Draft Prospect Q&A Rumors

Draft Prospect Q&A: Anthony Rendon

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series includes four of the top college pitchers in the nation and a top college position player. Here's another position player to watch.

Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon is considered the top college position player in the 2011 draft and he remains a candidate to be the first overall pick this June. Both Baseball America and ESPN.com have reported within the week that it appears Rendon will either go first overall (to the Pirates) or second (to the Mariners) with UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole going to the other team.

Rendon entered the season as the top prospect in the draft after being named Baseball America's Player of the Year in 2010 and the publication's Freshman of the Year in 2009. Ankle and shoulder injuries have slowed Rendon down this year and limited his time at third base, where he is considered an excellent defender. The 20-year-old Houston native shines at the plate as well and has a .350/.552/.552 line with 62 walks so far this season.

I spoke to Rendon earlier today about his injuries, the team he rooted for growing up and the hype surrounding the draft. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

Ben Nicholson-Smith - Not to start off on a bad note, but I’ve got to ask you about your injuries. Your ankle and your shoulder injuries - have those been the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face as a player this year? 

Anthony Rendon - Yeah, definitely. You want to keep on playing the game that you love, so it’s always going to be on your mind, but it’s part of being a player - actually getting over those injuries to be stronger when you come back and I feel like I’m doing that.

BNS - How are you feeling now? 

AR - I feel good. The ankle’s fine. I’m still on my throwing program with my arm, so I’m just trying to get it back stronger so I can go back 100% on the field and not have to worry about it down the road.

BNS - Is that the goal - just to be able to go out there and basically relax? 

AR - Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a whole part of the game. When you play you’re supposed to be relaxed, you’re not supposed to be tense out there and you’re not supposed to be thinking about too many things. If you think about things too much, you’re not going to be as great as you can be because you can forget about other aspects of the game and it can hurt you in the long run or you might make an errors.

BNS - One of the things I hear a lot is that you’re a strong defender. How do you go about preparing defensively and improving yourself on the field? 

AR - I like to get loose out there, I like to get free out there, but at the same time, you’ve got to be prepared so you can read the hops and stuff like that. I like to take practice seriously and I like to have fun out there and just focus on little things because when little things add up - just keeping your head down on a ground ball or keeping a free hand on top to guard against bad hops - those little things add up.

BNS - A few years ago the Braves drafted you and you were a 27th rounder back then. It’s pretty apparent that the industry sees you as a completely different player now than you were back then, but do you see yourself differently? 

AR - I do see myself differently. I’ve changed physically and mentally. Back in high school I was probably about 5’10” and 165 pounds and I’ve grown since then [Rice's website lists him at 6'0", 190 pounds] because we’ve got such a great strength program. And ... it’s not only the physical, but the mental aspects, too. Handling the problems that may arise, the different issues and the different aspects of the game. I’ve learned the game a lot more. I can kind of predict what’s going to happen next or what the other team’s going to do in a certain situation, so I’ve actually started to appreciate the game more and learn the ins and outs of the game instead of just going out there and playing. 

BNS - Are you in touch with any of the guys who have come through [the Rice] program like David Aardsma or Lance Berkman? Any of the current big leaguers who went through the same things that you did? 

AR - It’s not that much, but I’ll talk to Berkman every now and then ... we’ll talk about baseball and he’ll just keep us laughing the whole time. [He has gone through] pretty much the same thing as what we’re going through now, so we just talk about the game and how he is and how the program is.

BNS - Were you an Astros fan growing up, coming from Houston?

AR - Yeah, definitely. They’re the hometown team. They haven’t always been the greatest team, so some of the years you get mad at them because they haven’t done so well, but deep down they’re the hometown team. 

I remember growing up, watching [Jeff] Bagwell and his weird stance and [Richard] Hidalgo and his arm in right and left field. I definitely enjoyed watching the Astros growing up. My Dad would take my brother and I - though I only went to one game at the Astrodome [before the Astros moved].

BNS - In terms of talking to guys like Berkman, have they given you any advice about the draft, because it’s obviously going to be a different experience for you this year than it was a few years ago.

AR - You know the funny thing is you try not to worry about the draft too much, so that hasn’t been a topic that we’ve talked about. But the people that I’ve talked with say ‘just take it one step at a time.’ 

