Now a tutor to his younger teammates as an elder statesman on the Trenton Thunder, David Shepard takes a much different perspective than what he once had as a dominating 22 year old righty out of Clemson University. Drafted in the 3rd round by the Cincinnati Reds in 1996, Shepard was a highly touted young arm in their farm system. He came out of a Clemson program that ended up in the College World Series that also included Billy Koch and Kris Benson. But, things did just not pan out early for Shepard. Through pain in his right arm and after bouncing around in the Reds organization for a few seasons, he was released. Some young players would just quit right then and there, but if he did quit, what kind of story could he tell? The answer is not a very long one.
Shepard continued to chase his dream by catching on with the Independent Newark Bears in 2001. According to Shepard, that is when his arm soreness subsided and he began to pitch brilliantly. It was there that he met up with some of his biggest influences, also known as the great ones of yesteryear and the "never was beens" of baseball. There, he added to his list of people met on his quest through a baseball life to meet his ultimate goal. Among the characters in his story are Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens, "The King" Jim Leyritz and one of the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco. They sound like characters in a fictional story but the fact is they were all part of David Shepard's maintenance of his determination to stay with the game and eventually find a happy ending to his story. Find out more about a baseball life that is suddenly on the resurgence at an age where most might throw in the towel.
PinstripesPlus: When you were drafted in the third round, by the Reds, what did they see for you in their future?
David Shepard: Yeah, I was supposed to go in the first round of the 1995 draft but I hurt my elbow in May of my junior year at Mansfield (Pa) University. It's a Division 2 school near my hometown of Hornell, NY. So I didn't go until the 15th round that year with Oakland. and since I was hurt they didn't offer anything and I just had to wait and see if it got better.
PP: So, where did you go from there?
DS: I went to the Olympic trials that fall and talked to Kris Benson. That's how I ended up at Clemson
We went to the College World Series that year (1996). It was fun. I went 2 of the 3 years at Mansfield as well. Both programs were considered elite at the time.
PP: From the stats, it looks like you had a pretty good year at Clemson
in 1996. Did you relieve there?
DS: Yes, I was closing, but there weren't a lot of save opportunities.
We were beating teams by more than 3 runs, and the starters were throwing
complete games every other game. We had Kris Benson, Billy Koch and Ken Vining that year.
All 3 were studs that season.
PP: Is that what the Reds saw you as, a potential closer?
DS: They just wanted to see me get healthy and pitch like
I had in Cape Cod in the summer of 1994. That's what put me on the map. I came out of nowhere that summer and was unhittable
PP: So were you looked at by scouts at all in High School?
DS: Not really actually.
The area I came from was not scouted heavily, and I didn't really get an opportunity to pitch
a lot until my senior year of high school. I had a super senior year, but it was too late by then.
But, I don't think I projected as a prospect my senior year. I was the same
height as I am now, but only weighed 160 pounds.
PP: Now, describe your first year or so in pro ball.
You began in Billings, in the Pioneer League, right?
DS: Yes, the scout that drafted me showed up in Clemson out of the blue one day after I got back from the College World Series. He asked if I could meet him right now. So I did, we talked for a few hours and hammered out a deal, I signed that same day. I went back home to NY for about a week and then left for Billings. It was the worst team I have ever played on! I think our record was 23-49. I would say less than half the guys even made it to spring training the following year.
PP: What was your role
that season for Billings?
DS: I was a starter in every game but one I think. The last game of the year, I threw 2 innings of relief, but started the rest.
PP: So, what do you think happened in those first few seasons? You experienced very little success for such a high draft choice. Was it lack of adjustment or just not doing what you were capable of?
DS: My arm HURT! It was never right when I was with the Reds. Just look at my numbers since the 2000 season. My walks have always been down, it's just that I gave up so many hits the first three years. I was only throwing 87-90 then, and no life because it was maximum effort.
PP: What types of
pitches do you have in your repertoire?
DS: I have a two and a four
seam fastball. Also, a curve, a slider and a changeup.
PP: Do you think that
you have a deep enough repertoire to start if you needed to?
DS: Yeah, I am actually going to Venezuela in November and I think I would like to start
there. I did that 2 years ago down there. I haven't started since 2002 though.
But, I like it and think that it's easier actually.
PP: You are a free agent
this year. What do you think your chances are of staying with the Yankees next
DS: I am going to test the free agent market.
I become on officially on October 16th. I think I could pitch in the MLB
too, but it's just not going to happen with the Yankees unfortunately. I went to big league camp this past spring and thought I was going to get an opportunity to finally pitch in front of the big boys and show them what
I had but one inning was all I got.
PP: Do you agree with what Aaron Rifkin had to say in an interview earlier this year about his frustration with the Yankees and how they handle their Farm System?
DS: To some degree I do, but he has to understand that this is the New York Yankees, not the Expos or the Brewers.
PP: Has there been any guys that have passed you by in the system that you think you could easily outdo in the MLB?
DS: I would have to say by far the biggest joke I have seen is Jose Acevedo for the Reds. I played with him, he was in a ball for 6 years. Then finally went to AA. And they called him up that year after like 6 starts and now he's been up and down for like 3 years. He's terrible!
PP: Now, when you file for free agency, will you be looking more so for a team you can get to the MLB
with or for a team that will offer more money?
DS: Definitely, a team that I feel I have the best opportunity of making their big league club.
