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.