One of the things one person told me was ‘don’t let your highs get too high or your lows get too low.’ It’s just baseball, it’s just a game. With the draft if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

BNS - Are you trying to embrace all of this coverage and all of this buzz or are you trying to ignore it as much as possible?

AR - I mean you can’t ignore it with everything out there and it is a lifelong dream to play professional baseball so it’s not just that I can’t ignore it, I don’t want to ignore it. It’s what I want to do. I want to play baseball, it’s why I’ve been playing for the last 17 years of my life. So you can’t ignore it and if anybody tells you differently they’re lying. But you can’t get ahead of yourself and I’m not in the pros. If it happens, it happens. I can’t get ahead of myself and think about pro ball right now. We’re still trying to make it to the College World Series. 

BNS - In terms of developing as a player, what are your goals for the rest of this season and potentially further on? What kinds of improvements might you want to make?

AR - I want to get faster. I tell everybody that. I’ve never been the fast guy on the field, so I want to bring a little speed.

And obviously I’ve got to treat my body better or something like that. Drink more milk or something. I’ve been injured for the past year, so maybe I should start taking some vitamins or something. I think I can take care of my body more, because I don’t want to be known as the guy who’s injury-prone. I don’t want to be that guy, I just want to be a reliable guy that plays every day.

BNS - What about all the walks that you’re drawing? I know they’re pitching around you, but how do walks fit into your offensive game?

AR - It definitely has a big impact. I mean I’m not trying to walk. As a hitter, I want to hit the ball every time I go up there, so that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. But it definitely plays a big part in my game.

Once you get so many walks, you can’t get into that rhythm. If they walk you intentionally one at bat and you only see four balls outside, you can’t get a read on his arm angle or pick up little tendencies, so you really get out of rhythm. 

BNS - Have you allowed yourself to think about what you’re going to do on the day of the draft?

AR - We’re going to be playing baseball actually, so I can’t be worried about the draft, we’re going to have a game to win!

Draft Prospect Q&A: Danny Hultzen

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series started with three of the top college pitchers in the nation and a top college position player. Here's another arm to watch.


Danny Hultzen was the ACC pitcher of the year and a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award last year, but even he is a little surprised by how well the 2011 season is going. The Virginia left-hander has helped lead the Cavaliers to a 36-3 record and the top ranking in the country thanks to his arm and his bat.

Baseball America's Midseason Player of the Year is climbing up draft boards and may be the third-best draft prospect in the country behind Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. ESPN.com's Keith Law reported last week that the D'Backs, Orioles and Royals are among the teams eyeing Hultzen. Anyone picking much later on can likely forget about him, since he doesn't figure to be available for long.

Earlier today I spoke to the 21-year-old about his team's title hopes, his two-way play and the draft. Here's what he had to say:

Ben Nicholson-Smith - I know that you were expected to be a pretty good team, but did you expect going into the season that you would be 36-3 and doing as well as you are.

Danny Hultzen - Well that’s a lot to expect of any team. I’m not surprised that we’re doing well, but there were some questions that had to be answered after coming off of last year. We lost a bunch of guys into the draft, lost a bunch of guys to graduation, so there were a lot of holes to fill, but a lot of younger guys have slipped right in and filled those spots really, really well. 

BNS - If I had come up to you before the season and said you’re going to be 36-3 as a team and you’re going to be personally 8-0 with all of these strikeouts [99 in 61 innings this year], which one of those things would have been more surprising to you?

DH - Definitely my success. I knew that we were going to be a good team. It doesn’t really matter, whatever my stats are. That’s nice to have, but it’s all in the effort to help the team win. We’re a very confident bunch and we were very confident going into the season, so it doesn’t surprise me that we’re doing so well.

BNS - When you start breaking these records - the all-time wins leader for the school and the all-time strikeouts leader - and there’s recognition in the media, is that a distraction, or is it invigorating to get that recognition?

DH - I think it’s an honor. It’s an honor to be recognized in that kind of way. It feels good to be recognized like that, but at the same time, you’ve got to stay level-headed and realize that just because someone says you’re good doesn’t mean you’re very good. You’ve still got to go out there and compete. So it’s very cool to have your name out there like that, but you’ve got to stay humble and just go out there and play baseball.

