TigsTown Q&A: Cale Iorg

It's been an interesting past few years for Cale Iorg, the highly-touted shortstop prospect of the Tigers. From a breakout freshman season at Alabama, to two years off, to injuries, to being hyped as a future All-Star by team general manager Dave Dombrowski, to a rough 2009. Mark Anderson spoke with Cale about it all.

TigsTown: I understand some belated congratulations are in order for you and your wife Kristin, with a new little Iorg on the way. So, congratulations! How does it feel?

Cale Iorg: Gosh, man, it feels amazing! It was a pretty big shock at first, obviously, but we are really, really excited about it. We were really happy!

TT: There are plenty of things to cover, so for the sake of continuity, let's start at the beginning. After your freshman year at Alabama, you left school to complete a two-year Mormon mission in Portugal. Many people with your ability and future career potential may have opted to skip that step and continue playing; despite their religious convictions. Was there ever any question whether or not you would be leaving Alabama?

CI: No. When I was in high school, as soon as it got serious with schools, I let everyone know that I'd be leaving on a mission after my first year. Everybody kind of knew that there was no chance I wasn't going to go.

TT: Can you describe for our readers what your mission entailed?

CI: My mission was two years, completely away. The only contact you have with your family is email once a week and we can talk on the phone every Christmas and Mother's Day. So for two years, you are really away from everything. You kind of go wherever they send you, wherever they need you. It was every single day of us getting up early in the morning, spending all day in the streets and in people's homes; pretty much just talking to anybody that I could about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what it means to my life, and what I know it could mean to someone else's life. Our main goal is to basically invite people to hear about the church, to hear about Jesus Christ and all the blessings the Heavenly Father wants us to receive in our lives.

TT: Were there any baseball activities at all while you were in Portugal?

CI: Not too much. It took about a year for me to write home to my Dad and ask him if he could send me out a couple of gloves and a ball. We had one day a week to ourselves, so once a week I would try to throw with a companion. I really didn't throw too much, probably only around ten times. Actually the last time I threw, the ball hit off the back window of a guys car and went down the hill into a bunch of bushes, and I never found my ball again, so that was the last time I threw.

TT: You had at least two options after being drafted, going back to college or signing with the Tigers. Can you walk me through the process from draft day until the time you signed on the dotted line?

CI: I was still actually in Portugal when my Dad called me that morning and told me that I had been drafted. I had about a month left on my mission. I got home about mid-July. Right away, one day I met with my agent. The next day I met with the coach from Alabama who drove up to Tennessee to try and get me to go back to Alabama. The next day, the coach from Arizona State was in my home trying to get me to go to Arizona State. In the end, I chose to go to Arizona State, but it was kind of a waiting game. I did a couple of workouts with David Chadd and a couple of scouts out in Arizona, and I guess they went well and I just waited for the deadline. They told me what the offer was, and it was a no-brainer for me to sign.

TT: You touched on it a little bit, Cale, but the announcement of your signing came right down to the August deadline. Were things in order for some time before that and the announcement was just held back, or did it really take until the last minute to finalize everything?

CI: It really did come down to the end. My agents went up there and spoke with David Chadd and everybody up there, and that was just a couple days before the signing deadline. Everything got ironed out literally at the end.

TT: You were able to get your feet wet with some time in Lakeland and then a brief stint in Hawaii, before you suffered a hamstring injury that shut you down until spring training 2008. How frustrating was it to get back on the field only to be hit by injuries?

CI: It was brutal! I don't think there could have been a worse way to try to get your career going and even get back in the swing of baseball. It wasn't what I was expecting. I hurt my hamstring back in Lakeland actually, and had a couple weeks off, then went to Hawaii, and I wasn't really worried. Even the Tigers thought Hawaii was a good opportunity, a good place to start. To only be out there for a little over a week was tough.

TT: Did that set a tone for your off-season that was a little demoralizing, or did it actually motivate you to work harder that off-season?

CI: I was motivated to begin with because of the situation. The offer that I got, I really had to go out there and prove that I was worth it. I was motivated in the first place, but for me, it slowed me down. I couldn't really do anything until my leg got better.

TT: What was the toughest part of your return to the field in 2007? Was it getting used to seeing live pitching, playing in the field, just getting used to the daily grind, or something else?

CI: It was definitely live pitching. From day one when I came off my mission, I felt normal in the infield and stuff like that. I felt a little slow obviously, but I felt normal. I already knew what to expect as far as baseball, the everyday stuff, travel and such. It was just playing; that was the hardest part. To be there and set such high expectations for myself, that was probably not really realistic for my situation. You want to do well, but it's kind of hard to tell myself, ‘Well, you were gone for two years.'

