Hamburger living out a dream

Just over two years ago, Mark Hamburger attended an open tryout with the Minnesota Twins, hoping to simply get noticed by scouts. Now, the right-hander has developed into one of the Rangers' more intriguing relief prospects. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old for a Q&A session.

Ever since he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins last summer, right-hander Mark Hamburger has been one of the Rangers' most intriguing relief prospects.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound pitcher signed with the Twins in 2007 after he attended the club's open tryout camp at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Hamburger showed promise with the rookie-level GCL club in 2007, and he posted a 4.17 earned-run average in 36.2 innings for Elizabethton of the Appalachian League in the summer of '08. Hamburger allowed 35 hits while walking 13 and striking out 40.

The Rangers unloaded reliever Eddie Guardado late in the season, shipping him back to the Twins for a prospect.

That prospect was Hamburger.

Hamburger spent the last few weeks of the season with Single-A Clinton, allowing one run in only four regular season innings with the LumberKings.

The 22-year-old has pitched at the Single-A level for a full season in 2009, working out of the Hickory Crawdads' bullpen.

After an excellent first half, Hamburger has struggled of late. In all, he has a 5.43 ERA in 37 appearances. The prospect has logged 58 innings, giving up 74 hits, walking 23 and striking out 45.

Hamburger's results currently lag behind his raw stuff and potential, but that's not particularly surprising given his lack of experience against elite competition and the fact that he has never thrown this much in a professional season.

The Minnesota native has still flashed above-average stuff this season, working his fastball between 90-95 mph with good life. Hamburger gets good armside run on his hard two-seam fastball, allowing him to get 1.82 groundouts per airout this season.

However, he also has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone at times. Hamburger has given up eight home runs and opponents are batting .294 against him this season. He must refine his command.

The hurler goes to work with a developing slider that should become an above-average pitch in time, and he is also working on a changeup and a curveball.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with Hamburger about his background, his game on the mound, and his season in Hickory.

Jason Cole: You've obviously got a little bit of a unique story. First off, talk about the college that you played baseball at.

Mark Hamburger: I played for Mesabi Range JUCO. It's a technical college up in Virginia, Minnesota. It's kind of random that I went up there. I just got called from a couple of JUCO's. Me and my dad went and visited Vermillion and Itasca.

I went to Mesabi and the coach, Brad Scott, he was a younger guy, so I thought that was kind of cool. Just someone your own age that you can kind of get along with.

We had an awesome team that first year. Just really close together. It was a cool college to go to. Really small, but I think we made it really fun because everybody was really close. It was a good time.

Cole: Did you ever have any scouts watching you when you were in college?

Hamburger: Not that I know of. I never got talked to by anybody or anything like that. A lot of it I think has to do with towards the end of the year—we had an ordeal where some kids got booted off the team because they brought some alcohol in a state vehicle.

Seven out of the nine starters got booted, so our regional tournament didn't go well. I think most of the scouts would have been either in regionals or the national championship, but we never made it there.

Cole: You went to an open tryout with the Twins at the Metrodome. Are you from Minneapolis?

Hamburger: I'm from Minnesota. I live about 15 minutes away from the Metrodome, so I'm real close. It was just kind of me and my buddy hopped in the car, got down there in 25 minutes, and tried out. It was nice and close. Easy to go to.

Cole: Did you have any expectations going into that? Were there any nerves?

Hamburger: No. I was more thinking that it was a good way to get my name out there. I didn't realize the scout that was the pitching scout—he had seen me when I was a senior in high school. He was the one that told Brad Scott and the other colleges that I was a guy to look at. But no, I just went in there thinking I can get my name out there and possibly over the next couple of years maybe get looked at by them.

Cole: Was the tryout only for the Twins, or was it for all Major League teams?

Hamburger: No, it was just for the Twins. They have a yearly open tryout. Once I was home for the All-Star break, my buddy went down there again. It's once a year. I think June 18th through the 20th.

Cole: How often do they actually sign guys from that?

Hamburger: I think they signed a guy about four years before they signed me. So I don't think they sign guys too often. It was an awesome opportunity.