BNS - What kind of an arsenal do you have and how do you go about your business on the mound?

DH - I’m a typical left-handed pitcher. Fastball, change-up and slider. But the main thing I do when I go out there is just compete with an aggressive mentality every time I pitch. You’re not going to have your best stuff every day, so to compensate, you’ve got to go out and be competitive and be aggressive and attack hitters. I think that’s really important and it’s something that I try to do every time I go out there. 

BNS - And is that [aggressive approach] the reason that you have so few walks?

DH -  It’s definitely a result of attacking the hitters. We’re not going to try to avoid contact. We’re not going to try to strike people out [at all costs]. We’re going to throw strikes and make them beat us and not let us beat ourselves by walking people and getting behind in the count. So the aggressive mentality that I was talking about feeds into that.

BNS - If you think of some MLB left-handers who don’t walk a lot of guys, Cliff Lee comes to mind. If you were to compare yourself to any Major League pitcher, not obviously in terms of where your game is now, but in terms of who you might look up to as a pitcher, who would you point to?

DH - I don’t necessarily compare myself to Major League pitchers, but I do try to learn from Major League pitchers and watch them and Cliff Lee is definitely up there as one of my favorites to watch because he has that aggressive mentality that he’s going to throw strikes. He’s going to make you beat him and he’s not going to walk people. He’s going to be the attacker.

I watch Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and I really liked watching Andy Pettitte when he was playing. So there’s guys like that who I look up to and try to learn from.

BNS - What about you as a hitter [Hultzen entered the season with a .316/.405/.426 career line as a first baseman and outfielder]? How would you describe yourself?

DH - I’m just out there to try to hit the ball hard somewhere. I’m not going to hit many home runs, if any at all. I’m just up there to try to hit the ball somewhere where they’re not. I’m not a power guy, I’m just going to try to put the ball in play somewhere in the hole or in the gap.

I try to take that same competitive mentality to hitting, too. I know the pitcher’s now up there to walk me, so I try to take my aggressive mentality to the plate, too. I wait for a good pitch to hit and try to hit it somewhere hard. 

BNS - When you look ahead, say, a couple years from now, do you see yourself still hitting and being a two-way player, or do you see yourself focusing more on pitching and trying to develop your career in that way.

DH - I’m not really sure yet, but my guess is that I’d probably be focusing on pitching. I’m a lot more confident on the mound, not that I’m not confident at the plate, but I feel better pitching than I do hitting, even though I love doing both and I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to be a two-way player in college. Probably down the road I see myself as a pitcher.

BNS - How much are you looking forward to the rest of the season now that you’re off to such a great start?

DH - It’s awesome. We’ve been playing well right now, but I think if you ask any of my teammates, they’ll say that we haven’t peaked yet and we all feel that we’re capable of playing better baseball, even though that may sound a little arrogant to say given the record we have, but I think that we’re confident that we still haven’t played our best baseball yet and we’re working to get there and try to reach that goal of playing our best baseball when it matters most - in the postseason.

BNS - Are you thinking of the draft now? Is it even in the back of your mind? How much of a role does it play in terms of your state of mind at this point?

DH - I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s in the back of my mind. That kind of stuff can overwhelm you a little bit and I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want to be concerned about focusing too much on my personal situation, so I’ve been focusing on the team’s success and not personal goals. My personal goal and every player on the team’s personal goal is to win the national championship and we’re just working hard to reach that goal.

BNS - Have the Diamondbacks approached you about selecting you again or is that something that you would be open to giving them permission to do if they were interested in taking you? [The D’Backs drafted Hultzen in 2008 and would need his permission to select him again. They have the No. 3 and No. 7 selections this June] 

DH - That’d definitely be something I’d be interested in. I haven’t talked to them at all and I haven’t talked to any scout like that at all, so that’s a little bit down the road, but that’d be something that I’d be willing to do.

Photo courtesy University of Virginia Athletics.

Draft Prospect Q&A: George Springer

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series started with three of the top college pitchers in the nation and continues today with a college position player.

Teams looking for powerful outfielders with speed to spare will be intrigued by George Springer of the UConn Huskies. The 6'4" 21-year-old has improved his draft stock dramatically since the Twins selected him in the 48th round of the 2008 draft; Springer is now a projected first round pick.


