and Jesse Biddle?

Derek Fisher: Yeah, I actually have talked to Jesse a few times, and Sean as well. Sean and Jesse are a little different. I think Jesse was more on the professional side the whole time, and I'm a bit more like Sean was with the way he was feeling towards school. He told me he went to his official visit, went to the bookstore, got his sweatshirt, and was ready for college – he said he wanted to go to college so bad, and he couldn't wait to get there, but he definitely had the professional side there the whole time. He handled it very well, and the pressure obviously didn't get to him because he hit like .600 with 15 homeruns last year. He didn't let the outside situation get to him, he played his game, and to be honest I think he played it perfectly. He wasn't thinking "professional baseball" the whole way, and maybe in the beginning he was leaning a little bit towards the college side, but once he started doing his thing on the field, the whole thing took care of itself.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from at this point?

Derek Fisher: When it was all said and done, I think I had 26-27 home visits.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Were the Yankees one of those teams?

Derek Fisher: Yeah, the Yankees were one of the teams I met with.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Did you play Area Codes with Matt Hyde?

Derek Fisher: No, I played with the Diamondbacks at East Coast Pro, and then had the opportunity to play Area Codes with Matt, but didn't. I played well down at East Coast Pro, and the opportunity for Area Codes came up pretty quickly and I didn't have much time to think about it. I felt like I had done my thing and shown what I could do and didn't want to go right back out on the road; I was just ready to go back home at that point.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: In a very basic sense, what is your main objective when you put a swing on a ball at the plate?

Derek Fisher: I actually read a piece on Pujols a couple of weeks ago, and I liked the way he puts it. He said he's not a "powerhitter" he's just a "hitter," that being a good hitter is better than just having power. To be honest, when I'm at the plate and I try and hit a homerun it never happens, so my objective is pretty much to just put the barrel on the ball, and that's the most basic way I can put it. You don't have to try to generate all this power to hit the ball 500 ft when the pitcher is standing 60'6" away and throwing 93-96 MPH. Some guys are built differently, and some guys have different swings, so I think it all comes down to just putting the barrel on the ball and shoot the gaps. If it goes over the fence, then it goes over the fence.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Going into your approach a bit more, how would you describe your plate discipline?

Derek Fisher: I think it was that biggest thing for me this past summer. I used to be a very free-swinging guy when I was a freshman in high school, and even some parts of my sophomore year. I wasn't very patient and would often swing at the first pitch I got. I think Jupiter was a big eye-opener for me because I was seeing the ball so well out of the pitchers' hands no matter how hard they were throwing, and I felt like I had a great idea of where the ball was going – even if it was going to be just off the plate – and would let those pitches go. I'd consider myself more of a selective hitter now; I'm able to capitalize on mistakes, whereas before I was swinging at anything that was a strike. In high school those mistakes come often, but in college, the ACC, and professional baseball those mistakes might come once an at-bat, or even just once a game. You need to have the discipline to find those mistakes and really capitalize on them when they're there.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you were a scout evaluating Derek Fisher as a hitter, what would you grade as his best attribute?

Derek Fisher: I've heard a lot about my swing, the whole "smooth, lefty swing," but to be honest with you I think the best thing I have is the knowledge of my swing. I've been tinkering with it for so long, taken countless balls off the tee, and found countless things wrong with it, and the biggest thing was always having someone there with me to help fix it. I'm now able to fix my own mistakes and understand every little thing that goes wrong when I don't square a ball up. It's not like it's something that I have to sit there and think about now, it's something that I just kind of feel. When I was little I always got mad when somebody would try and fix my swing or tell me that I was doing something wrong because I never really understood when they would actually stop me and so "look, this is what you're doing wrong." I just wanted them to say "do this, and it'll be fixed." Now that I'm older and I understand things, I want to know what I'm doing wrong and how to fix it because you're not always going to have someone there to walk you through it; you're going to have to know how to fix things on your own. So knowledge of my own swing is the best thing with me, and I think that the ability to make adjustments is going to help anybody get to the big leagues faster.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Where do you currently hit in the lineup?

