Hardball Questions: Mike Pelfrey

A year ago, THT’s Matthew Namee interviewed Wichita State ace Mike Pelfrey, who we said was “arguably the best pitcher in next year’s draft.” Well it’s next year, and Baseball America ranks Pelfrey as the top pitcher available in today’s draft. While we wait to see which team grabs Pelfrey (11-2 with a 1.47 ERA and 121-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117 innings) with its first-round pick, here’s a look back at the interview.

THT: How’s the recovery after the season going?

Mike Pelfrey: It’s good. It’s very, very disappointing.

THT: I can’t imagine. It’s disappointing for me, and I’m not playing.

MP: Yeah, it’s kind of a shock first. We were one out away in that first [championship] game, and then everything just hit the fan.

THT: That was an amazing home run, too [a grand slam in the top of the 9th by Arkansas’ Brady Toops].

MP: I thought it was a routine fly ball. It was like an outside change-up, and the guy just kind of threw his hands up at it, and the wind was blowing, and the ball just kept carrying and carrying, and it got out, and the place just went nuts. I didn’t hear anybody, because I was so in shock.

THT: That stadium [Arkansas] is nuts, isn’t it? I heard it’s crazy.

MP: Yeah, they have unbelievable fans, the kind of fans you would hope for. They definitely got after it, kept yelling “Pig! Sooie!” or something like that. It was a great atmosphere.

THT: This year was the best I can remember since 1998.

MP: Our team this year was loaded with talent. We had all the tools…it just didn’t work out.

THT: You’ve got a lot of good pitchers coming back, too.

MP: Yeah, next year we’re going to be really good again, led by the pitching staff, of course. We’ll have to play great defense, and we’ll have to find ways to score runs.

THT: The staff is pretty much only losing Tommy Hottovy, right?

MP: Yeah, Hottovy and [Kyle] Banick.

THT: I was so excited when Boston drafted Hottovy.

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MP: Yeah, he’s well-deserved of that. He’s worked hard for it, and he’s going to do great things. I’ve said this year that Tommy Hottovy could pitch in the big leagues. Being around the guy, he’s a great guy—he’s a student of the game. He’s always looking to improve himself. He’s an unbelievable worker—he always works hard. His makeup is great. He has a great presence on the mound; he’s a very confident guy. He knows a lot about the game, he knows how to pitch, and he has great stuff. He’s just a great guy to be around. He throws three pitches for a strike from the left side. He throws an unbelievable change-up, and his command is off the charts. He has an amazing curveball—his curveball is the best I’ve seen. And his change-up is just stupid. He spots his fastball in and out. There’s not too much more you can ask from a guy. And he’s a gamer. He’s very deserving of going in the fourth round, and he’s going to have a great career. I’m just looking forward to watching him.

THT: I saw him in his first game as a starter and he looked dominant.

MP: Yeah, that’s something he’s always wanted to do here. We had [Derek] Roach out of the pen as a lefty, but we didn’t have too many other dominant lefties coming out of the pen, so that’s half the reason why he’d never started. But that’s something he’s always wanted to do. He’s done it every summer and he’s just dominated every summer. But it doesn’t really matter where you put him—starter or reliever—he’s going to get outs. With his stuff and the way he attacks hitters, he’s going to get outs.

THT: I’m glad to see Hottovy get a chance to show off that he could be a starter, go 6-7 innings and still be good.

MP: Well, sometimes he came in relief and went six or seven innings. When the starter would struggle, he’d come in in the second and throw the rest of the game, or come in the third and throw the rest of the game. He’s always had the ability. With his stuff and the way he goes after guys, he’s going to last as long as his legs and body allow him to.

THT: Talk to me about your repertoire. What do you throw?

MP: Two- and four-seam fastballs, I throw a circle change-up, and I throw a curveball.

THT: What do you hit on the gun?

MP: I touched 98 a couple times this year, but I’m usually low- to mid-90s, right around there.

THT: What kind of curveball do you throw?

MP: I like to call it a power curve. It’s not really hard enough to be a slider.

THT: Does it have a late break or an early break?

MP: Later. It goes down more than it goes across.

THT: Let’s talk about your high school career. Going into your senior year, you were a top prospect, and then you decided to play basketball. What made you decide to do that?

MP: I just wanted to forget about baseball and just go out and have fun. Basketball is a great way to get in shape for baseball, and I always enjoyed playing basketball, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity. The coach told me they didn’t have any big men, and he told me to come out, that I needed to play, and he thought I could be a key guy.

