Surgery sidelines King for instructs

The Rangers drafted Justin King as a project with a fastball that could touch the mid-90s. Just over one year later, the right-hander has developed into a legitimate relief prospect. Lone Star Dugout sat down with King to discuss his development and his recent arm surgery.

The Texas Rangers took a flyer on Justin King during the 2008 MLB Draft, selecting him in the 30th round.

Although King had a good arm, the right-hander struggled throughout his three-year career at Alabama's Jacksonville State University. King posted a 9.00 earned-run average in 68.0 career innings, walking 81 and striking out 65.

As King discusses in the following interview, the control issues were part health-related and part mental.

Once he signed with the Rangers, the control immediately began to improve. He was nearly impossible to hit out of the bullpen with the AZL Rangers in 2008, surrendering just 14 base knocks in 31.0 innings. King put up a 2.61 ERA while walking 26 and fanning 39.

In 2009, the 23-year-old progressed to short-season Spokane, where he worked in the back-end of the bullpen, going 3-2 with three saves and a 3.00 ERA. King logged 30 innings this time, allowing 22 hits, walking 21 and striking out 29.

While the 6-foot-5 hurler still had some control issues, he was beginning to improve. The Rangers invited him to Fall Instructional League because of his potential, which became evident in his low-to-mid 90s fastball. King usually sits between 92-94 mph, and he tops out at 96 on occasion. He also has a hard 83-86 mph slider that he uses as his strikeout pitch.

King struggled in his final two games of the season when an old injury [which is discussed in detail below] came back and caused trouble. The Alabama native elected to shut it down and have surgery early on at instructs. He has been resting at home ever since.

Jason Cole: I want to talk about your first year in the AZL, because I didn't get a chance to interview you last year. Numbers-wise, you had your struggles in college, particularly with control. It seemed like you really turned it around from the start with the Rangers' organization. What was the difference for you?

Justin King: I think just getting out on my own and being able to do what I've always done–looking at it from my perspective. Just getting comfortable. That was the biggest thing.

Cole: I know the Rangers generally don't make any major changes to players during their first summer in the system. Did you make any mechanical adjustments or change what you did between college and pro ball?

King: The one thing they really stressed to me was just keeping the same arm angle and repeating my delivery. That helped a lot.

Cole: What was it that caused your control troubles in college? Was it mostly mechanics or do you think it was more mental?

King: A lot of it had to do with the same issue I just had surgery on. My hand would go numb and I had no feel for the ball. I would have to throw a fastball with three fingers instead of the normal two. It just wasn't a very comfortable way to pitch.

Cole: How long had you had that issue?

King: It started my freshman year of college. And I dealt with it through my freshman and sophomore year. Then I had surgery at the end of my sophomore year. I came back and really then it was kind of a mental issue with me. I tried to get that worked out my junior year–I progressed and got better as the season went on. Then throughout the AZL season, it was a lot better.

Cole: Do you know what caused it to come back, even though you had already undergone surgery before?

King: I don't know. When I had the surgery before, I just had surgery on my wrist, where the ulnar artery is. They tried to open that out.

Cole: Tell me about pitching with that injury. Did it go numb after you pitched? Did it happen while you were on the mound?

King: It's during. When I started warming up sometimes, my hand will turn solid white, get real cold, and then I'd have no feeling in my fingers. Sometimes I could battle through it and get it to go away, and other times it didn't go away and I had no control whatsoever.

Cole: When did that start happening this year?

King: Mostly towards the end of the season. It was never really that bad until my very last outing. It was the worst it had been ever.

Cole: I know you were invited to instructs, but did you get to pitch at all there before you had surgery?

King: I had two bullpens. My first bullpen, it didn't go numb on me. It was fine and I didn't have any problems. But my second one was when it went numb again. That's when they decided to take a look at it. They sent me to Dallas to get it looked at.

Cole: If you can, tell me a little bit about your stuff on the mound.