Cole: Yeah, tell me about how they went about signing you. What did they tell you that day? Did you know there was a chance you'd get signed that day?

Hamburger: No. The first day is just a tryout where you kind of pitch and they give you a callback. So I got called back the next day along with another 25 or 30 pitchers. The second day, you play two sets of nine innings. You'll go out there and they'll have you pitch two innings consecutively.

After the second inning—I kind of struggled in the second inning. They actually were like, ‘Hamburger, go back out there.' So, in my head, I wasn't really thinking about it, but I think they were kind of looking at me just because I did really well in the first. The third one, I went one-two-three.

They then called me into the dugout afterwards and Mark Wilson, the scout who had signed me, came up to me and was like, ‘How do you like playing for your summer ball team? Where are you expecting to go to college?' I told him my summer ball team was fun and where I was going to college. He was just like, ‘Well, you haven't signed with them yet, so how would you like to just come play with us?' I was stunned. It was just right there. I was like, ‘Yes, sir. I'll definitely go down there. I'd love to.'

Cole: Were you planning on going to a four-year school after that?

Hamburger: I was going to go to Wayne State in Nebraska. One of my good friends, the one I actually went to the tryout with, he has gone there the past couple of years. I was going to go down there with him. I just ended up signing with the Twins.

Cole: Being your hometown team, did you grow up going to many Twins games?

Hamburger: I didn't go to as many Twins games, but I was definitely a Twins fan. Obviously I'm from Minnesota, and they were so close to me. I went to a couple of games, but I'd rather go out and play baseball in the backyard than go watch a game. I'd rather play.

Cole: What was that like to be offered a contract almost out of nowhere by your hometown club?

Hamburger: It was probably the biggest blessing that has ever happened to me. I guess I was down a road in high school and college where I had bad grades and I was doing stuff that I shouldn't be doing.

Being able to get the opportunity to play there was beyond my belief. I was stunned, but I was so happy. I went home and I was just like, ‘Dad, I made it!' All my friends were calling me. It was just an awesome feeling.

Cole: Did anything happen between that college season and that tryout? By that, I mean were you throwing harder or showing better stuff, or were you pretty much the same pitcher you were at Mesabi?

Hamburger: I guess I've always just pitched naturally. I never try to go out there and do too much. I always just throw it in there the way I knew how since I was little. Nothing really changed with my pitching style. I think my body growing and me getting stronger definitely helped, but I just went out there with the mentality to have fun and just pitch.

Cole: You got your debut in the Gulf Coast League two years ago. What was it like making the jump from a small JUCO to professional baseball?

Hamburger: It was definitely a jump. Especially because you go from just going out and having fun and if you do bad one game, you can go to school the next day then go out and play some baseball.

The expectation was crazy—knowing you're being looked at by all these guys in a way higher perspective than anybody else. It was difficult, but it was fun being down there and playing.

Cole: Talk about being traded straight up for Eddie Guardado last year. I know you probably watched him with the Twins for a number of years.

Hamburger: Eddie Guardado was one of the guys that I would always watch when I was younger. Kind of the guy that you wanted to emulate as a pitcher.

When I got called, I was sitting on my bed in Elizabethton, Tennessee. It was a quick conversation and he just said, ‘You've been traded, you're going to the Rangers. Get ready to leave in the morning.' I didn't know who I got traded for, what happened, or anything.

Then Mark Wilson called me up and he says, ‘Hey, you know who you got traded for?' I was like, ‘No. Who?' He said, ‘Eddie Guardado.' I was like, ‘Who else got traded for me?' and he was like, ‘Nobody. Just you.' I couldn't believe it. It was mind blowing going from being 11-years-old and watching him pitch and thinking that I wanted to be like him. Then it turns out that I get traded for him. It was crazy.

Cole: You went straight to Clinton after the Rangers traded for you last year. That was another step up from where you were in Elizabethton. How much different was the play there in the Midwest League compared to where you were?

Hamburger: I guess I didn't see a major difference. The stadiums all were the same. The baseball was the same. You sometimes have the higher class pitcher and something like that.

The batters didn't swing as much. That was definitely something in Single-A—they weren't swinging as much. They were going out there and being a lot more hesitant. They were watching the pitches a lot more, so you've got to make sure to pitch in the zone. But I didn't see a major difference.

