TigsTown: Congrats on signing – how does it feel to be a pro ballplayer?
Jeff Kunkel: It's exciting; it has always been a dream of mine to be a professional ballplayer, it's just an incredibly exciting time.
TT: You became the first signee of this year's class – did you give any consideration to signing and not returning to Michigan for your final year?
JK: I did think about it, but basically my decision came down to going back to school and trying to win a championship. My whole motivation for coming back, was that I have this opportunity, I thought if I came back we could win the Big Ten, and I ended up getting the best of both worlds; we did win the Big Ten, and I still got the opportunity to sign with the Tigers.
TT: You led the team to both the regular season and tournament Big 10 Championships – how great of an accomplishment was that considering where the team was four years ago?
JK: It's huge – the team has just gotten so much better every year, Coach Maloney has played a huge part in the turnaround obviously, but it's been everyone. The players were very committed, had a great work ethic, everything has been raised.
TT: What do you think about the future for the club, and is there one player in particular that stood out to you?
JK: The future is very bright considering all the young pitchers we have, all the innings they gave us. Pretty solid lineup coming back, the team will be great. Chris Fetter stepped up for us this year, Adam Abraham and of course Zach Putnam, just so many great guys, I can't really pick or put it on one person. The real thing about it was we really were a team, did whatever we could, whatever we needed to, play defense late in the game, hit in a different spot in the order, switch positions in the middle of a game, whatever we had to do – that's what separated us from previous years, no superstars really, just a ton of hard-working kids.
TT: What have been your first impressions of pro ball down in Lakeland?
JK: It's a little different, just trying to fit in with the guys – learning pro baseball, making the switch to wood bats, learning the system, what they do that might be different from college, just listening to what they have to say. All of the coaches here have so much pro ball experience, they know what they're doing, so I'm just trying to soak up whatever they can pass along me.
TT: Has anyone that you've been practicing with thus far particularly impressed you?
JK: Right now I'm still trying to learn everyone's name (laughs). The higher picks are just getting in now. They're here for a reason and earned that right, but really, everyone's so good. I mean back in high school you might have a guy or two that just kinda stuck out as not belonging, but here it's obvious that everyone has earned the right to be here and belongs.
TT: Has the organization given you any indication yet as to where you'll start playing this season (GCL, Oneonta, etc.)?
JK: No not yet, you really don't know – for those going to New York, they're going to have to start driving out this weekend, so pretty much we'll be finding out real soon. When we first got here just the new guys were working out together, but this week; Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday we've been all together with the guys in extended spring training for intrasquad full workouts, everyone out playing; really just like a mini spring training.
TT: Do you have any goals that you hope to accomplish in your first year?
JK: Just have a good season, I've already had quite a few at bats, so I just want to stick with my approach and hope things go well for me. And of course, keep playing good defense, so if I'm not swinging the bat well, I'll still be helping the club.
TT: What specifically do you enjoy most about catching vs. playing another position in the field?
JK: Oh, well you're just so much more involved in the game, calling pitches, interacting with pitchers and umpires, as opposed to playing first base or DH'ing, where you just don't get that involved. Just being able to work with guys, coaches seeing what I see, getting their feedback, I'm just a lot more comfortable back there.
TT: What's your ultimate goal as far as being a baseball player is concerned?
JK: Well, my dream is pretty much like every little kid's dream, just want to make it to the big leagues. And hopefully with a lot of hard work I can maybe get there one day.