Q&A with Jason Stephens

PinstripesPlus.com sits down with Staten Island starter Jason Stephens for a Q&A session to talk about beginning the year in Extended Spring Training, what was going wrong for him before the start of the 2005 season, where he thinks he'll begin the 2006 season, which of his Staten Island teammates does he think have the highest upsides, which player is the best 'sleeper' prospect, and more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Talk about your season this past year. What are your thoughts on your season?

Jason Stephens: This past year I started the season on a bad note. I began the year in Extended Spring Training and I didn't have a great Extended. But towards the end, I was able to put some things together and then Coach Thurman in Staten Island helped me build on that and I really improved. I got stronger as the year went on. For me, I was able to throw a lot of innings and I didn't have any serious injuries, and that is always one of your top goals for any year. I was part of another championship team so really, it couldn't have gone any better for me.

PinstripesPlus: You mention you didn't have a great Extended Spring Training. There was some speculation before the season began that you'd be in Charleston. Did your struggles start in regular Spring Training?

Stephens: No, not really. I didn't have a bad Spring Training. I just didn't show up in mid-season form or have mid-season stuff. So when I went to Extended, I didn't feel good with my mechanics. But I was able to fix some things and I went to Staten Island with better stuff and mechanics.

PinstripesPlus: What specifically were the mechanical problems you had in Spring Training?

Stephens: There were a lot of little things, but mainly I was tilting backwards with my upper body and it was taking away from my direction with the ball to home plate. It was forcing me to open up early.

PinstripesPlus: Tell us about your repertoire. What kind of pitches do you throw and at what speeds?

Stephens: I throw a 4-seam fastball and a 2-seam fastball from 87-89 MPH and topping out at 91 MPH. This past year I threw my 2-seam fastball a lot more. I also worked on my changeup more. I throw that one around 80 MPH. My curveball is around 70-73 MPH. I'm trying to throw it faster to get it up to 77-78 MPH. Right now my curve has got a hump to it a little bit. It looks nice but it is not quite as effective as it could be.

PinstripesPlus: You used to throw a forkball, didn't you?

Stephens: Yeah, in high school I did. For now though I've been keeping that pitch in my back pocket. They [the Yankees] took it away from me when I came to the organization. They want us focusing only on the fastball, curveball, and changeup. If I need a fourth pitch down the right I might bring it back. But I wasn't throwing that pitch all that often in high school when I did throw it.

PinstripesPlus: What do you think you need to work on, in your repertoire, to make that next leap?

Stephens: One of my focuses is my changeup. The Yankees are always preaching mastering the fastball and changeup. I'm working on my changeup so I can throw it more for strikes. My out pitch right now is my curveball, but in order to advance to the higher levels I need to sharpen that pitch up more too. I need to make it like they [the Yankees] think it can be.

PinstripesPlus: The majority of our readers don't get to see you guys play. Which Major League pitcher do you think your game resembles? That's not to say you are that guy per se, but just as a reference point for our readers.

Stephens: My idol as a kid was Greg Maddux. I don't necessarily pitch like him, but like him, I'm more of a finesse type of guy on the mound who picks his spots. I'd say I model myself after him.

PinstripesPlus: There was an expectation that you were going to break Spring Training this past season with the Charleston Riverdogs, but broke camp with the Staten Island Yankees instead. What are you thinking for 2006? Where do you think you'll begin the year next season?

Stephens: Well the Yankees are loaded with pitching prospects, especially at the lower levels. So there's going to be a ton of us competing for jobs. My high-end goal for next season is to finish the year in Tampa, but the more realistic goal is that I'll be in Charleston for the whole year. I mean, it is just ridiculous how many good pitchers we have at the lower levels.

PinstripesPlus: What is your main goal this offseason to get you ready for the 2006 season?

Stephens: My main goal is to put on some weight. I worked out all last offseason, but this offseason I'm working even harder. I'd like to put on some weight to get stronger. The thought is that if I can put on some useful muscle mass that I can last longer throughout the season and maybe even add some velocity once I get stronger. I'm working harder at it [getting stronger] than I ever have.

PinstripesPlus: Which one pitcher from your Staten Island team do you think has the highest upside?