In its college baseball preview, Baseball America described Springer as one of the nation's best power hitters, who's a superb defender and a "plus-plus" runner to boot. 

He hit 18 homers with 33 steals, 60 walks, 84 runs and a .491 on-base average last year, prompting ESPN.com's Keith Law to rate him second among eligible prospects last month. Law described Springer as "an athletic outfielder with an above-average arm who projects to hit and hit for power and just needs to refine his approach, especially with two strikes." 

Springer started slowly and some said to ESPN that he changed his mechanics. After collecting just three hits in his first six games (22 at bats), Springer appears to have rediscovered his stroke, as his numbers are on the rise.

He spoke with MLBTR after UConn's loss to Sacred Heart today. Here's what he had to say:

Ben Nicholson-Smith - I wanted you to start by describing your game for me. I’ve seen it written up in a few different places, but I wanted to get your assessment of your overall game.

George Springer - I just go out and play as hard as I possibly can - I think that’s basically it. I just go out and play as hard as I possibly can and just let my approach and my style of game happen and just go out and put it one the line.

BNS - When you’re at your best, what might be some of the specific things that we would see from you on the field?

GS - One hundred percent - this’ll probably sound dumb - but just balls out all the time. Not playing with any fear. Not afraid to fail. I just go out and I let the game come to me - I just go out and I play as hard as I possibly can and if for some reason the game says that I have to run into a wall, I’ll run into a wall.

BNS - I’ve seen your game written up as a combination of power and speed. Do you see yourself as a power guy, or a speed guy, or somewhere in between.

GS - I see myself as a guy that can hit for power, but I don’t necessarily see myself as hitting for power [primarily]. I see myself as hitting the ball hard and however far it goes, if it stays in the ballpark, I just keep running. 

BNS - Is there a major league player who you would compare yourself to as far as a guy who maybe has that gap power and occasional home run power?

GS - Well there’s actually a guy - I wouldn’t necessarily say I do things like him - but I model my game, my style of play, after him and it’s Hunter - Torii Hunter. I used to watch him play when he was in New Britain. When he was in Double-A [in 1997-8] I watched him play with the Twins. He’ll get after it. He plays without fear. He’ll run into a wall or he’ll run through a wall. He’s not just going to swing to swing, he’s going to swing hard. I think that seeing him play as a kid [influenced] who I resemble the most.

BNS - Any other major leaguers, or mostly Torii Hunter?

GS - It’s him, but one other player who has a good overall approach is Robinson Cano. He goes out and he’s basically the same way as Torii Hunter, but he’s a very, very smart hitter. There are certain situations where he doesn’t necessarily swing at a 3-0 fastball because he knows he’s going to get a 3-1 pitch to hit. 

He does the small things. If you need a fly ball to score somebody, he hits a fly ball. Or if he’s got to roll one over to get someone from second to third, that’s exactly what he does.

BNS - If we were to fast forward to five years from now, which of those two guys do you think you would resemble more? Hunter or Cano?

GS - I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I’d like to say it would be a combination of both. Not afraid to fail, but at the same time being smart, being patient.

BNS - Having guys like [former UConn teammate] Mike Olt drafted last year in the first round and then [UConn pitcher] Matt Barnes, who could also go in the first round with you potentially, does that change things at all? Does that make it any easier having some guys who are going through some of the same things that you are?

GS - I can say yes and I can say no because to me Mike Olt is Mike Olt. I played with him for the last three years of his [college] career and I’ve seen him grow as a player and as a person. Yeah he’s Mike Olt and he went in the first round, but I just see him as Mike Olt and it’s who I played with for three years.

The same thing for Matt. I’ve known Matt my whole life. I’ve played with him the last six, eight years. So having them there I would say has helped, but at the same time, he’s just Mike Olt and Matt is just Matt Barnes.

BNS - You talk about Mike developing as a player and as a person at UConn. What might those [developments] be on the field for you since you started playing college ball?

GS - I’ve been taught my whole life to let the physical stuff happen. The strength, the speed, the power - let that come. But I think the biggest development in my eyes is developing the mental side of the game, which can help me go out and play if I learn about the game. And that’s something that I’ve been working on the last four or five years. 

