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Regular contributor Mike Moffatt steps into The Box today with an exclusive interview with one of the Blue Jays' top pitching prospects, Syracuse right-hander Jason Arnold. It's a landmark article for Batter's Box: our very first interview with a player! Thanks, Mike -- the floor is yours!


Inspired by Kent's interviews with four Blue Jays coaches, I thought I would try to speak with a few AAA players, as I live in Rochester, NY, home of the Twins' affiliate Red Wings. This involved getting media credentials, which proved a little more tricky than I imagined, due to a non-cooperating scanner and a broken fax machine. Less than four hours before a Rochester Red Wings–Syracuse SkyChiefs game, I was able to get a fax to Chuck Hinkel, the media director for the Red Wings. He kindly left me a one-game press pass and gave me a piece of advice: “Next time, try not to leave it to the last minute.” I was very thankful that Mr. Hinkel was kind enough to deal with my rookie errors.

I arrived at Frontier Field, home of the Wings, about three hours before game time. It was actually tougher to get a player to give me a few minutes than I thought. My targets were two of the pitchers for the SkyChiefs, Jason Arnold and Corey Thurman, and if I had time, Red Wings rightfielder Michael Restovich.

But there's no wasted time before a game, particularly for the pitchers. If they're not running, they're long tossing in the outfield or working on pitches in the bullpen. As Jason Arnold was walking back to the dugout after his session in the bullpen, I caught his attention and mentioned I was with Batter's Box and asked if I could ask him a few questions. He seemed genuinely interested and said, “Sure, but I won't have a chance until after batting practice. But we can talk then.”

Like in the major leagues, AAA pitchers shag flyballs during BP. Arnold, Thurman and Scott Cassidy seemed to be having a competition of who could make the most impressive catch in centerfield. Thurman won easily, as he slammed into the outfield wall making an impressive leaping catch. It was definitely SportsCenter-worthy material, and caught the attention of pretty much everyone in the park. Thurman is really solidly built for a pitcher and he looks like he'd make a great corner outfielder as well. I wonder if he can hit? They didn't let any of the pitchers hit during BP, but Simon Pond put on an impressive display for the few dozen kids in the ballpark trying to get a batting practice ball or two.

Sure enough, after batting practice was over, Arnold walked past me and said he just needed to get a drink and he'd be ready to talk to me. With a cup of water in his hand, we exchanged introductions and he said he'd be happy to talk to me. Tape recorder at the ready, I asked him a few questions I thought would be of interest to the Batter's Box crowd:

BB: This is your third organization in the last year. Is there any real difference being with the Jays, rather than the Yankees or the A's?

JA: I don't think so. The Jays are a little more middle-of-the-road than Oakland or New York was. Oakland's minor system is really concentrated around development. The Yankees, even though they want to develop young players, really concentrate on winning. I think the Blue Jays have a good mix of both, where development takes the forefront, but there is also a focus on winning. It's needed, because if you want to get up there, you need to learn how to win down here.

BB: Speaking of getting there, it's probably going to be a bit easier for you being in this organization than with the Yankees or the A's.

JA: Especially as a starting pitcher. [laughs] I went from the hardest team to make it as a starting pitcher to the second-hardest. I think this was a better move for me. I think the first trade was more of a lateral move that didn't do anything for me. This is a much better situation for us younger guys because of a more open pitching situation in Toronto.

BB: What do you feel you need to work on to get up to Toronto?

JA: I need to work on concentrating on keeping the ball down in the zone and getting my off-speed stuff to be a little more consistent. I just need to refine the things that have gotten me this far. If I start to do a little better, I think I'll soon be up there [in Toronto].

BB: Do you have a timetable for making it to the big club, or are you taking it just one day at a time?

JA: Well, you think you're ready now, but you go out and you give up five or six runs and you think, "I'm not even close to ready." There's no real timetable, but when you're here [in AAA], you know you're close. I'm just a phone call away now. A lot of it has to do with the way I perform, but a lot of it is dictated by things I have no control over, like how the big league club is doing. I think if I keep refining the things I've been doing, it should come pretty soon and I'll be ready whenever it does happen.

BB: A lot of us in Toronto aren't too familiar with some of the things that go on down in Syracuse. One thing I've wondered about was pitch counts. Are the starters on fairly strict pitch counts?

JA: We're on fairly strict pitch counts, pretty much 100 or 110 pitches every time out. If I've thrown 7 shutout innings and I've thrown 110 pitches, they're not going to roll me out there in a 1-0 game just to try to win the game. That's where the development part comes into play, because they want to protect you. You stick by the pitch counts, but they're not so low that you shouldn't be getting enough innings. I'm sure they're up to 100 or 110 here.