Stephens: Well, he's an older guy, but I'd have to say Cory Stuart. In my opinion, he has the best chance to move extremely fast in the organization if he can continue to stay healthy. With his new arm slot and his stuff, he can be a dominating pitcher. His slider was the best on our team, and that is saying something. He throws it 80-84 MPH and it breaks like a curveball and has lots of movement. I just love his velocity and his new arm angle.

PinstripesPlus: Among the positional players, who in your opinion has the highest upside?

Stephens: Well you have to say two of our younger guys have the highest upside. Eduardo Nunez had an outstanding season. Ramiro Pena was supposed to be our shortstop in Staten Island this past year and he moved all the way up to Trenton because of all the injuries the Yankees had, so Nunez got an opportunity to play with us. He was one of our top guys in everything this past year. Nunez has unbelievable potential. He hits the gaps and for some power. He has speed and his defense is a lot better than people realize. At his age, he just has more weapons than guys three to four years older don't have.

Jonathan Poterson is another high-ceiling guy. He just needs to get a few things together and just get the bat on the ball more often. I have no doubts that it will click for him this next season. He just has Major League power already and once he puts it all together, he's going to be a special hitter.

PinstripesPlus: If you had to choose one 'sleeper' prospect from your Staten Island team, a guy that doesn't get the credit he deserves but will wind up having a solid Major League career, who would it be and why?

Stephens: I think Jim Conroy doesn't get the attention he deserves. He's a lot better than people realize. His changeup is already one of the best in the organization and I don't think people realize how hard he throws too. He was sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball a lot of the time and I mean, he wound up striking out a batter per inning. He's developing his slider and I think he's going to be a very good pitcher.

PinstripesPlus: You've been in the organization for three years now and you've been able to see most of the pitchers in the organization. Who in your opinion, among all the pitching prospects in the farm system, has the highest upside?

Stephens: From everything I've seen and heard, it has to be Phil Hughes. He's going to be a Major League pitcher soon I think. He's got the potential to not only be in the Major Leagues, but be outstanding. His location with his pitches is unreal and he just finds a way to win games. He had an ERA under 2.00 in his first professional season, which is unbelievable. You're not supposed to do something like that at 19-years old.