Derek Fisher: Three.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Moving on a little, how much of a role does speed play in your game?

Derek Fisher: You know, speed is a pretty good thing for me. It's different for me because I actually have to show that I have it, because if you look at me at 220 lbs you really wouldn't think that I can run a little bit. I wouldn't consider myself a Carl Crawford sort of guy, it's more so an "under way" speed that helps on doubles and triples. Speed definitely helps a lot, especially in the outfield, and I think the biggest thing for me is just to prove that I have it because I don't think anyone would know it if I didn't.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is the fastest 60 you have turned out?

Derek Fisher: The fastest I ran was on grass, and it was a 6.52.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What about your defense in centerfield? Everyone talks about your bat all the time, but there is very little mention of your glove at a premium defensive position.

Derek Fisher: Yeah, that's going to be the biggest thing for me. The first thing I told my high school coach when I was a freshman was that I've been talked about my entire life about how I can hit, the distance balls went, and the whole nine, but I feel like my defense is a little overlooked and I want to be able to change that. I'm a little behind as far as experience goes because I only started playing the outfield as a sophomore, but it's definitely something that I'm working as hard as I can on because I want to prove that I can stay in centerfield. With centerfield as one of the most premium positions on the field, I feel like you can't just work on hitting because the defense needed out there is just as important as your number three or four hitter.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What would someone who was sitting in the stands see from you in terms of your outward expression on the field?

Derek Fisher: What I like to do is just keep the guys lose and to be able to talk to guys, because when I was a freshman in high school I was so scared, man. I didn't know what I was doing, I was so afraid to make any mistake, afraid to strikeout sometimes, and even afraid to swing the bat, but I was on a team of 11 seniors so I had a lot of guys there to talk to me. The easiest way for me to get over those nerves, or being upset about something, was just them making me laugh, so ever since then I try to be the guy on the team that keeps everything loose. I hate when guys will just stand there quietly, nervous, afraid to go up and hit, or afraid to have all eyes on them, so I take it on myself as a leader to have guys trust me so I can help out, keep things loose, and have guys focused on having fun rather than being worried about everything.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So I have to ask – are you a Phillies fan?

Derek Fisher: No, no. No way. [laughs] Actually, I'm a Yankees fan!

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How did that happen? The Phillies are closest to you, right?

Derek Fisher: Yeah, definitely. I think the easiest way to put it is this: My dad will always tell me that he likes the Redskins because when he was growing up they always used to beat up on the Eagles…which was his dad's favorite team. Well, when I was little I loved Derek Jeter, primarily because he had the same first name as me, but as I grew up I saw the Yankees always beating up on the Orioles who are my dad's favorite team, and became a Yankees fan.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Besides Jeter, who are the players that you look up to in the Majors?

Derek Fisher: Hamilton for sure, Josh Hamilton. I read his book, and just to see what the kid went through to get where he is now is impressive. He does it all out there.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal one skill from anybody else in your draft class, whose would it be, and why?

Derek Fisher: I think it would be my man Shon. Shon Carson's speed. Now that's definitely Carl Crawford type speed. He was on my team at East Coast Pro and he stole bases at will. They'd know he was going, they'd pitch out, and he'd still beat it there. That kind of speed can help you everywhere, both hitting and in the field. Even if you have a delay in your defensive instincts, that kind of speed can help make up for it. He runs like a 6.3, it's unreal.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest pitcher you have faced so far?

Derek Fisher: I'd have to say Aaron Nola, a righty from Louisiana going to LSU. I never faced Henry Owens [Kevin's Note: Owens is a very tall and lanky lefty from California] but even as a righty, Nola has been said to have the best changeup in the draft class. I was talking to a guy from Baseball America after I faced him, and that was the only game at East Coast Pro where I didn't have a hit – I went 0-3 with three strikeouts, all against Nola. The guy asked me what was so different between Nola and the guy I faced the day before who was throwing 95 MPH, and it was such an easy answer because Nola mixes his pitches, and he has this changeup where it's a strike out of his hand, but when I swing I either miss it or barely foul it off. I couldn't do anything with it; it was ridiculous. He was definitely a good pitcher, and with all the other guys I've faced he gave me the most trouble.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: It's funny, Brandon Nimmo told me a similar story when I asked him that question, but his was Parker French, a RHP who didn't throw the hardest, but who had a dirty changeup that he just couldn't time.