BB: So you feel like you're getting enough work.

JA: Definitely. I'm definitely getting enough work.

BB: I don't know if you saw any of the interleague games, but some of the Toronto pitchers looked a little weak with the bat. Are you looking forward to that at all?

JA: Heck no! [laughs] I don't think I'll look any better. A couple weeks before interleague starts, I'll learn how to bunt, but that's about it. I'm not the pitcher who says that I used to be a good hitter. Maybe I was back in high school, but that was a long time ago. It's hard enough just worrying about pitching, so I'll just worry about that.

BB: One last question. I'm considering drafting you next year for my fantasy team. Do you think that's a good idea?

JA: I sure hope so, but you'll have to judge that for yourself. I'm going to go out there and battle and compete and give you everything I have every time I go out. I think everywhere I've gone, that's the one thing the other teams can say about me. No matter if my stuff is good enough or not, I'm going to go out there and compete. I'll give you that much.

BB: Thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to let you know that you're being noticed up in Toronto and we're all rooting for you up there.

JA: Thanks, it's appreciated. I hope I can see all the fans in Toronto soon.

POSTSCRIPT: Although I didn't get a chance to talk to either Thurman or Restovich (sorry, Aaron!), this was a great day for me. I really had no idea what I was doing: I'm a lot more comfortable around future Nobel Prize laureates than future Cy Young winners. I imagine for most athletes, being interviewed would be considered quite a chore, but Jason really was quite happy to answer all of my questions. He acted like he would be more than happy to sit there with me for a half an hour (or more) and talk about baseball, which put this novice at ease. The media in Toronto are going to love him, as he's both approachable and articulate. He was really quite happy to hear that we're rooting for him in Toronto and that the Batter's Box crew would want to hear from him. I have a feeling he's going to be a fan favourite in Toronto for a long time.
Pinch-Hit: An Interview with Jason Arnold | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Pistol - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 01:40 PM EDT (#98501) #
Nice job Mike.
_Chuck Van Den C - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 01:44 PM EDT (#98502) #
Nice job Mike. Was Arnold not put off by your fedora with the word "press" on it?
Pepper Moffatt - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 02:13 PM EDT (#98503) #

Was Arnold not put off by your fedora with the word "press" on it?

Nope. I guess I didn't smell too bad either, particularly considering it was in the 90's here yesterday (they display it on the scoreboard). Not sure what it translated to in Celcius, but it was damn hot.

_Spicol - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 02:21 PM EDT (#98504) #
Great interview. The fantasy team question was ballsy...a lesser person might have decked you, or at least beaned you when your back was turned.
Pepper Moffatt - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 02:34 PM EDT (#98505) #
The fantasy team question was ballsy...a lesser person might have decked you, or at least beaned you when your back was turned.

Or he could have just told me to get my head out of the statsheet and that I should watch the game now and again. :)

I asked it because I thought it would be a good way to see what his personality was like.. to see if he'd say, "Hell yeah, pick me, I'm going to be the rookie of the year". I was actually caught of guard by how humble he was when answering the question. He thought the question was pretty funny (he laughed) but he gave a pretty serious answer. He really seems to take pride in how hard he works and he knows he has to continue to do that to get to the major leagues and have success there. He's got a terrific attitude. I'd love to get the chance to ask his coaches about him.

_EddieZosky - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 03:49 PM EDT (#98506) #
I really like this guy so far. He seems very genuine, and very cool-headed. He's obviously a very hard worker with gobs of promise. I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more from him in the future.

...of course I'm talking about Arnold here, not Moffat.
Coach - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 04:19 PM EDT (#98507) #
Excellent job, Mike. In addition to this interview, which I hope is the first of many with present and future Jays, Jason was the first player to post in Da Box, and he was kind enough to exchange e-mails with me during spring training. I'm sure there are a growing number of college-educated Toronto farmhands who use the Internet regularly and will eventually discover us.

The first trade Arnold was involved in looks more like a win for the Tigers all the time. Jeff Weaver has been a bust in the Bronx, and Ted Lilly is underachieving in Oakland. The Tigers have Pena, Bonderman and German, none of whom is as good yet as they are going to be. Of course, Beane since parlayed Arnold and J-F Griffin into Durazo and Perry, so he didn't exactly get fleeced. J.P. did very well in that deal, too.
_Tenobia - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 04:21 PM EDT (#98508) #
Just stepping out of lurkage here to thank Mike the other contributors to Batter's Box for giving the Blue Jays and baseball in general the kind of intelligent, fun coverage that seems so rare in this town.