THT: How did that affect your next baseball season? I know that was a disappointing year.

MP: Well, I didn’t really prepare for it as much as I usually would if I didn’t play basketball. I didn’t have enough time to start throwing every day like I would leading up to the season, like I would have if I didn’t play basketball. My junior year, I was probably low- to mid-90s; everything worked. I went out senior year and I was throwing 88-89, and scouts didn’t like that, of course.

THT: And you fell to the 15th round.

MP: Yeah. I heard up until the draft, up to a couple days before the draft I talked to my high school coach, and the latest he’d heard was the 2nd-3rd round. But that’s how the draft works sometimes.

THT: Was it a shock?

MP: Yeah, it was very, very disappointing. Everybody, the whole year, said, “Hey, you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna go here, you’re gonna do that.” I was really excited. I never thought I would have to go to college. I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to. But the way everything’s gone, I don’t regret it one bit.

THT: So Wichita State was a late decision for you.

MP: Well, I signed with them in the early signing period of my senior year, but I never really thought I was going there. And then probably, like, two weeks after the draft, I called [head coach] Gene [Stephenson] up and I told him, “Hey, I’m coming.” Because I knew at that time that they [Tampa Bay] weren’t going to give me what I wanted to sign.

THT: How has that experience been, playing for Gene?

MP: Time of my life. Scouts always told me my senior year that I was ready physically, but I wasn’t ready mentally. I always thought, “Yeah right, I’m ready.” And I get to college, and I’m around [pitching coach] Brent [Kemnitz], and the guy’s unbelievable. The guy’s the best around. He’s taught me so much mentally, and being around all the guys that have gone through everything, and the experience … It’s the time of my life. I’ve learned so much. I feel like I’m ten times a better pitcher than I was in high school.

THT: Have you changed at all as a pitcher?

MP: I matured physically, and I put on some weight. I feel I’ve gotten stronger. But the most changes have come from the mental side of the game, learning how to pitch. Brent taught me to tighten up my curve ball, he taught me a change-up. How to pitch, things to do. It’s just unbelievable.

THT: I’ve heard Kemnitz say that you may be the best pitcher he’s worked with. There’s got to be a lot of pressure attached to that.

MP: You know, everybody always talks to me about, “Hey, does this add pressure to you or do anything like that?” But I never feel any pressure, because the expectations I have for myself exceed any expectations anybody else could have for me. My goal is to be the very best. I expect, every outing, to go out there and not give up a hit — just, be perfect. I expect to be perfect. Nobody’s expectations exceed that, so there’s no added pressure on myself. I just go out and give it my all, every time out.

THT: What’s your relationship with your catchers like?

MP: Joe Muich this year, he was unbelievable. I didn’t shake him off one time this year. I have unbelievable trust in him. Anything he puts down, I always agree with it. It’s always the right thing for me, and it always works.

THT: Is Muich the one that calls the pitches?

MP: Yeah, the coaches don’t call it; he calls it. He’s played for so long—he’s an experienced guy, he knows the game. That just makes him that much better of a catcher.

THT: Do you learn a lot from the other pitchers on the team, or are you so good that you don’t need that?

MP: No, I’m definitely a student of the game. I remember last fall, I asked Jared Simon, a freshman on the team, about how he throws his change-up. He has a great change-up, and I wanted to develop a better one. I asked him about his grip and what he does to slow it down. Anything I notice, I always ask guys about it, about certain things I want to improve on, certain things I want to learn. Guys do the same thing, guys ask me about different things, how I approach things and stuff like that.

THT: You’re coming up on your junior year; you’re going to be draft-eligible. How does that affect how you’re going into next year?

MP: It’s not really going to affect anything. In high school, I was a little immature and I’d kind of worry about it, and press, and try to do too much to impress scouts and get where I needed to be. Next year, I’m going with the approach that everything’s going to take care of itself. I’m just going to continue to do what I do and continue to get better every day, and everything will just take care of itself.

THT: Have you made a verbal commitment to an adviser/future agent?

MP: Yeah, my advisor is Scott Boras, the same guy I had in high school. I actually talk to a guy named Scott Chiamparino (he’s with the Boras corporation).

THT: I’m curious about that. Of course you saw what happened to Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew and how they dropped in the draft, largely because of their assocation with Boras. Why choose Scott Boras?