I’m not in the big leagues, so I obviously have some stuff hitting-wise and fielding-wise and baserunning-wise [to work on]. But I think the biggest thing I’ve tried to learn has been the mental side of the game.

BNS - Is that through coaches or is that through books or videos or just talking to people? How do you go about doing that?

GS - Through experience. You’ve got to learn pitch to pitch and at bat to at bat. The last three or four years, I’ve had the privilege to talk to guys and play with guys who know certain things that I wouldn’t have thought about.

Being with guys like Matt Barnes - being with Matt I can get the pitcher’s side of the game and I can learn from him what I have to do as a hitter in certain situations and learn what he’s thinking and what the other guy’s thinking and learn from my mistakes and my successes and learn from the success of my teammates. There’s always something I can learn and over the past three or four years it’s been mainly just through playing and just learning at bat to at bat and pitch to pitch, but I’ve also played with guys like Matt Barnes and [2011 draft prospect] Jackie Bradley Jr.

BNS - What about your season so far? A slow start and now it seems like you’re hitting better. How do you evaluate the season so far.

GS - So far it could obviously be better. It could obviously be worse, too. I think one of the main things for me is just to not try to do too much, to not press. Just to get in the box and play hard and swing and slow everything down and eventually they’ll start falling.

BNS - What about the draft? Last time, going in the 48th round was probably different than what you’ve experienced so far and what you’re looking ahead to.

GS - I look ahead to it as June 6th to the 9th because if I think for one second that the draft is set or anything like that that’s when I let down my team. That’s when I don’t play as hard, that’s when I don’t stay positive or get a big head and say ‘here’s the hype, here’s the potential.’

But that’s not what I’m about. I’m about the success of my team and my teammates before myself and if something happens in the draft, it’s something that I can’t focus on now because I have to help our team win.

Photo courtesy University of Connecticut athletics.

Draft Prospect Q&A: Gerrit Cole

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series started with two of the top college pitchers in the nation and continues today with another one.

Gerrit Cole

UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole was one of the top draft prospects in the country before last week, but his performance against Nebraska on Friday sure didn't hurt his stock. Cole pitched nine innings of two-hit, shutout ball, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning and striking out eight.

It's not particularly surprising to see the 6'4" 20-year-old thriving. Baseball America announced earlier in the year that his mid-90s fastball and devastating slider give him "best pure stuff in the [2011] draft" and Cole struck out 153 batters in 123 innings last year, helping the Bruins reach the College World Series finals.

Cole has been a known commodity for years, since the Yankees selected the power pitcher in the first round of the 2008 draft out of high school. He will likely go higher than 28th overall in 2011; ESPN.com's Jason A. Churchill and Keith Law suggested last week that Cole is a threat to surpass Anthony Rendon and go first overall this June.

MLBTR chatted with Cole about his most recent outing, turning down the team his family cheers for and having Charlie Sheen show up at his team's practices. Click through to read our conversation:

Ben Nicholson-Smith - We’ll start with the game you had last week. Was that the best you’ve ever felt on a pitching mound?

Gerrit Cole - No. Not really, especially because I had great defense behind me. I felt good, but I’ve felt just as good or better a couple other starts. Things were going our way, we were playing really good defense and when you make a lot of really good defensive plays, you tend to get a lot of quick outs.

BNS - What about your repertoire? Can I get you to break down your different pitches for me?

GC - It’s a traditional three-pitch mix with a fastball, a slider and a change-up. I don’t necessarily go to the slider all of the time. I like to change it up quite a bit, right on right, right on left, it depends. I’ve had good control of both off-speed pitches this year, allowing me to go in and out of the zone with both of them so I’m comfortable throwing all three pitches in really any count. 

BNS - When you were in high school, did you have that confidence in your off-speed pitches, or was it just rear back and throw the heater?

GC - It was definitely more rear back and throw the heater compared to now, but I’d say for a high schooler, I think I mixed pretty well. When you have a pitch that you can get guys out with consistently, your coaches are going to want to call it most of the time and you’re going to want to throw it, so there was really no need to set up guys very much. But I did throw the change-up in high school and I did throw the slider as well. 

