What were your initial thoughts on being traded to the Cubs?
I was shocked. I got a call at 10 in the morning from Tampa and Mitch Lukevics, who is the minor league director of operations for them. We were talking about the weather in Wisconsin and he said, "Well, just to give you a heads up, you're going to be traded today to the Cubs." Everyone's initial reaction is shock I'd imagine. I was excited about joining the Cubs and it's definitely a good opportunity. There's mixed emotions, though. I knew a lot of great guys with Tampa Bay and it will be different playing against them in the Florida State League and whenever I move up a level. But I definitely welcome the change and have been really excited about it.
What pitches do you throw?
In college, I was more of a fastball-slider guy. I used a splitfinger as an out-pitch. With Tampa, I threw a curveball and a changeup. Also, I've been working on a cutter since I joined their system. I guess as a pitcher, I really try to work off the fastball, which has always been my best pitch. I do a fairly good job of locating it, so I can kind of set myself up for some off-speed opportunities.
How fast is your fastball?
I'd have to say 90 to 92 (mph). It has reached 95. There are days when you don't feel good and you're sitting at only 88 to 90. If I'm healthy and pitching well, it's 90 to 93 I would say.
With 134 strikeouts last year in 142 innings, do you consider yourself a power pitcher; a strikeout pitcher?
When I'm pitching well, I'm definitely striking out batters. Early on last season, I didn't strike out anyone. I thought my numbers were fairly low for what I had expected of myself early on in the season. There were a number of games where I'd pitch five or six innings and only have one or two strikeouts. That was really rare and kind of odd for me. A strikeout an inning, or even better, is what I think I should be at.
You got off to a slow start, then seemed to put things together in the second half. What was the difference in the two halves for you?
The first half, right before I got sent to Southwest Michigan, Tampa informed me that they were going to change what pitches I was throwing, as well as my pitching style. So I really went to Southwest Michigan with my hands tied behind my back. There were a lot of games that I didn't throw a breaking ball or a changeup for a strike. If I had a game where I threw 100 pitches, 85 of them were fastballs. As I got more comfortable with the pitches and gained a little confidence in what I was doing, it progressed from there. In the second half, I followed through with what kind of pitcher I wanted to be and just got comfortable facing minor league hitters in the sense that I started to grow more into the mindset of how to set guys up, and working for the groundball out instead of trying to strike everyone out.
When you said, "I followed through with what kind of pitcher I wanted to be," what kind of pitcher do you want to be?
I always pride myself on having a bulldog mentality where when things get tough, you hunker down. I'd like to be a strikeout pitcher and I like to strike guys out, but I'm definitely finding more satisfaction in getting quick outs, especially with the pitch counts that are enforced in the minors. The faster you get outs, you save a lot of stress on your arm and pitch later in the games. I definitely want to be a strikeout pitcher, but I want to get to a point where I can consistently repeat my mechanics and go deeper into games. Leaving after five innings, you leave yourself vulnerable with a no-decision. Five innings doesn't seem that long when you're out there.
When you were in college, did the scouts ever say you reminded them of any big league pitchers?
I've always heard that I was going to be a setup man or a closer on down the road. I've heard a lot of comparisons with pitchers that are known for being power pitchers. I was a drop and drive pitcher and I've changed a little bit from that. I try to just attack the zone with a fastball and work off of that.
Do you see yourself moving to the bullpen in the future?
That's up to the organization to decide. I'm happy starting, I'm happy closing and I'm just happy playing baseball. Wherever I am, I'm going to embrace playing the game. I enjoy both sides of it. I closed in college and I like going into intense situations and shutting down the game, but I also like the lifestyle a starter has. I don't mind; I just want to make it to the major leagues.
Because of guys like Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, it seems hitting rules the Devil Rays' farm system. As you probably know, the Cubs are usually thought of as an organization that places more emphasis on pitching. What do you make of joining an organization with so much competition surrounding you?
I'm just really happy to be with the Cubs. I'm not worried about who the Cubs are going to draft or whatever because as long as I do my job, that stuff becomes irrelevant. The Cubs are always known for bringing up great power pitchers and guys that can strike a lot of people out. I think I fit a little bit into their mold as someone who's a power pitcher, although I'm not someone who has a 96 or 97 mile an hour fastball. I've been told that the fastball is a heavy ball, and I like to strike guys out.
I'm not too worried about where I'm at, either. I just know that on the staff I was on last year, Tampa had three guys that were 19 or 20 years old and throwing 94 to 96, and they're all going to be front-line starters. I was the fifth guy in the rotation and I thought I was better than a No. 5 starter in the minor leagues, but I was standing around some talent and a special group of guys like Jake McGee, Wade Davis and Matt Walker.