TigsTown: What's the off-season consisted of and what are you doing to get ready for spring training?
Nolan Cain: When I first got back I took about a month off. Then I started throwing around December, just to get my arm going. I was a free agent signing, so I need to go in there and give them every excuse to keep me around. I think that's the approach I've always taken. I don't want to show up ill-prepared, you know. I want to be able to give it everything I've got. As a free agent signing, you've got to realize that you're fortunate to just be there.
TT: Speaking of you signing as a free agent, were you surprised that you weren't drafted last June?
NC: I had a shoulder injury early on in the season, so I missed about the first five weeks of play. I pretty much came back right into SEC play, and my velocity was down, and I wasn't throwing great. It was starting off to be a pretty bad year, but I'd say about half way through, I got my arm speed back and kind of took off from there. I had a lot of catching up to do though. It kind of stunk not getting drafted, but I was pretty sure I would get an opportunity to sign as a free agent. We won the National Championship, and the next morning one of the scouts from Detroit called me and asked me if I wanted to keep playing!
TT: What did you know about the Tigers organization prior to signing last year?
NC: I knew they had a great tradition. I was always a big Cardinals fan, and I knew about Detroit, that they are a great organization. I'm just happy they gave me an opportunity to keep playing.
TT: After you signed last year, you started out in the GCL, and you moved around a bit, and suddenly you surfaced and kept pitching well in Double-A. What kind of a shock was it for you to get to one of the advanced levels last year and really get an opportunity to show what you were capable of?
NC: It was unbelievable! Going in, I knew I was just going to have to work my way up, and my first goal was just to get out of rookie ball. Looking at all the teams they had, my goal was just to try and get to short-season or low-A. I moved up across the street and the coaches were awesome. I just listened to them, and they told me to throw my fastball, so I threw my fastball and started developing a little bit of a sinker. That helped me get a lot of early groundball outs. The college game and the pro game are different, and I just needed to listen to them. I've always tried to be coachable and just listen to them. Getting the call to go to Double-A was actually kind of crazy. All my college teammates that got drafted like Jared Mitchell, and Sean Ochinko were like ‘Holy crap! You're on the fast track!' when I got moved up to High-A. Sure enough, like two days later, E-Z called me and told me to pack my bags because I was going to Erie. It's weird, when you get a call from somebody like that as a free agent guy, you think you might be out the door. I wasn't really expecting I was going to get cut, but getting pulled up to Double-A was the last thing I was thinking.
TT: You mentioned the differences between the pro game and college game, but what were the biggest adjustments you had to make to continue getting outs consistently at the pro level?
NC: In college I was throwing 87-90, and you've got to mix in a lot of sliders and change-ups and stuff. I couldn't really tell, but the pitching coaches kept telling me I had a good fastball and that I needed to use it more. They wanted me to throw that as much as I could. That was a big adjustment for me. In college, in a 1-1 or 0-1 count, I might have thrown a slider or something, but there they were telling me to throw fastballs. It's the whole difference between the metal and wood bat.
TT: Let's talk a little bit about your college career and what you were able to experience. LSU is a tremendous program, and you were there both before and after the arrival of Coach Mainieri.
NC: I pitched my first year under Smoke Laval, and then Coach Mainieri came in and we just took off from there. It was amazing just being a part of it. When you come to LSU, you're immediately thinking you're going to Omaha multiple times, and you're probably going to win one. You're expecting to go. At LSU, it's Omaha, or bust. It's unbelievable to play in that environment. It was amazing to go to Omaha that first time, and then when we got back there the second year, we really knew we were going to win it! As cocky as that sounds, we just knew. When we went there the first time, we didn't realize how many directions you are getting pulled in; people want tickets, you've got to go the opening ceremonies, it's a lot more than you expect. Every time you get off the bus, you've got hundreds of people asking for autographs, and you're not expecting any of that. When we got back there the second time, we knew what we had to do, and we just took care of business.
TT: You mentioned a lot of the guys that were your teammates; guys like Mitchell, Ochinko, Ryan Schimpf, DJ Lemahieu, I mean you guys just had a loaded roster! What was it like to play with that much talent around you and just know that come draft day, what seems like half the team is going to have their names announced?
NC: I lived with Sean and Blake Dean, and they both got drafted. Schimpf got a call in the fifth. You knew those guys were going to get drafted, there was no doubt. We had all worked so hard to that point. I was so excited and so happy for those guys!
TT: Charlie Furbush is another LSU alum in the organization, and you had a chance to play with him a bit in Lakeland. What can you tell our readers about your impressions of him as a pitcher, from your vantage point?
NC: This was his first year back after Tommy John surgery, and I've had that myself. That's a tough year back on the mound. My first year back I couldn't really control my ball well. He seemed to have it all together while I was there. He's a big lefty with a lot of talent, and I thought he looked awesome when I was there. It was really nice having a familiar face to help me get comfortable when I first go there.
TT: The last college related question, you had the chance to pitch at both the old and the new Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge. Obviously the ‘Old Box' is one of the most historic and most treasured stadiums in all of college baseball, but what were some of the differences between the two parks?
NC: The ‘Old Box' had character! You see the videos of all the big plays and big hits and pitches that have been made in the program's history, and those all happened in the ‘Old Box.' The atmosphere is just unreal there. It's kind of like a football game with the level of noise. Ochinko came up in a big spot against UC Irvine a couple of years ago, and it was so loud in there that when he walked up to bat, he said his helmet was rattling. The new one is first class. That's the only way you can describe it. You can't even put into words what that's like for a college facility. Its just a matter of making memories for all the new classes coming in behind us in the ‘New Box.'
TT: I think we can safely say you broke the new stadium in the right way!
TT: Wrapping things up here, what type of goals have you set for yourself in 2010?
NC: I want to start off at the highest level I can, and just ensure that I keep working hard and proving myself. Last year was kind of different. I wanted to get in and make a name for myself, and now I want to go back and just keep that name. Obviously the big goal is to make it to the Major Leagues, but that's going to take time. I just have to keep working, and maybe that will happen.
TigsTown would like to thank Nolan for taking time out of his off-season preparations to speak with us about his debut season and his college career. We wish him the best of luck as he starts his second season in the organization, and look forward to seeing him continue climbing the Tigers minor league ladder!