BNS - The Yankees liked your stuff well enough to draft you 28th overall. What’s it like when the Yankees are calling and they say they want to sign you, what’s it like to say ‘no’ to the New York Yankees? That’s probably not a feeling that many people experience.

GC - I mean obviously when you get called on draft day, it’s really exciting and it was a tremendous honor to be selected by such a prestigious organization, but I wouldn’t call saying no a joy. That’s the way that my family and I had planned on going - to UCLA. You never want to say ‘no’ or give the impression that I was throwing it in their face or anything like that, because that’s not what it was about.

BNS - It would appear that after last year’s run to the College World Series and this year with the potential the [UCLA] team has, it would seem that that’s a decision that’s gone pretty well. Is that the way you look at it?

GC - I definitely would say that it was probably one of the best decisions of my life. I’ve had an unbelievable experience here. I’ve made a lot of friends and we’ve had our highs and we’ve had our lows and learned a lot. It’s the whole college experience here, being surrounded by a lot of stuff that’s surreal - like when Charlie Sheen shows up to your practice it’s kind of weird -

BNS - Did Charlie Sheen show up to your practice?

GC - Yeah he did a couple weeks ago [Cole said this happened before Sheen’s recent stint in the international spotlight]. We have a lot of big leaguers who stop by the park and take BP, ‘cause it’s L.A. and a lot of people come through here and need a place to hit, so it’s been a pretty surreal experience with all of the surroundings and all of the friends and to have the opportunity to take classes at a school like this. Because I would never have been able to do it without baseball. I wasn’t necessarily your 4.0 [GPA] type of guy in high school, so it’s been exciting to take advantage of an opportunity like this.

BNS - Sorry to go back to this, but what was Charlie Sheen doing? Was he just watching practice or what was he doing?

GC - He just showed up and took BP. He’d been there a couple times before, but recently he showed up about four weeks ago before we started playing.

BNS - Do you look up to any past or present big leaguers and model yourself after them at all?

GC - I really loved watching Roger Clemens pitch when he was in his prime. He was such a bulldog on the mound and I try to replicate that mentality, that aggressiveness the best I can. Obviously without throwing bats at other people. But he was someone that I liked to watch and I like to watch Mariano Rivera because it’s kind of polar opposites when you look at a guy who’s really fired up and really emotional versus a guy who’s consistent and really disciplined and just goes about his work. You try to combine the best of both worlds and see what you get out of that.

BNS - A couple Yankees there - are you a Yankees fan or are these just your players because they’re Hall of Fame caliber guys?

GC - Because they’re Hall of Fame caliber guys, but my dad went to high school in New York and he was a big New York Yankees fan and passed it on down to me when I was growing up, so we’ve been Yankees fans for quite a long time, which kind of made the decision [in 2008] that much tougher.

BNS - Knowing that it’s a few months away, is it hard not to think about the draft? 

GC - If anybody tells you that they aren’t looking ahead to June, they’d be lying. You really have to take it day by day and focus on what’s most important at that time, which would be what’s going on that week or what’s going on that practice. You just take it slow, because it’s a long process and it’s easy to get caught up in. Fortunately for me, I’ve already done it before. You can never really prepare yourself for the unexpected, but you kind of have an idea of how the process goes and it makes things a lot easier. You have a better understanding of what’s going to happen, so you can really slow things down and not really get yourself caught up in what’s about to happen.

Photo courtesy UCLA Athletics.

Draft Prospect Q&A: Matt Purke

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series debuted last week with one of the top college pitchers in the nation and continues today with another.

Matt Purke

Matt Purke pitched well enough as a high schooler to go in the first round of the 2009 draft. He didn't sign with the Rangers, who selected him 14th overall, and instead joined the TCU Horned Frogs. He led the team to its first ever College World Series appearance last year with a shiny 16-0 record and 142 strikeouts in 116 innings. 

The 20-year-old sophomore is draft eligible once again and, according to Baseball America and ESPN.com's Keith Law, should go in the first round once again, possibly first overall. Baseball America called Purke "a bona fide ace with a lively 91-94 mph fastball and a wipeout slider" that can overmatch hitters. Purke calls his breaking ball a curve, but he isn't going to get into an argument about semantics with the publication that named him the 2010 Baseball America Freshman of the Year.

