Rays Prospect Q & A: Justin O'Conner

I caught up briefly with Rays' catching prospect Justin O'Conner earlier this week at the Rays Winter Development Program in St. Petersburg, FL. The 2010 1st Rounder talked to me about a variety of subjects including how he is preparing for 2012 this off-season.

Rays Digest: I've been kind of asking everybody what their experience has been like here. You were here last year. What kinds of things have you been working on and how has your whole experience been?

Justin O'Conner: It's been a lot of fun, getting to come back and see all the guys again. Baseball is just around the corner, and it's letting me know how good of shape I'm in and what I need to do to get in better shape. My swing, stuff that I need to keep going over and just stuff like that. Just kind of refreshing on everything that I've been doing in the off-season, getting ready for the season.

Rays Digest: What sorts of things do you do personally in the off-season, what's your workout routine and how much time do you spend hitting?

Justin O'Conner: I really haven't been doing much this off-season baseball-wise, just because I've been trying to take a break. I was rehabbing my shoulder down in Florida a little bit, just kind of trying to take it easy. I workout every day in the weight room, about two or three hours every day, just mainly trying to get my legs a little bit stronger because they kind of gave out on me a little bit at the end of the season last year.

Rays Digest: You didn't play catcher until your senior year in high school, so you're probably still trying to get used to the off-season conditioning to get through an entire season of catching right? How is that different from preparing for playing the infield or outfield?

Justin O'Conner: It's a lot different. Well I guess it's really not that much different, you still have to work out your legs and everything. There are certain things that I do - certain exercises - that are mainly for squatting and being in the squatting position for so long, just trying to get used to it.

Rays Digest: You were at Princeton last year with a lot of other top picks like Josh Sale and Drew Vettleson and Jake Hager. Have you guys kind of gotten a nice bond going together since you guys will be moving up through the system together?

Justin O'Conner: Yeah it's been fun. Its good playing with other guys that are good, I mean you can push each other. We're all friends; we are all pretty good teammates.

Rays Digest: Not to bring up a sore subject, but you had a little bit of a struggle hitting last year, specifically with striking out frequently. Do you think that the position change to catcher, trying to focus on that defensively has kind of hurt you a little bit in that area, or is there an area in your swing that you've been working on?

Justin O'Conner: I think that catching takes a little bit more focus, so it kind of takes away from my batting a little bit. I don't think that was why I struggled. I think more the reason that I struggled was me looking at my stats all the time and worrying about that. Just getting in my own head and not relaxing, just not going out and playing.

Rays Digest: I talked to Jim Holland, the Princeton Rays GM, and he said that the power is very real. You hit a couple of homeruns towards the end of the year that were no-doubters. Would you say that power and catching and throwing are probably the strengths of your game right now?

Justin O'Conner: I would say that right now, power is probably the best tool that I have when I'm hitting. I'm really striving to be more of a contact guy, because the power is there and I don't have to worry about it. I just need to focus on making contact with the ball.

Rays Digest: Is there anything in particular in your swing that you've been working on, or the coaching staff has been working on with you?

Justin O'Conner: Just trying to cut it down, not being so long, and getting quicker to the ball and swinging through it.

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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