Derek Fisher: That's the same thing! I think Aaron was 88-90 MPH, but with his changeup, back-foot slider, and everything else, he would go changeup, changeup, and then the fastball would look like it was 112 MPH. It was ridiculous.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: As a kid being considered for the early rounds of the draft and earning a scholarship to a great D-1 program you are already on a pretty high level in terms of the recognition you receive, but what are you doing to get even better now?

Derek Fisher: It's still my defense. I feel that no matter how hard I work on my defense it will never match my offense, but I want to come as close as possible. I want to be considered not only one of the top hitters in the country, but also one of the best defenders. There's two ways on the baseball field to contribute, and getting my defense close to the level of my offense would make me a much better player. For the last year and a half to two years I've been coming along defensively, but it's been the hardest thing that I've worked on because it doesn't come to me as naturally as the offensive side of the ball. I think through continued hard work I'll be able to overcome the late start I got on playing the outfield.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is sharing the same name with Derek Fisher of the Lakers a good thing, or does it suck?

Derek Fisher: [laughs] It's a good thing, man! That guy has done some crazy stuff; he's never been the Lebron or Kobe, but he's hit some big shots and he has a good reputation.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If Derek Fisher the baseball player is not doing something baseball related, he can be found…

Derek Fisher: Oh geez…Hmm…I get this question a lot, but I don't really have any extracurricular activities like fishing or something like that. I did play golf for a little bit, but that didn't go over so well. For me, I'm either on the baseball field and doing something with baseball, or I'm as far away as possible. Baseball is always going to be the first and best thing that I do, but I'm one of those guys that, when I'm not playing baseball, is going to be getting away from everything, relaxing and staying loose at home or with friends.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You have said UVA is definitely number one right now, but is playing professionally out of high school something that interests you if the situation is right?

Derek Fisher: Yeah, it definitely interests me, but what I've gotten out of talking to a number of past and present professional baseball players is that it's not just about the talent. Every kid being considered in the first round this year can go and play professional baseball just fine – every one of them. Even the top three rounds – any of those kids can go to a professional baseball team and play completely fine, with no trouble whatsoever, based on their talent. It's the mental part of baseball that impacts your career more than the physical though. Everyone has their talents, and the only thing that can affect your physical skills is an injury, but the mental part of the game is dealt with every single day. Like I said earlier, it's a completely different life than any of us high school players, and most college players, have any experience with. When it comes down to it college baseball will also be different because we're playing 70+ games, but professional baseball is a huge jump and I think when it comes down to it the difference is whether or not you're mentally ready. Whenever the draft actually happens in early June, I'll be able to distinguish at that point whether I'm ready for professional baseball, or if it's not my time to play professional baseball out of high school. In the end the mental part of baseball is the biggest thing, and I feel like it impacts the careers of professional baseball players more than just the physical attributes.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How do you stay grounded and try to be a normal high school teenager when you clearly don't have normal opportunities in front of you?

Derek Fisher: To me I think staying grounded is something I've been able to maintain, and it really sunk in for me about a year ago. I think playing in these tournaments helps you with playing in front of crowds in college and performing in front of professional scouts, but I think they also help you stay humble a bit, too. When you're a hometown Pennsylvania guy like me or my friend Cameron Gallagher there aren't too many other guys around you that are in the same situation. It's not like Lassiter, Georgia or Lakeland, Florida. So when you go to the national tournaments they really help to keep you grounded and humble because there are so many other kids in the country that have your same talent and there's not just one kid that's the best in every single category. It really allows you to see how good some kids actually are, so when you're at home and all these people are saying you're this or you're that I know the reality is that I may be good, but I'm not that good yet. There have been guys with my talent taken in the draft for years, and there are plenty more coming up next year, and the year after, and the year after that. There are going to be guys in this same position every single year, so you just have to look at the big picture more than praise that you get locally.

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