Purke talked to MLBTR this afternoon. Here's what we discussed:


Ben Nicholson-Smith - Can you describe yourself as a pitcher - what pitches you throw and what your approach is on the mound?

Matt Purke - I’d just say I’m a normal pitcher like any other. I just throw three pitches: fastball, curveball, change-up and my approach to pitching is to be very aggressive and get guys out as quick as possible. 

BNS - What about your off-speed pitches. Which one would you be more likely to throw in a go-to situation?

MP - I’d say I’m equally confident with both [the curve and the change] at any point in time. 

BNS - You say you’re like any other pitcher, but do you think you resemble any current major leaguers or past major leaguers in the way that you go about pitching?

MP - I’d say I get compared to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, a young kid, and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. I have kind of the same body build, the same arm action, things like that.

BNS - Two pretty good pitchers that you just named. When people compare you to those guys is that a comparison that you like to hear?

MP - Definitely, definitely. Any time that you get compared to someone playing professional baseball it’s definitely a compliment that you take pride in.

BNS - Do you watch those guys during the season as fellow left-handers and see how they go out and attack hitters?

MP - I watch baseball when I’m not playing baseball, so I’ll catch them every now and then. So I try to watch them and just use some of the stuff that they do to help me out.

BNS - You’ve been through the draft before as a first rounder before, so does that make it any easier having already experienced the rigors of being drafted?

MP - Yeah. The experience is nothing you can take away - it just helps. I know what to expect with the months coming and know what to expect the few days before. That’s already transpired, so obviously I’m in a more comfortable state than I was when I was first drafted out of high school.

BNS - You have the whole rest of the season ahead of you here, but what is there to expect once that draft actually comes around?

MP - I don’t have any control in it, I have no say in what happens. All I can do is sit there and watch ... It’s definitely an opportunity to be drafted and have the opportunity to play professional baseball, but really it’s another process you’ve got to go through. So it’s an exciting time and a stressful time, but it’s nothing that you wouldn’t want.

BNS - Can you compare Matt Purke the 2009 pitcher and Matt Purke the 2011 pitcher?

MP - I’d say now I’m definitely a lot more seasoned [now]. I learned a lot more, not only on the field but off of the field. After ’09 I was a young high school kid that really just played baseball and I only knew what I had done in the summer with team USA and in high school. And now I’m in college, I’ve been able to travel and learn how travel and also have a social life and be able to take care of my academics as well. So I’ve definitely learned a lot more, have a lot more experience now and I’m a lot more prepared for the travel that’s in the future.

Photo courtesy Michael Clements.

Draft Prospect Q&A: Sonny Gray

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series debuts today with one of the top college pitchers in the nation.

Vanderbilt right-hander Sonny Gray has "the best curveball in college baseball," according to Baseball America, and ESPN.com's Keith Law suggested last week that he has an outside shot of being the first overall pick this June. According to Baseball America, some scouts wonder if Gray's future is in the bullpen. But with an above-average curve, a 93-96 mph fastball and a change-up, he could become a starter like Mike Minor and David Price, two Vanderbilt products who were selected in the first round.

Gray talked to MLBTR about his size, his curveball and Roy Halladay. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

Ben Nicholson-Smith - Can you describe your pitches and what kind of pitcher you are?

Sonny Gray - I’m a guy that has a pretty good fastball and I like to use it a lot. I also rely on my curveball quite a bit. It’s been a pitch that I’ve been able to go to for a while - ever since I can remember pitching. I like to throw mainly a lot of fastballs and curveballs and I’d say between fastball and curve that’s probably 85% of the pitches I throw. 

Varying speeds on my curveball of course, so some are a few miles an hour harder, which can make a difference, and I mix in change-ups. I kind of like to just go after the hitter and just throw my stuff against their bat and see what I can get out of it.

BNS - It sounds like you’re pretty comfortable with your curveball at this point.

SG - Yeah, I’ve always been pretty confident in it. It’s always been something I can use and it’s always worked pretty well. If I need to make a big pitch, I’ll go to either that or my fastball, but I’m pretty confident in [the curve]. 