TT: When I was talking with Garrett Guest earlier this summer, he mentioned one thing that really struck me and I'm curious as to your thoughts on this. He mentioned that we can't treat you like a normal 22- or 23-year old prospect. With that two years away, it's really two years of lost developmental time, and we have to look at you more like a 19- or 20-year old prospect, and harbor your expectations accordingly. Do you think that is a fair assessment, or do you look at it differently?

CI: I think that's accurate. Most players my age, if they go to college, the sophomore and junior years are huge years in college. I had friends when I was in college, that from their sophomore to junior years was just a huge progression year for them, and they just went off. To not be able to have that time, especially where I was at in Alabama, I was going to face some really good competition. When that stops – I mean 100% just stops – and then I come home and I'm expected to be where those guys that are my age, where they are at. I think it's fair to say that I'm obviously not like my actual age in baseball.

TT: When I speak with scouts about your abilities on the field, they can't stop talking about your defensive wizardry. Talk me through what you feel makes you a quality defender and where you feel you can still improve with the glove.

CI: I think what makes me a quality defender is just going back to something that you're taught when you're young; just expect that every single pitch is going to be a ball hit to you. I take that one step further. I think that every single pitch, I'm going to get to make an unbelievable play. So I think I'm always ready to go to my right, or go to my left and make a diving play. I always think the ball is going to come to me, but I always think its going to have to be a great play. I think that's what gives me the edge. To get better – I know I'm not perfect – I think the throws; taking my time a little more when I do have time because sometimes I do rush myself and it leads to errors or bobbles and maybe a bad throw. Really knowing the speed of the runner is going to help me a lot to cut down on my errors.

TT: On the other side of the coin, most scouts see potential but not yet the results with the bat. When I spoke with your AFL manager, Kevin Bradshaw, he talked about many changes the organization was trying to get you to make with your stance, load, and swing. Can you explain to our readers what exactly you are trying to change?

CI: That's such a tough question because there are so many things. It kind of went, I need to spread out more, I need to get more legs in my swing, I need to stand up taller, get your weight back, don't get your weight back, just so many things that were thrown out there. They were obviously all thrown out there to try and help me, so I don't want to make it seem like it hindered me or hurt me in any way. Having a consistent approach at the plate or a consistent batting stance, this year, it just wasn't there. I think that's what KB is talking about. It was a lot of suggestions, and I took those suggestions because I respect those guys a lot, but at the same time you have to figure it out yourself too. They can't do everything for you.

TT: Do you feel you made progress with the changes while you were in Arizona?

CI: No, I was lucky. Gary Ward was out there in Arizona, and he's a really good hitting coach, I liked him a lot. He taught a lot of the basics and didn't get caught up in the stance or anything like that. I did find something that I really do like, and I do feel comfortable. I think towards the very end, I went up there with the same exact approach every time. I have what I think will work now and what feels comfortable. I feel like I can keep that, and now I can go about the small things that every hitter has to do, and not worry about the stuff in between.

TT: When I've spoken with guys like Andy Barkett and many of the opposing coaches in the Florida State and Eastern Leagues the last two years, they praise you for your ability to compartmentalize your offense and your defense. How difficult is it to avoid taking any frustrations you may have at the plate, into the field with you?

CI: I just figure that they are two such different parts of the game. A player can really help his team win just by being a good defensive player, if he's not swinging the bat well. I can play that game. That's my staple, that's what I know I'm there for. For me it's not like I really have to force myself to leave that aside, its kind of second nature. If you're not going to get it done with the bat today, then you better make the plays in the field to make sure your team can stay ahead. It's pretty simple for me, and I think it's important to know right away that those are two different parts of the game, and if you can't do one, then you better do the other.

TT: As a result of what we've talked about the last few questions, what are you planning to focus on in your off-season workouts?

CI: I want to work out a lot, to try to get stronger and stuff. I just want to do a lot of hitting stuff. I can obviously work with my Dad. My Dad knows my swing better than anybody out there, so work with him and just really try to get my work in – get good work in. It's not all about how many times I go, or how many swings I get when I get there; it's just being consistent with what I do when I'm there. My whole off-season is to prepare for spring training. Whether I go to big league camp again, I don't know yet, but if I do, then I want to be prepared to play like people have said I can play.

TT: As you may know, you are probably one of, if not the most talked about prospect in the Tigers organization. That is in no small part, due to Dave Dombrowski's statements last winter that you would be an All-Star shortstop in the future. How much pressure did that put on you, and how did that statement alter your approach to the 2009 season?

CI: Those words along didn't put much pressure on me. But like I said, I think I got a little ahead of myself. I got looking too far into the future and didn't take care of the now. I think that kind of hurt me in big league camp because I thought I was going to do so much better, and I had such high expectations for myself, and I didn't really take care of now. That's a learning thing for me; to learn to take care of each and every day as it comes. You can't worry about what the end result might be. You're never going to get the end result you want if you can't do it each day along the way. I've just got to take care of today.