King: I'm mostly a fastball-slider guy. I really rely on velocity and throwing my slider as my out pitch. I've mostly been in the closer role since I've been with the Rangers. I like that.

Cole: The fastball you throw–do you throw all four-seamers or do you mix in some two-seams as well?

King: Usually four-seams, but my four-seams aren't really a four-seam movement. I kind of hold it a little bit different, and it dives a little bit.

Cole: You kind of went between the bullpen and starting in college. When the Rangers drafted you last year, did they tell you that you were being looked at as a reliever?

King: They never really said it–they just put me in that spot. That's actually where I'm more comfortable at. I like being in the closing role. It's fun.

Cole: Tell me about your season this year with Spokane. Looking back on it, what were your overall thoughts?

King: I thought I had a good season. As long as I threw strikes, I got people out. I had a lot of fun up there. Once we got it turned around, it was a lot of fun winning. I think we won every series once we decided to turn things around. I enjoyed it.

Cole: As a guy that pitched in the AZL last year, how nice was it to get out of the complex league and into a nice place with good fans like Spokane?

King: It's a real nice part of the country, and the fans are great up there. There is always a big crowd at the games. Traveling–I got to go a lot of places I've never been before, so I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the atmosphere. I actually got to play against a lot of guys I played against and played with in college, so that was fun.

Cole: What parts of your game do you think developed more than anything else in Spokane this year?

King: I'd say mentally. Just knowing what my role is and going out and knowing what job I need to get done. Not worrying so much about strikeouts. As far as pitching situations, getting ground balls when I needed them. I think just the mental aspect of it–learning what pitch to throw when. That's the biggest part.

Cole: Obviously the only official stats you have this season in Spokane, but you also pitched at Extended Spring Training. Do you know approximately how many innings you logged there?

King: I would say in the twenties or maybe thirties.

Cole: What were your thoughts on your performance at extended?

King: The very beginning of it was a big struggle. It kind of just carried over from Spring Training, where I didn't do so well. It was a struggle to turn it around. That was something I was proud of–making the adjustment.

Cole: How long are you expecting to be sidelined with this surgery? When are you going to be able to start rehabbing and throwing a ball again?

King: I go back to the doctor on the 13th [October] and I would imagine that I'm going to start doing rehab right after that. They said I would be back before Spring Training.

Cole: Tell me what exactly the surgery was.

King: I had an aneurysm in the upper part of my arm. Because of that, it was shooting blood clots down into my wrist and my arm, which was causing it to go numb. That's what the reason for the numbness was. They went in and fixed the aneurysm and took out as many of the clots that they could find. Hopefully the numbness will be gone.

Cole: I know that sounds like a pretty scary situation. Is that something that is considered a fairly serious issue?

King: It is because an aneurysm is something that, if it busts, you could die from.

Cole: How long did you know that this was going on? Did you not even suspect it happening until it began feeling numb again?

King: I thought it was fixed from the surgery. When it started doing it again, it was just off-and-on. It was never really an issue because I could usually get through it and it would go away. But when it started getting back again, it got worse than it had ever been. I had no idea that it was to the extent that it was. I never thought for a second that it could've been an aneurysm.

Cole: So the first time around, they didn't really know what the problem was?

King: I don't think so. They said it had been there for awhile because there was a lot of scar tissue.

Cole: Now that you've got this out of the way, obviously it's going to fix the pain. But since they said this had been an issue for awhile, do you feel this will help you in the long run?

King: Absolutely. Not only the physical aspect, but it's a mental thing too–getting over the hump. This is something that has been bothering me for a long time, so I think that will help a lot.

Cole: Now that you are looking ahead to the 2010 season and looking forward to Spring Training, do you have any expectations for yourself yet? Are you looking to start in Hickory or Bakersfield or anything like that? What are your thoughts on it?

King: I'd love to start in Bakersfield–move up a couple of levels. I think physically I could absolutely pitch there. From what they've told me, they think that too. That's what I'm looking for. I would like to have a pretty big jump this year.

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