TigsTown: We'll start with signing with the Tigers last year. One of the questions and comments I get from readers sometimes is that signing out of the Indy leagues is a bit different route to take to the Major Leagues. Far more people are drafted or signed out of foreign countries. What do you have to say about taking a little bit different route to get to affiliated ball?
Mike LaLuna: To be honest with you, I had to because I was never really a pitcher in college. I pitched here and there, with a few starts my senior year, and I got in front of a couple of scouts who weren't sure they wanted to take a chance on a guy who hadn't thrown that much. For me to get to the next level any way I could, it was easier for me to go out there and pitch in the Independent leagues. So, I went to a showcase that was in Detroit actually, held by Nick Belmonte; he's an Indy pro scout. He set me up with a team called the Sussex Skyhawks, and I played my summer with them. We actually won the whole championship in the Can-Am League, and it was a great time. I didn't really know if I would be picked up right away or if I would have to play another season to make it to affiliated ball, but fortunately I did well enough that I was able to open some eyes.
TT: Were the Tigers the only team that showed a significant amount of interest, or were there other teams knocking on your door?
ML: I know Boston was coming down to the games, and I heard that Kansas City, but I'm not sure about that.
TT: So the Tigers were really the only one to come to you with a contract offer then?
TT: Like you said, you played for the Sussex Skyhawks in the Can-Am League last year. You turned in a nice regular season and you guys went on to the championship. You came right out of college, and the first chance you get you win a championship, how did that feel?
ML: It was unbelievable! I've heard some stories of guys that play Independent league, or maybe in other affiliated leagues, and they never get a chance to win a championship, and I did it my first year in professional baseball. It couldn't get any better than that situation. It was just unbelievable; a great group of guys to play with, I learned a lot from those guys. I'm glad we were able to put it all together at the end.
TT: I talked to a few coaches in the Can-Am league after the Tigers signed you, just trying to get the opposing coaches view of you as a pitcher, and a couple of them mentioned that you really seemed to step it up in the playoffs. I looked it up online, the 1.17 ERA, 12 strikeouts in only seven innings and change; did you just hit a hot streak there, did something new click, or do you see yourself as a big game pitcher?
ML: I guess it was just the atmosphere of the games and the intensity you have to bring to a playoff game. That really got me going. I felt better in the last two weeks of the season than I had all summer. I guess I have to owe it to the atmosphere of getting ready to go win a championship.
TT: I've tried to relay what the coaches and scouts have said about you to our readers, but if you had to describe yourself as a pitcher, how would you do that?
ML: I would say that I'm very confident on the mound. You'll never see me lose my head. I thrive off other people's chanting and trying to get into my head. It just makes me concentrate more and allows me to focus a little bit better. I even amps me up at times. I like to make sure I am controlling the game. I have a very smooth motion to the plate. My control had been good all summer, and I'd say it's pretty decent overall. I live off throwing first pitch strikes.
TT: That sounds like it should fit in with the new Pitching Coach in Detroit, Rick Knapp. That's part of his mantra. It sounds like that is what he is going to try and preach throughout the organization, so you should fit in well.
TT: Do you think the mentality that you described really lends well to pitching at the back end of games, or do you have visions of getting yourself into a rotation at some point?
ML: It doesn't matter to me. Whatever they see that I fit best is fine with me. I know that if they wanted to turn me into a starting pitcher and get me into a rotation, I could do it. The only reason that I did become a reliever right away was because I didn't have the endurance at first to come in and pitch six or seven innings strong. I hadn't trained myself to last that long throwing consistently at 90 mph, so the relief position was best for me.
TT: Let's talk about your time at New York Institute of Technology. Your last year there you were a shortstop, team captain, and you took home several awards. Can you talk about your highlights and just what you thought about the whole Division-I college experience?
ML: I was fortunate enough to get in my freshman year and play right away. I was a third baseman that year, and I played there my sophomore year as well. Just to be able to get into a Division-I school and start right away was huge for me. A lot of people don't get a chance to do that, and I think that can actually hurt you as a player. Just to get in there and start and to be able to be in every game, it was easier for me to do that as a freshman. That is one of the reasons I went to New York Institute of Technology for baseball. I still miss it. I still go down to the practices and work out with the guys once in a while. We had a great group of guys. We lived off campus with three awesome roommates. College is such a fun time, especially when you are playing sports. At New York Tech we had a great schedule every year. We did a lot of traveling; two or three plane trips. I know this year they are going down to West Palm Beach for about ten days which is something I never got a chance to do. It was always a four a five day trip, so things are getting better. I know that next year they are going to be in a conference with all the independent teams, so it should be easier for them to get an NCAA bid.
TT: It sounds like you had an excellent all-around experience.
ML: Yes, it was fantastic!
TT: Looking at the 2009 season with the Tigers organization, what have you been doing to get ready for spring training?
ML: Since I back from Independent ball, at the end of September, I got hooked up with a trainer here. His name is John Furia. He is one of the best sports specific training specialists we have on Long Island, and there are tons of pro guys going to him, along with a lot of college athletes. I've been training with him since September, and I can't wait to get down to Florida and get into some warm air. I've been throwing since the beginning of December, and I'm actually starting to get into my bullpen work now. Its been a lot strength building, and right now its more into maintenance by slowing down everything with lighter reps. I've been keeping my running up, and just trying to stay in shape as I get ready to head down there.
TT: How has the preparation for the upcoming season differed from your preparation for the college season, or when you were preparing for the Can-Am League?
ML: I've really had a better understanding of what my body needs. I take care of my arm a lot more. I do a lot of rotator cuff exercises and other shoulder exercises that I never did before as a shortstop. Its been a lot of concentrating on my shoulder, and really strengthening my legs in a lot different way than I had in the past. You've also got to make sure you rest. A lot of kids think they have to work out seven days a week. That's not the case. You have to give your body rest, and take care of anything that is wrong before it gets bigger and you're out for two weeks. I've really been able to take a calm approach to working out this year, while also making sure I'm getting everything done that I need to.
TT: Has the organization given you any indication where you might head to start the season, or where you might be in competition to head?
ML: When I signed the contract they had listed my team as the Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps. So, I'm assuming that I'll be practicing with the Low-A team, but there is no definitive answer right now. I'm sure it will come down to how I perform in spring training.
TT: What kind of goals have you set for yourself in the 2009 season?
ML: My first goal once I get down to spring training is just to do the best I can, and hopefully make that Low-A team. I want to continue to have success early in the season. I don't want to feel the pressure of failure early on, and then have to rush to make up for that within my first season of playing affiliated ball. Coming out of the Independent leagues and trying to compare myself to someone who is a higher prospect than me, I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to go out there and give whatever I have in myself and be the best that I can be.
TT: As I mentioned before the interview started, we'll close by giving you the floor and allowing you to talk about anything we may not have touched on in the interview that you want to get out there to our readers.
ML: It's been unbelievable how the Independent leagues are getting a lot more notoriety. There is a lot of good talent in the Independent leagues, and the scouts need to get out there and look more, and check out those teams. There really are a lot of good players out there that I believe are being overlooked. I think you could probably get a lot more guys coming each year from these Independent leagues that could have a pretty good impact on your club.
TigsTown would like to thank Mike for taking time out of his offseason schedule to speak with us about his collegiate experience, his path through the Indy leagues, and his upcoming 2009 season. We wish him the best of luck as he debuts with the Tigers organization!