After playing four years at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., outfielder Royce Bolinger is spending one more summer in Spokane to play with the Indians.
The 21-year-old Bolinger was the Texas Rangers' sixth-round pick in this month's MLB Draft. As a college senior, he signed the day after the draft concluded for a reported $50,000 bonus (per Baseball America).
Bolinger comes from a family of athletes. His father, Monte, played five years in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization between 1971 and 1975. His uncle was an offensive lineman in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder is coming off an excellent season for the Zags in which he started all 56 of his club's games and posted a .392/.441/.620 slash line. Bolinger led Gonzaga in doubles (15), triples (3), home runs (11), and runs batted in (51). He drew 18 walks and struck out 23 times while stealing three bases in six attempts.
Bolinger's senior campaign was certainly his breakout season statistically. As a junior in 2011, he hit .283/.307/.383 with three home runs and eight walks over 51 contests.
The Arizona native is regarded as a good athlete with a little raw power, but he is perhaps best known for his plus––bordering on plus-plus––arm from the outfield. Although Bolinger manned center field at Gonzaga this season, he's most likely to spend his time in right field in professional ball.
Bolinger was previously drafted out of Scottsdale's Chaparral High School in the 45th round, but he elected to attend Gonzaga instead of signing. He was not drafted again until earlier this month.
A right-handed hitter and thrower, Bolinger has begun his pro career in a slump––along with most of the Indians' position players––as he's just 1-for-16 with a walk and four strikeouts through his first four professional games.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with the outfielder after the draft.
Jason Cole: To start it off, give me your thoughts on getting drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round.
Royce Bolinger: It was a dream come true. It couldn't be a better organization. I mean, it's just a perfect fit for me. I just couldn't be happier. Any other organization––it wouldn't have meant this much.
Cole: Who was your area scout in Washington? Was it Gary McGraw?
Bolinger: Yeah, it's Gary McGraw.
Cole: How has your relationship with him been over the last couple years?
Bolinger: I'm pretty sure we just started talking this year. I think he has been in contact with my dad previously. But we talked earlier in the year, and we continued to talk. We actually had a pretty late-night phone call last night, and we were talking this morning. We've had a good relationship. He has been very supportive, and he's just been great.
Cole: Leading up to the draft, did you think the Rangers or any other team was most likely to select you, or were you pretty much in the dark?
Bolinger: I was talking to quite a few teams, but I was mostly talking to the Padres, Royals, and Dodgers. But going into today, I just had a gut feeling that it was going to be the Rangers and that it was going to work out. Thank God it did.
Cole: How much knowledge do you have of the Rangers' organization in general, as you enter professional ball? Do you know anybody currently playing in the system?
Bolinger: Yeah, I do. There are a couple guys that I played with that are in the organization. And actually, Gonzaga University is in Spokane, Washington, and that's where their short-A team is. That's where I'm headed. There are a lot of people out there that are going to have support for me. Hopefully I'm not there too long, but yeah, I know quite a bit about the organization. I'm just excited to be part of it.
Cole: Yeah, I hope you like Spokane, because it seems you'll be remaining there after spending four years in college. How nice is it to play in a city you're already quite comfortable with?
Bolinger: It's definitely an advantage. I'm going to be comfortable there, I'm going to know the fan base, and I've still got a lot of teammates, friends, and administration from Gonzaga that are going to be there to support me. It's a relief. It's going to be nice.
Cole: Have you ever been to any Indians games as a fan?
Bolinger: Yes, I have. I've been to a couple, actually. It's a pretty good atmosphere, so I'm excited for it.
Cole: Are you up there in Spokane now, or are you back at home in Arizona?
Bolinger: No (laughs). I actually just spent the past three days driving home. So I have to make that trek again back up there. It's kind of funny, but it's definitely worth it.
Cole: While you hit relatively well at Gonzaga last season, your senior campaign was definitely the best of your collegiate career statistically. What did you feel led to the breakout?
Bolinger: It was just confidence and finally something clicked. It was enough at-bats to where I could just recognize pitches. I just had a real firm grasp on how pitchers were going to get me out, and I really understand the game now. It's just comfortable playing. That was the biggest thing. It wasn't anything mechanically or putting on muscle. It was just the mental side of it.
Cole: If you can, give me a short breakdown of your game at the plate. What kind of a hitter do you view yourself as?
Bolinger: I see myself as a contact hitter. I'm more of a line-drive hitter that is going to hit the gaps. When I hit a home run, it's a mistake. But I think I'm definitely more of a contact hitter, and I do like to swing. I don't walk that much, so I'm aggressive at the plate. I'm a contact hitter that sometimes accidentally hits home runs.
Cole: Going into this summer, how much past experience have you had with a wood bat?
Bolinger: I've played with a wood bat a lot in high school. And then I've had four summers with it, so quite a bit of experience. It shouldn't be too big of an adjustment.
Cole: When you started your college career, you obviously used the old aluminum bats. Now they've switched to the BBCOR for your final two seasons at Gonzaga. Do you feel that makes the transition to wood bats a little easier?
Bolinger: Oh, definitely. Way easier.
Cole: How did you like hitting with the new bats?
Bolinger: Honestly, I don't have many complaints with it because I had a good year. But compared to the old bats, they stink. But going from that to wood, it's pretty much the same. I mean, the sweet spot is almost the same size. I personally think there's more pop with a good wood bat than these metal bats. They're pretty terrible.
Cole: You're known for having a plus arm. Did you play in right field at Gonzaga?
Bolinger: Yeah, I played right field up until my junior season. And then we kind of had a void in center field, so I filled it. It became natural to me. As I've gotten older, I've grown into my feet and grown into my body and gotten faster. Would I like to play center field? Yeah. But I think right field is my more natural position.
Cole: You also pitched a little bit as a freshman but didn't work on the mound after that. Why not?
Bolinger: I was just focusing on hitting more. Pitching is something that maybe, down the road if things don't work out, I can go to. But at the time, we just wanted to focus on my hitting and develop me as a hitter first. That's kind of just where we went with that.
Cole: Your father played minor league baseball as well. Tell me about growing up in a family where you've been around people who have played professional baseball. What kind of advice has he given you?
Bolinger: My dad has been great with me growing up around baseball. While some parents are pressing it on you and really just trying to make you into something that you're not capable of, he was just always telling me that as long as I'm having fun and I'm going out there and enjoying it––that's all I needed to grow. That has been great, because some parents push their kids away from it. He definitely didn't do that.
Cole: As you look forward to playing with the Indians this summer, is there anything in particular in your game that you'd like to develop?
Bolinger: I'd definitely like to get some more innings in center field and get more used to that. I want to get better reads. Also, I'd like to maybe get with the strength coach and improve on my speed.
Other than that, at the plate, I would definitely like to see some more pitches and be patient. I don't really swing and miss a lot, so when I'm swinging, I'm kind of going out of the zone to make contact when I should just let it go and help myself get on base more and help the team. That's probably something at the plate that I'd like to work on this summer.
Q&A with Rangers 6th-rd pick Royce Bolinger
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