I found "Da Box" fairly recently, but I've already made it a daily stop.

Keep up the good work.

Gerry - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 05:04 PM EDT (#98509) #
I was looking at the Blue Jay stats and I noticed Kurt Keane, SS. He has been pushed up the minors this year ahead of Russ Adams. His stats this year are:

Dunedin 135 AB's; .341 BA; .373 OBP; .467 SLG
New Haven 75 AB's; .345 BA; .390 OBP; .436 SLG
Syracuse 55 AB's; .320 BA; .341 OBP; .400 SLG

I could find very little information about him. He appears to be 25 years old. He does not walk or strike out a lot, probably a hacker without much power. He may not be Blue Jay material but he has done very well this year. He does not make Gideon's farm report.

Is he a prospect or just riding a hot streak?

Mike, did you notice him in the field or at the plate?
_Jordan - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 06:18 PM EDT (#98510) #
Gerry, I actually mentioned Keene in my May Farm Report, but you're right that I tend to leave him off my summaries. I suppose I'd put him in a second tier of prospects, if at all. He turns 26 next month, and this is his fourth full professional season after being drafted out of college in the 24th round in 2000. He's spent time in the NY-Penn, Sally and Florida State Leagues, all A-Ball. Overall, it hasn't been pretty: his three-year line coming into this season was .242/.295/.295, including a 2001 season spent below the Mendoza Line. He did show a better batting eye last year (39/39 BB/K ratio), which may have presaged his play this year. As you say, the walks and power aren't really there -- his 2003 OPS is mostly batting average -- but it's something.

For my money, this is a hot streak more than a flourishing, particularly for a guy who really should be beating up on lower-minors pitching -- but then again, I said the same thing about Simon Pond earlier this year. Keene started in New Haven, went down to Dunedin, and is now up in Syracuse; that looks less to me like a prospect being promoted than an organization guy being moved around. But who knows? He keeps on hitting. He's worth a monitor.
Craig B - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 10:48 PM EDT (#98511) #
One of the things to keep in mind when thinking about draftees from the previous era is that the change in organizational philosophies is pretty recent, and even then it takes a while to kick in. It may be that some of the guys who come out of nowhere are benefitting from the new approaches preached by the Jays' coaching and teaching staff. Especially at the plate.

Keene might be a guy like that; someone who has been turned on by the ultra-patient approach that the team is trying to instill at all levels. The improved K/W last year is an indication that that just may be the case (it's 15/28 this year). Who knows? He may have a future as a bench jockey, if he can handle the glove as competently as he appears to... he's played every position but catcher and pitcher this year.
Pepper Moffatt - Friday, July 04 2003 @ 10:58 PM EDT (#98512) #
Mike, did you notice him in the field or at the plate?

Not really, though I remember saying to myself "Who the heck is this guy?" when I got the starting lineups from the pressbox. He had a couple hits, nothing major. He didn't make any spectacular plays in the field but he didn't really have any opportunities to either. He looked pretty steady on the field.

From the game I only noticed a couple of things:

1. Werth *really* seems to be pressing. I don't know if it's getting called up then being sent back down again, but he looks like he's trying way too hard out there. Late in the game the Sky Chiefs were up down by a run and he was up with 2 on and 2 outs (I don't have my notes in front of me, so I'm recalling from memory). The count was 2 and 2 and on the next pitch he took one of the biggest swings I've ever seen. Too bad the pitch was up around his shoulders. He missed the pitch and the potential rally ended.

2. Cash seemed to have trouble hanging onto the ball when Red Wings players were stealing. It was *really* hot out last night so his hands were probably sweaty, but it's never a good sign. It wasn't a good night for catchers, as the Red Wings allowed Werth to take second on a wild pitch, then two pitches later he got all the way home on a 2-base wild pitch/strikeout.

Oh yeah.. Ken Huckaby played first. I don't know why I found that amusing, but I did.

_Shane - Saturday, July 05 2003 @ 12:03 AM EDT (#98513) #
Mike, that's awesome man! Thanks for doing that. The larger the scope the Blue Jays fanbase grows, as well of that of Kent's 'The Box', hopefully more Jays fans in little towns USA will use their advantages to seeing minorleague games, and try the same with other hot up & comers.

I'd rather read that interview, than a watered down Spencer Fordin one anytime.
_Duane Grassbaug - Monday, July 07 2003 @ 03:11 PM EDT (#98514) #
Great interview... I'm planning on going to the Clippers vs Skychiefs on Wednesday as Arnold and Claussen are the probables, should be an interesting game......thanks for the great site
Pinch-Hit: An Interview with Jason Arnold | 14 comments | Create New Account
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