Either out of spring camp or shortly into the season from AAA. No more AA for
me. I can tell you that. I have plenty left in the tank. I'm throwing as well as I ever
I just need to catch a break and be ready to perform when it comes. It may only happen once, and I have to take advantage of it by having success from the start.
PP: Someone else in your boat is Colter Bean.
What do you think about him?
DS: Yeah, he deserves a shot. He makes right handed hitters look foolish. He could be a right handed specialist. He is very hard to hit. His slider is nasty.
PP: Speaking of specialists, what do you think of Ben Julianel against lefties?
DS: He's very good. He'll be
in Trenton next year. He's got good stuff and he is a good competitor.
PP: Do you think the
organization has to challenge players more, maybe promote more aggressively?
DS: I think they need to concentrate
more on developing individual players more than they do now, rather than worrying about winning at every level.
It seems like they always make moves during the season to strengthen the strong teams and forget about the weak ones.
They put all the eggs in one basket with their better prospects, overlooking several good players in the process.
PP: What went wrong with Ferdin Tejeda this year?
DS: He's going to be fine.
He started out in a slump and didn't get out of it fast enough for them. And to be honest, they didn't have the
right field personnel there to help him out. Just look at the younger guys who were there for the first
time. They all struggled.
PP: Did you know they eventually released him though?
He is in the Padres organization now.
DS: Wow, I didn't know
that. That was a stupid move. He went to big league camp for crying out loud.
PP: who do you think, of your teammates this year, has the best hitting and pitching futures?
DS: I totally see Justin Pope pitching in the big leagues.
He's very smart. He has 3 pitches he can throw for strikes. He is probably going to
be a good 4 or 5 starter. He had surgery last year. His velocity will be back next season, watch.
PP: What about Matt DeSalvo?
DS: I didn't see enough of him, plus he was hurt when
I did see him. He has a nasty changeup though. Chien-Ming Wang should pitch in
the Majors someday too.
PP: Did you notice how great he was in AAA this year?
DS: Yeah, I got called up for the playoffs and saw him pitch vs. Richmond. He was dealing until he pulled his hamstring fielding a bunt. He'll be fine.
PP: Who was the best hitting prospect you saw?
DS: Andy Phillips was the best hitter.
Mitch Jones has the best power. Kevin Reese is the most underrated hitter. Kevin Thompson has all the physical tools. He is just lacking the mental side of it right now.
Andy Cannizaro is a scrappy, gamer. He could make it.
PP: So after your career ends, hopefully years and years from now, do you have any coaching or scouting desires?
DS: I would like to scout I
think, maybe coach.
DS: Both are very good, not ready for the big leagues yet.
PP: How are Dioner Navarro's catching skills?
DS: He is average overall.
He has a good arm, quick release. His blocking needs improvement. His game calling
needs work as well. He needs to toughen up back there too. He is very soft for a catcher.
PP: What do you think of Stump Merrill maybe being fired this year?
DS: He probably won't be
fired fired. Just probably off the field. He'll be an advisor to the Boss probably.
PP: What is Trenton like as a baseball city?
DS: It is a very nice stadium, good fans, nice place to play
but the city is not so nice.
PP: Now, some people are real down on Sean Henn.
Do you think he'll be back to his old self next year?
DS: He'll be fine. He will bounce back next
year. He just needs to figure his off speed pitches out. His arm is recovered.
He's not throwing a 100 mph but he is sitting at 90-94 mph. He has a good sinker.
PP: What do you want to improve upon for next year?
DS: I want to figure out how
I can get left handed hitters out as well as I get right handed hitters out
PP: You had trouble with
lefties this year?
DS: Righties batted only
.190. Lefties batted .280 off me. .220 overall.
PP: Which pitches are the lefties hitting well?
DS: I have to pitch inside more effectively vs. lefties with my fastball. They cheat on my sinker out over the plate. I gave up 3 hr's this year in 70 innings. 2 by lefties. 1 by a righty.
PP: Which player were you most impressed with overall this year?
DS: Kevin Reese. We were roommates
this year. Did you see what his combined numbers were between AA and AAA? He had
50 doubles, 166 hits, batted over .300, 97 runs, 68 RBI, 7 triples and 14 home
PP: You were teammates with Brad Halsey last year. Were you surprised by his success and what do you think of him in general?
DS: He is a good pitcher.
He actually surprised me how well he did this year though. He doesn't have
electric stuff but he battles through.
PP: Who were your idols growing up?
DS: Doc Gooden and David Cone were my two favorites. I was a Mets fan growing up.
PP: You spent two
seasons with the Newark Bears. What was that experience like?
DS: It was good. 2001 was fun. There were lots of ex-big leaguers that season. I learned quite a bit from them. Jose Canseco was there, Jim Leyritz, Jack Armstrong, Jaime Navarro, Hensley Meulens, Alonzo Powell, Reggie Harris. I learned a lot from those guys.
You can't find a nicer guy than David Shepard and you can only root for him to one day meet his goal of making it to the big show. As he said, he's got a lot left in his tank. He's always had that extra fire to succeed and maybe that is just why he can meet his goal even at this stage of his career while others would falter. Now, what an influence that could be down the road to a young player looking for guidance. He could take one of many different roles as his career drifts on powered by his dream. He may not be back with the Yankees next year but wherever he goes, that team will know they will get everything Shepard has to offer and more. How will this Baseball Tale end? If it is up to David Shepard, it will end up only one way and one way only, get to the Major Leagues or go out trying.
PinstripesPlus.com would like to thank David Shepard for taking the time to answer these questions and wish him the best of luck in his career.