Strong feeling out first spring

SURPRISE, Ariz. - After signing right on the August 17 draft deadline last summer, left-hander Paul Strong is going through his first Spring Training. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the California native to discuss his stuff and his progression on the mound.

From the time the Texas Rangers selected left-hander Paul Strong in the 17th round of the 2009 MLB Draft until approximately two weeks before the mid-August signing deadline, Strong figured he was heading to school.

The Huntington Beach, Calif., native had signed a letter of intent to play at collegiate powerhouse UC Irvine, and as he explains below, he was more than prepared to enter school.

However, once the Rangers began to realize they were going to have issues with signing their top pick–Matt Purke–they started focusing on a handful of other players.

Strong was one of those guys, and the Rangers ended up inking him for a $300,000 bonus on the August 17 deadline day.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound hurler brings a strong three-pitch repertoire and a good feel for pitching to the Rangers' system. He usually works in the upper-80s with his fastball, and's Jason Parks reported that he sat 86-88 mph during a recent Spring Training outing. In that game, he also mixed in a big 73-77 mph curveball. Though he didn't flash it in that game, Strong says his most reliable secondary offering is a split-changeup.

As the 19-year-old matures, he could add some fastball velocity, and he already has fairly advanced offspeed stuff while showing the ability to keep the ball down in the zone. Lone Star Dugout caught up to him after a recent Spring Training game.

Jason Cole: You signed a letter of intent to play your college ball at UC Irvine. What was that decision process like between pro ball and playing in college?

Paul Strong: I was actually fully dead-set on going to UC Irvine once I got drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round. I had all my classes filled out at Irvine and everything. I was all ready to go. And then the last day came through and I signed. Everything was right enough for me to go, and I went with the Rangers.

Cole: How much had you talked with the Rangers after you were drafted? Were you having negotiations with them the entire time, or was it something that just came up at the last minute?

Strong: It was pretty much last minute. I didn't talk to them–probably for about a month or so. They were a lot busier trying to get with Purke and Scheppers. Then kind of the last week–that's when things got hot and heavy and it just went from there.

Cole: Leading up to the draft and after you were picked, did you have a price you were asking to get you away from Irvine that had to be met?

Strong: We initially were a little bit higher. And then once we crunched the numbers, we brought it down a little bit and I said that was fine enough. Then we went on with it and signed.

Cole: At the time that you were drafted in the 17th round, even before you had talked to the Rangers about money or anything, were you thinking that you'd be heading to school?

Strong: Yeah, once I heard that I thought, ‘They're not going to be able to meet my money. I'll do my thing and we'll see what happens three years later.'

Cole: Tell me about yourself as a pitcher. What is in your arsenal?

Strong: I throw a four-seam fastball. Sometimes I'll mix in a two-seam, but I stick a lot with the four-seam. Then I throw a split-changeup and then just a standard curveball.

Cole: I know most high school guys don't throw many changeups in high school. Were you using it very often in high school?

Strong: That was usually my go-to pitch. I had a curveball I was comfortable with, but I loved throwing the changeup.

Cole: Had you ever talked to scouts about that when you were in high school? Did they often tell you it was a good thing that you were developing the change at such an early age?

Strong: Yeah, they definitely loved it. Every time I came out of a game, they loved how much I worked on the changeup. Because you come to the next level and it's all about mixing speeds instead of just fastball-curveball. They loved the fact that I threw a changeup a lot, and I stick with it still to this day a lot.

Cole: Since you have always liked the change a lot, I'm assuming you're now using the same grip as you were in high school?

Strong: Yeah, I have been using the same changeup since about my sophomore year of high school. It has been working.

Cole: Your first experience of pro ball last year was at Fall Instructional League. What was that like for you?

Strong: Definitely very, very different. In high school, you're able to pretty much blow a lot of people away. You definitely don't have to have a 90 mph fastball to do it. Coming to instructs, you had to finesse a little bit and make sure you were on your game. Hitters are just as good as you out there. They're trying to make their career doing their thing, so you've just got to do your best to get them out. It was a little bit harder, but you learn to deal with it.

Cole: How was your arm at instructs, after taking quite a bit of time off and then firing it up again for a month?

Strong: My arm was actually fairly well. I worked out a lot with UC Irvine over the summer, so I maintained arm strength with them. Once I committed with the Rangers, I kind of pumped it up again. Going into instructs, I'd say I was pretty well equipped strength-wise.

Cole: Talk to me about what you were focusing on as a pitcher at instructs. What were you trying to improve both while pitching in games and throwing side sessions?

Strong: My biggest thing was keeping the ball down. That is kind of my thing–to make sure I keep that ball below the knees. I have got to make them beat me, not leaving it up for them so they can just whack it.

Cole: Going against the high school guys with your changeup, did you ever feel there was a time that it was speeding up the bats of guys that wouldn't be able to catch up with your fastball?

Strong: It actually did a lot. I learned the hard way a couple times to avoid a changeup with some of the lesser high school guys. You just kind of had to pound them with a fastball until they hit it.

Cole: When you signed with the Rangers, you were able to go to Arlington to sign your contract and get your physical. Who were you able to meet and what was that experience like?

Strong: It was really cool. We met with Bobby Crook and other guys in the front office. They took us around and gave us the ballpark preview. Then we met all the VP's, Jon Daniels, and everyone. We got to go to the game. It was just awesome. I had never been out to Texas, so to go to the game and go through the stadium and see the underworkings was very cool.

Cole: You didn't get to throw a bullpen at the stadium did you?

Strong: I did not. They came out and saw me throw a bullpen in Huntington.

Cole: I assume this bullpen session came after the Rangers drafted you?

Strong: Yes, this was in the summer before I signed. I was drafted by them, and then I threw a bullpen probably about two weeks before I signed.

Cole: I guess that was the point you started to realize there was a chance you would sign?

Strong: Exactly. I kind of realized, ‘Oh, there's a little interest out there, so let's see what goes on here.'

Cole: Did you throw for a summer team as well last year?

Strong: I actually played with the SoCal Renegades here and there. I played a couple tournaments with them.

Cole: If you remember at all, how much were you throwing with them?

Strong: I would probably have to say 10 or 15 innings overall. I didn't throw too much with them.

Cole: I guess you could say this Spring Training is your second real taste of pro ball. How is it going so far?

Strong: It has been great. When I was younger, I saw all the big leaguers and thought, ‘I can't wait to be that.' Now I'm here and waking up at 6:00 a.m. every morning, just on the grind. It's tiring, but you've got to love doing it. I love doing it, and it's the best.

Cole: You've had two outings so far plus your live batting practice and tracking sessions. How are you feeling about your work on the mound?

Strong: I started a little rocky, with my first outing in High-A. And then I calmed down and came down and pitched the Low-A game. I was very happy with that one.

Cole: You mentioned in instructs that you were really focusing on keeping the ball down. Are you working on anything different out here?

Strong: Same thing. I just want to make sure I get over and throw the curveball like a fastball and keep the ball down. I want to make sure I'm not leaving it anywhere in the middle of the zone.

Future Rangers Top Stories