TT: If you don't mind, let's talk a little about the 2009 season. I feel pretty comfortable saying it didn't turn out quite as you had hoped. In your mind, what happened?

CI: Not even close to how I had hoped it would go. It was a slow start, and a slower finish. I started off slow, and it seemed like I could never get my head above water. I would have a couple of bad games, then a couple of good games. You're kind of waiting for those good days, and when they come you think this is it, I've got it. Then I'd come back to the park after two or three good games in a row, and it wouldn't feel like it was there. I'd be going through BP and stuff, and be wondering what the heck happened overnight. I could never get myself back to where I wanted. It was a hole I really couldn't get out of. It was a tough, tough year, and it was tough to swallow. Like you said, it's definitely not anything like what I thought would happen. I knew struggles were going to happen, but I never expected struggles like that. I'm honestly happy that they did. I feel like I'm a mentally stronger person and player now, because with the Arizona Fall League and what I was able to do at the end, I can climb out of it. I know I'm better than what I showed! I can do it!

TT: As the season goes along, and things continue to be a struggle as they appeared to be in 2009, how do you cope with that?

CI: Stay positive. It's cliché to say that, but you really have to stay positive and take one day at a time. I think to go back to an earlier question, to do well on defense, helped me so much. It helped to stay positive about the rest of the game. I don't know, you just have to cope with it. You have to stay strong and just believe in yourself.

TT: From your vantage point, were there any bright spots this past year?

CI: Yeah, I think there were definitely bright spots. I definitely had bright spots. I hit twelve home runs, so there are twelve bright spots! I feel like every time I played New Hampshire, I swung the bat well. There were times that I swung the bat well and it felt really good. I couldn't always pinpoint why, but there were times when it felt really good.

TT: One more question about 2009, but not focused on you. For much of the year, Scott Sizemore was your double-play partner. The Tigers decided not to offer arbitration to Placido Polanco [Tuesday], clearing room for Scott to take the second base job in Detroit. Can you give me your assessment of Scott and how you think he'll do in Detroit in 2010?

CI: I think he's going to do awesome! Scott is such a good player. He's a great athlete. He's a strong kid. He can run. He can do anything that you want, and more. He's an average guy, but this year he proved he's got some power too. He's a beginning to the middle of the order hitter. He's going to drive in runs and have great at-bats. That was the thing that impressed me most about Scott this year; he can put together good at-bat after good at-bat. I can go up there and in three pitches I'm sitting in the dugout with a strikeout, and he'll go up there and have great at-bats one after another. Scott is going to do just fine. He's going to be a really, really good player for a long time for Detroit.

TT: One thing that comes under constant scrutiny is the idea that you have good bloodlines because both your father and your uncle played professionally. For those that may not think that matters much, how do you feel that has contributed to your ability to develop as a player, and can it continue to help you?

CI: I know it has helped me in the fact that my Dad was able to bring me to the park and just let me run around. I think people kind people kind of think that me and my Dad sat in the film room and just studied baseball all day. That's not true at all. He didn't help me with baseball until I was a junior in high school, when he was finally around. My time spent with my Dad was running around at the ball park, shagging balls and taking batting practice. It helped me to just know the game and learn to really, really love the game and appreciate what it is. That's been the biggest advantage from my Dad and my uncle playing. It hasn't made me a great baseball player, but it's really made me appreciate the game and love it as something for me, and not just because my Dad played. I think that will always help me. It will help me every single day to go to the ball park and have fun because I have such great memories at the baseball field. My Dad still coaching, I think that will help me, because he is so knowledgeable about the game, and he's such a good coach, and a good mentor for me.

TT: There isn't a top notch athlete in the world that doesn't have personal goals. What are some of yours for the upcoming season?

CI: My first goal is – and it was the same exact goal I went into this year with and I failed miserably – to cut down my strikeouts, and to put the ball in play. That's my number one goal wherever I play this year. I just want to make contact, to quit striking out, and have good at-bats. Obviously there's not one player in the minor leagues that doesn't want to play in the big leagues. I want to play in the big leagues, and I want to have my play force people to move me along because of the way I'm playing.

TT: Any final thoughts for our readers on things we may not have touched upon, or things that you may really want to get out there?

CI: I think my final word is that people should never count me out. I think I'm going to surprise people. Everybody that believes in me, I think I'm going to prove them right. What Dave Dombrowski said about me last year, I'm going to prove him right. I'm going to make the Tigers look really smart for what they did with me off my mission. Everybody else that doesn't believe in me or isn't in my corner, I would never bet against me as a baseball player.

TigsTown would like to congratulate Cale and his wife Kristin on the wonderful news that they are expecting their first child and we would like to thank him for taking time out of his busy off-season schedule to speak with us. We wish him the best of luck as he prepares for the 2010 season, and we look forward to seeing him back on the field soon!

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