I’m really confident in my fastball as well and I’m gaining confidence in the change-up. This year I’m going to end up throwing it a lot more and I threw it quite a bit this summer, so I’ve just got to gain more confidence in that pitch and I’m starting to get that, since I’m starting to have success with it.

BNS - Is that one of your goals for the season? To keep working the change-up into the repertoire?

SG - It’s not one of my goals. My goal is to get outs and win games. If it’s throwing a change-up that certain night, then I’ll throw a change-up. If it’s not throwing any, I won’t throw any. If it’s mixing everything, I’ll mix everything. It’s just the way the flow of the game goes.

I don’t think that’s a goal - ‘today I’ve got to make sure I throw a change-up.’ I don’t really look at it that way. It’s just whatever I need for each particular outing.

BNS - Tell me about how you’ve changed or evolved as a pitcher since the Cubs took you back in [the 27th round in] ’08.

SG - I’ve changed a lot actually. I still go with the fastballs and curveballs, but I’ve added I think 25 or 30 pounds. Back then I was 5’11” and 170 or 175 [pounds] and now I’m right at 200. 

I’ve learned how to pitch a lot more. In high school you can kind of throw it by people, but here you have to learn how to throw the ball to both sides of the plate - which is important - and I’ve learned a lot about the game. I’ve learned how to pitch, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’m able to correct things now if something’s not going well, I can correct things in the moment which was something I wasn’t able to do then. Back then I’d try to rear back and throw as hard as I could if something wasn’t going right, but now I know why stuff happens and I’m able to correct if from one pitch to the next.

BNS - You said that throwing change-ups is not one of your goals, but what goals would you say that you do have for the rest of the college season?

SG - The goal is just to get out there and give the team a chance to win every game. There’s going to be outings when I’m really good, when my stuff’s real good and there’s also going to be outings like last Friday when my stuff’s not quite there and the offense is going to have to pick me up [Gray pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs and four hits and striking out six against the University of San Diego on Friday]. But to be able to give the team a chance to win every Friday night I go out there is one of my main goals.

BNS - Do you watch a lot of big league baseball? Are you a big baseball fan in general?

SG - Yeah, I am actually.

BNS - What major leaguers do you look up to?

SG - Roy Halladay does things the right way. His team follows around him; he knows how to come into a new place and maintain his work ethic.

Also the guys coming out from Vandy, guys that I’m pretty close with. I check to see how David [Price] does every time he pitches. We’ve developed a little bit of a relationship, coming from Vandy. So I look up to him and his success as well.

BNS - How much does the success of a guy like David Price or Mike Minor drive you?

SG - It does. Just to be able to see what they’ve done and try to build on that. To think what they’ve been able to accomplish and by doing it the right way. Especially coming here - the program has high expectations and I think that they kind of brought this program to a new level that hadn’t been pushed before. 

And me being here I’m just trying to get to the next level that they weren’t able to make it to. And I’m going to leave it to the guys that come behind us. But we want to push the program far - to where it hasn’t been [a College World Series championship].

BNS - When you look ahead, say, five years from now, do you see yourself as a starter or do you see yourself as a reliever?

SG - I’ve always thought of myself as a starter. Some people say 'he’s shorter,' but I’ve seen myself as a starter. I closed my freshman year here at Vanderbilt and it was the first time I’d ever been out of the bullpen and it was actually an enjoyable time, I actually had a lot of fun with it.

It was a new role I hadn’t played before but once I got used to it it was something I enjoyed doing. I looked forward to throwing more than once in a week. So I’ve always seen myself as a starter, but if anything were to happen, I’m versatile, I’m not someone who’s just stuck on something and doesn’t want to try to experiment or do whatever needs to be done.

BNS - What about all of this interest in the draft? You have people like me calling, you have Baseball America writing about you, you’re on ESPN. How much of that stuff is exciting and really cool and how much of that is a distraction?

SG - I think it’s very exciting. It’s nice to receive recognition for the hard work you’ve put in from way before college, growing up playing the game. It’s nice to receive some kind of recognition, but then again you kind of have to take a step back and take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. And for me right now the bigger picture is next Friday night and the next Friday after that. It’s just this season and this team, putting this team in position to win and stuff off the field can come off the field. It is nice to receive that stuff, but you have to take it with a grain of salt and just do what you can do.

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