But I also think you have to put Tyler Clippard up there as well. I can't emphasize enough how impressed I am with him. He just continues to improve all the areas of his game. I think he's going to be a standout big league pitcher if he continues to improve the way he has thus far.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus.com: Talk about your season this past year. What are your thoughts on your season?
\r\n
\r\nJason Stephens: This past year I started the season on a bad note. I began the year in Extended Spring Training and I didn't have a great Extended. But towards the end, I was able to put some things together and then Coach Thurman in Staten Island helped me build on that and I really improved. I got stronger as the year went on. For me, I was able to throw a lot of innings and I didn't have any serious injuries, and that is always one of your top goals for any year. I was part of another championship team so really, it couldn't have gone any better for me.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You mention you didn't have a great Extended Spring Training. There was some speculation before the season began that you'd be in Charleston. Did your struggles start in regular Spring Training?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: No, not really. I didn't have a bad Spring Training. I just didn't show up in mid-season form or have mid-season stuff. So when I went to Extended, I didn't feel good with my mechanics. But I was able to fix some things and I went to Staten Island with better stuff and mechanics.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: What specifically were the mechanical problems you had in Spring Training?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: There were a lot of little things, but mainly I was tilting backwards with my upper body and it was taking away from my direction with the ball to home plate. It was forcing me to open up early.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Tell us about your repertoire. What kind of pitches do you throw and at what speeds?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: I throw a 4-seam fastball and a 2-seam fastball from 87-89 MPH and topping out at 91 MPH. This past year I threw my 2-seam fastball a lot more. I also worked on my changeup more. I throw that one around 80 MPH. My curveball is around 70-73 MPH. I'm trying to throw it faster to get it up to 77-78 MPH. Right now my curve has got a hump to it a little bit. It looks nice but it is not quite as effective as it could be.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You used to throw a forkball, didn't you?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: Yeah, in high school I did. For now though I've been keeping that pitch in my back pocket. They [the Yankees] took it away from me when I came to the organization. They want us focusing only on the fastball, curveball, and changeup. If I need a fourth pitch down the right I might bring it back. But I wasn't throwing that pitch all that often in high school when I did throw it.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: What do you think you need to work on, in your repertoire, to make that next leap?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: One of my focuses is my changeup. The Yankees are always preaching mastering the fastball and changeup. I'm working on my changeup so I can throw it more for strikes. My out pitch right now is my curveball, but in order to advance to the higher levels I need to sharpen that pitch up more too. I need to make it like they [the Yankees] think it can be.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: The majority of our readers don't get to see you guys play. Which Major League pitcher do you think your game resembles? That's not to say you are that guy per se, but just as a reference point for our readers.
\r\n
\r\nStephens: My idol as a kid was Greg Maddux. I don't necessarily pitch like him, but like him, I'm more of a finesse type of guy on the mound who picks his spots. I'd say I model myself after him.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: There was an expectation that you were going to break Spring Training this past season with the Charleston Riverdogs, but broke camp with the Staten Island Yankees instead. What are you thinking for 2006? Where do you think you'll begin the year next season?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: Well the Yankees are loaded with pitching prospects, especially at the lower levels. So there's going to be a ton of us competing for jobs. My high-end goal for next season is to finish the year in Tampa, but the more realistic goal is that I'll be in Charleston for the whole year. I mean, it is just ridiculous how many good pitchers we have at the lower levels.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: What is your main goal this offseason to get you ready for the 2006 season?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: My main goal is to put on some weight. I worked out all last offseason, but this offseason I'm working even harder. I'd like to put on some weight to get stronger. The thought is that if I can put on some useful muscle mass that I can last longer throughout the season and maybe even add some velocity once I get stronger. I'm working harder at it [getting stronger] than I ever have.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Which one pitcher from your Staten Island team do you think has the highest upside?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: Well, he's an older guy, but I'd have to say Cory Stuart. In my opinion, he has the best chance to move extremely fast in the organization if he can continue to stay healthy. With his new arm slot and his stuff, he can be a dominating pitcher. His slider was the best on our team, and that is saying something. He throws it 80-84 MPH and it breaks like a curveball and has lots of movement. I just love his velocity and his new arm angle.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Among the positional players, who in your opinion has the highest upside?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: Well you have to say two of our younger guys have the highest upside. Eduardo Nunez had an outstanding season. Ramiro Pena was supposed to be our shortstop in Staten Island this past year and he moved all the way up to Trenton because of all the injuries the Yankees had, so Nunez got an opportunity to play with us. He was one of our top guys in everything this past year. Nunez has unbelievable potential. He hits the gaps and for some power. He has speed and his defense is a lot better than people realize. At his age, he just has more weapons than guys three to four years older don't have.
\r\n
\r\nJonathan Poterson is another high-ceiling guy. He just needs to get a few things together and just get the bat on the ball more often. I have no doubts that it will click for him this next season. He just has Major League power already and once he puts it all together, he's going to be a special hitter.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: If you had to choose one 'sleeper' prospect from your Staten Island team, a guy that doesn't get the credit he deserves but will wind up having a solid Major League career, who would it be and why?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: I think Jim Conroy doesn't get the attention he deserves. He's a lot better than people realize. His changeup is already one of the best in the organization and I don't think people realize how hard he throws too. He was sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball a lot of the time and I mean, he wound up striking out a batter per inning. He's developing his slider and I think he's going to be a very good pitcher.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You've been in the organization for three years now and you've been able to see most of the pitchers in the organization. Who in your opinion, among all the pitching prospects in the farm system, has the highest upside?
\r\n
\r\nStephens: From everything I've seen and heard, it has to be Phil Hughes. He's going to be a Major League pitcher soon I think. He's got the potential to not only be in the Major Leagues, but be outstanding. His location with his pitches is unreal and he just finds a way to win games. He had an ERA under 2.00 in his first professional season, which is unbelievable. You're not supposed to do something like that at 19-years old.
\r\n
\r\nBut I also think you have to put Tyler Clippard up there as well. I can't emphasize enough how impressed I am with him. He just continues to improve all the areas of his game. I think he's going to be a standout big league pitcher if he continues to improve the way he has thus far.
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