Rays Prospect Q & A: Mikie Mahtook (Part 1)

On Saturday, Rays 2011 1st Round draft pick Mikie Mahtook talked to me via phone from Arizona where he is playing in the Arizona Fall League. In part one of this exclusive interview, he discusses the injury that kept him out of the AFL Rising Stars game, where he might play in 2012, why he stopped playing football, and his decision making process prior to signing with the Rays.

John Gregg: First of all Mikie, it was announced yesterday that you were being replaced on the Rising Stars roster because you have an injury, what's the nature of your injury and how long do you expect to be out?

Mikie Mahtook: Well its kinda more of a hamstring tightness. I don't think it's too serious, and the trainers don't think it's too serious; it's more of a precautionary thing, and there is no reason in furthering the injury and making me stay out for an extended period of time. I'm getting it taken care of, and it's kind of a day to day thing to see how it feels. I'm expecting to be back playing by Monday or Tuesday of next week. I don't think it's too serious, but it's something you definitely you have to keep an eye on. It's not going to hinder me for longer than a few days I don't think.

John Gregg: That's good. The AFL is your first pro experience, and you didn't play at all this summer. How was it starting this season after not playing? Did you have to make any sort of adjustments after facing college pitching?

Mikie Mahtook: Well it was definitely exciting after not playing all summer. That was the longest time away from baseball I've had in my life. It's definitely exciting to get back on the field and be a part of a team and play the game of baseball. As far as the AFL it's been an awesome experience for me. The competition out here is unbelievable, and the guys that we have on our team are great. It's nice for my first pro experience to come in and play against the type of caliber players that I'm playing against. It kind of shows me where I'm at and what I need to do to get better, and I've enjoyed it a lot.

John Gregg: Are there any areas of your game that the Rays organization has asked you to work on in the AFL or is there anything that you personally are working on?

Mikie Mahtook: As far as the Rays, they haven't made it known to me that they wanted me to work on one specific thing, probably because they haven't seen me play in games yet. Personally though, I always want to make every aspect of my game better. I'm not really focusing on just one thing. I'm kind of making the adjustment to pro ball. Obviously when you're new situation like this, in a new atmosphere, and there is a new type of talent that you're playing against, you want to improve every day and you want to improve the entirety of your game so that you can be the best player you can be, and you can reach the major leagues as fast as you can get there.

John Gregg: Has the organization given you any sort of indication about what level minor leagues you'll be assigned to yet, or is that kind of contingent upon how you play in the AFL?

Mike Mahtook: They have not let me know where they plan on starting me next year. So I really have no clue on that aspect. But I'm just coming out here trying to play well, and trying to show them that they made a great investment in me, and trying to be a great representative for the Rays organization. Wherever they put me, I have confidence in their organization and their player development people. Wherever they put me is where I'm supposed to be.

John Gregg: You played center field and right field at LSU, and in the AFL it looks like you've been playing right and left mostly. Have they given you any sort of indication what position you might be playing to start?

Mikie Mahtook: They have not told me. I know that they're going to give me a shot in center. They haven't told me for sure what position they would prefer me at. But like I said, I'm just going to come out here and wherever they put me out in the outfield, I'm going play and I'm going to adjust. I'm going to play the best that I can play.

John Gregg: You had a pretty good football career going when you were in high school and you broke your arm as a junior I believe. With the success of the LSU football program, did you ever have any regrets about not becoming a two sport athlete or focusing on football? Or was it a pretty easy decision to stick with baseball?

Mikie Mahtook: Well it was not a pretty easy decision that's for sure. Regrets? I wouldn't say I have any regrets. I'm in a great place. I enjoyed my time at LSU just playing baseball. I think I am where I am today by making the decision of sticking just with baseball.

I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't miss football, and if I didn't think about it every now and then about what it be like if I was playing. Football growing up was what I loved to do, and baseball and football were my two sports. It would have been nice to play both of them in college, but I kind of looked at the big picture and looked at everything. With football, baseball, and school it would have been a little tough for me to do. I felt like just giving up football and sticking with baseball, it would have been my best chance of making it to where I wanted to go.

John Gregg: So would you say that if you had played both sports, that you might not have been able to develop your game enough to be drafted? Is that a fair statement?

Mikie Mahtook: I don't know if that's necessarily true, because I don't know what would have happened. I would have made adjustments either way. I played my whole entire high school career playing football and baseball, and I went to football camps over the summer and stuff. I was lucky enough to get drafted out of high school in the later rounds.

I don't know what would have come about if I played two sports. I still may have been in the same position I am today, or maybe be back for my senior year playing both sports. Who knows? That's something that would have been fun to do, but I can't really answer that question because I really don't know.

John Gregg: Getting back to the draft. There seems to be a lot of misinformation about players when they sign and stuff like that. The natural inclination is to think when a player waits until the last hour to sign, that they are holding out for more money. But in your case, it really seemed to be more of a situation having to do with your family, and your desire to maybe possibly go back to LSU. It seems like you kind of had a bad taste in your mouth about the way the season ended, and wanted to try and come back and go as far as you could in 2012. So could talk to me a little bit about your decision-making process in the final few hours?

Mikie Mahtook: Well, no like you said it wasn't about the money. It wasn't about anything like that. The decision came down to basically was I ready to. Not was I ready, but did I want to leave LSU on the note that I did, and leave all the people I had grown accustomed to, and made relationships with. Did I want to leave them at LSU, or did I want to come back for my senior year, and try to redeem myself or come back and end on a great note.

LSU was an awesome place for me, I enjoyed it, and I had some of the best times of my life there. It just came down to whether or not I needed to leave or stay. Me and my mom and my family, we had long, long talks about where I wanted to be, and what was the best situation. I just decided that my goal in my life was to reach the major leagues as quickly as possible and stay there and play for a long time. I felt that leaving after my junior year at LSU gave me the best opportunity to reach my goals the quickest. I talked to Coach Mainieri at LSU, and he agreed with me. It was the best decision for me, and he understands that, and we just kind of moved forward from there.

John Gregg: I'm sure you know that the Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement is being worked out right now, and one of the major sticking points seems to be draft slotting. Having recently gone through the process, could you kind of give me your opinion on the situation as a player?

Mikie Mahtook: I was only there briefly so I guess I'm not able to give you the best answer. I don't know, I guess it's different for different types of players, and it's different for each situation. So I'm glad that I don't have to make that decision. So I guess my answer is that I'm not too sure.

John Gregg: Were you expecting to get drafted by the Rays, or had they contacted you prior to the draft? Were there any other teams that were interested in you, and did you expect to be drafted where you were drafted?

Mikie Mahtook: To be honest with you, I wasn't expecting to be drafted by any specific team. I wanted to get drafted as high as possible, and that's what every player wants to do. They all want to be the highest draft pick that they can be. I didn't really have an inclination on what team was going to pick me, and I really had no idea. I was going in there with an open mind, and the hope that one team would like me and pick me. Obviously you want to be drafted in the first round. You see and hear things, projections and mock drafts and all this stuff. But nobody really knows until that day. So if you listen to those things it drives you crazy.

So me and my family kind of came in with the mindset that whatever happens, happens....it's going to work out for the best. The Rays picked me with the 31st pick and I'm very grateful for that. They gave me an opportunity, and I believe they have very high respect for me, and I have a high respect for the organization. I think it's worked out for both of us so far and I think it will in the future.

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John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.

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