Cole: You're in Single-A again this year with Hickory, but it's in a different league. Have you noticed any major differences between the Sally and Midwest Leagues?

Hamburger: I was only in Clinton for two weeks. I guess the smell of the town is a little different. But no, I like this league. It's a lot of fun. When I was in Clinton it was a lot of fun too. I don't really care about where, I'm just happy to be playing.

Cole: Give me kind of a scouting report of you on the mound. What's in your repertoire?

Hamburger: I throw a four-seam, a two-seam, and I've also been throwing a cutter. I just kind of started throwing a cutter and it has been working pretty well. I throw a changeup, a slider, and a curveball.

It's a partial arsenal, but I've definitely got to get my pitches down. My changeup has been working a lot better. Nolan Ryan actually gave all of us a tip to throw our changeups, so that has been working amazing. My curveball and slider—they're coming along pretty well too.

Cole: Do you throw those all about the same amount of times when you're on the mound? Do you just see what is working on that particular day?

Hamburger: I guess when I'm in mid-relief to late-relief, I'll throw a lot more junk. But I guess when I was starting, I'd stick with the fastball and just try to command it. For lately, I've been throwing a lot of sliders and a lot of changeups.

Cole: Whose idea was it for you to start using a cutter? Was that something you came up with?

Hamburger: I was throwing it in practice and my dad was helping me on a grip with the sinker. The sinker is basically like the two-seam. But when I threw it, it just cut to the left. I was like, ‘Well this isn't sinking, it's cutting.' I just started throwing it more and more. It turned out to be a really good pitch that I can use.

Cole: Do you throw all of your fastballs quite a bit just to give hitters kind of a different look on each one?

Hamburger: Yeah. It depends on the batter. I'll try to come inside on righties and on the lefties, I'll try to go outside. I've been trying to mix it up a lot more and just going all over the place.

Cole: How do you feel about your season personally?

Hamburger: I've had my struggles. I guess I've had a couple of technical difficulties, you could say. I go out one game and throw well and the next game, I try to do something else. I wasn't really sticking with what works. I guess I've just tried to go back to the basics and clear my head instead of going so technical with it.

Cole: Have you been working on anything mechanically with Brad Holman, your pitching coach?

Hamburger: Yeah. I was falling forward a lot. I've had it in my head for so long that I need to stay back and stay balanced when I'm in the stretch or in the windup. And I was watching video, and I was falling forward. It's something I've always thought about, and I'm not even doing it.

I've been trying to stay back a lot more and use my left arm as a tool. I never really focused on my left arm being something where I can thrust my body through, but lately I've been trying to work a lot more on it.

Cole: Have you ever been a starting pitcher?

Hamburger: I was my whole life. Last year was the first season—well, with the Twins in the GCL, they kind of had me relieving, but that was because I came through halfway through the year. But last year was the first year that I was ever a closer. This year is the first year that I've ever been in mid-relief. I've always been a starter.

Cole: Can you talk about that transition a bit and what it was like going from a starter to the bullpen?

Hamburger: I guess the difference is mostly mentality. I go in as a starter and I guess I was always a very relaxed pitcher. I never really got too intense with the game.

But coming in and closing last year, I got a lot more hyped up for the game. I'd get to the seventh inning and if it was close, I was stretching and getting ready. All the guys would be like, ‘Oh, you're already stretching in the seventh?' I'd be like, ‘I'm just getting ready.' So I got excited about it.

Then in mid-relief, it's just random. They'll just give the call and say, ‘Hamburger, you're on the mound.' You've got to stand up, stretch real quick, and start throwing. Transition-wise, I guess you fall where you go. You're just going to take it as it comes.

Cole: Was there ever a time where you had to teach your arm to get loose a little bit faster?

Hamburger: I've always been able to warm up pretty quick. I guess I'm not just using all arm—I've been using a lot more of my body. So I guess I haven't needed to take a lot of time to get warmed up. But I still want to take it easy. It's not like I want to go out there on the first throw and just wrench a fastball in there. You do it slow and they usually give us a good amount of time to get warmed up.

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