MP: Since high school, I’ve developed a relationship with the guys. They’re unbelievable. Some people are scared of them, but nobody’s going to tell you that they’re not the best. They’re the best around; they know their stuff. I remember when I did the interviews in high school with advisers, he came and gave his little speech, and I was blown away by the stuff he had and the stuff he talked about. They came across as more personal. They had your back no matter what, and they’ve never done one thing to change my mind about that. Even after high school, when everything fell down, he was still like, “You’re still the best.” They’ve never done anything but motivate me. Sometimes after my outings, we’ll call and discuss them. I always learn from my outings, whether they’re good or bad.

THT: Do you talk to Boras himself, or one of his other guys?

MP: One of his other guys, Scott Chiamparino. I’ve only met Boras one time. I’ve dealt with Scott Chiamparino and a guy named Bob Brower. I always deal with those guys.

THT: So you keep in pretty good contact with those guys?

MP: Yeah, we probably talk once a week, about, “How are you feeling? How’s your arm? How’s school going?” They always keep on me about getting school done, and, “Next year you don’t get school,” and everything like that. Make sure everything’s going good, make sure I’m learning and getting stronger.

THT: What is your take on pitch counts? They’ve been a big thing all over baseball lately.

MP: As long as you don’t exceed a stupid number [you’re alright]. This weekend at Arkansas, I wanted to go back in, you know? But Brent and Gene take care of the guys so much that you’ve got to respect them. They’re going to take care of you, they’re not going to abuse you. It’s tough sometimes when you have to sit there and watch your team play and know that you can’t do anything about it. But you’ve gotta love the guys for that. They’re here to take care of you, and they tell you that your future is more important than the game. You can’t do anything but respect them.

THT: A few weeks ago, you threw 124 pitches. From what I heard, you were pretty gassed. At that point, are you wanting to come out? Are they pushing for you to come out?

MP: I don’t remember the last time I actually wanted to come out of a game. As long as I’m able to throw without any pain, I’ve always wanted the ball and I’ve always wanted to be in there. Even if I’m physically tired, mentally I’ll still feel okay and I feel like I can still get outs. Any time I can do that, I always want the ball.

THT: Statistically, you are pretty similar to Jered Weaver his sophomore year, and going into next year’s draft, you’re a projected top-five or so pick. Is that something you’ve always expected? Have you always known this was going to happen?

MP: It doesn’t really catch me by surprise. I’ve always expected to be the best. That’s my goal, to be the best. I’ve always thought that, with my ability and my talent, that’s achievable. So I just go out every day, try to get better, try to get stronger, and I feel like everything else will take care of itself.

THT: What’s your workout regimen like?

MP: I lift six times a week. Three days we pound the legs, and the other three days we do maintainence on the upper body.

THT: How do you feel about interviews and publicity?

MP: It’s fine, I enjoy it. It’s always fun to talk to other people and see what they have to say. I don’t mind it a bit.

THT: It it still cool to have people get your autograph, or is that getting old?

MP: That never gets old. The first time you do it, it makes you feel good inside. I don’t think that will ever get old.

THT: Where do you want to pitch in the pros?

MP: It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Royals. I think that’d be cool; they’re right here near my hometown. I’ve always thought it would be neat to play close to home. But anywhere would be fine with me. My goal is to pitch in the big leagues, and any opportunity to do that would be good.

THT: So you’re a pretty big fan on top of just playing. I know there are some guys, like Jeff Kent, who aren’t really even baseball fans.

MP: Yeah, I watch the games, and when I watch TV, I try to pick things up and learn things. I’m a huge fan. I watch whenever I can. I sit at home every night and watch Sportscenter. Any time I can watch the game, I definitely take advantage of it.

THT: What major-league pitcher would you compare yourself to, in terms of the type of pitcher that you are?

MP: I have no idea. I go after hitters, attack the hitters with everything I’ve got. I’m very confident on the mound. That’s who I’d compare to; I don’t really know who that is.

THT: How do you approach a hitter? I imagine you approach them all pretty much the same.

MP: Yeah, I approach every guy the same. I always get a little attitude on the mound. I tell myself before I go out there, “I am Mike Pelfrey.” And I go after every hitter, not afraid of anybody. I feel like if I do what I need to and put the ball where I want to, they’re not going to hit it. I just go right after the hitters.

THT: Was your game against Missouri in the NCAA Regionals (8.2 shutout innings, 4 hits, 14 strikeouts) the best game of your life?

MP: I wouldn’t say the best. I threw the ball pretty good against Long Beach early in the year, just in terms of everything working, the ball coming out clean. I was very effective, throwing three pitches for a strike, getting ahead of guys, and I had great results [7 shutout innings, 2 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts].

THT: What was your take on [Long Beach State’s] Jered Weaver? He pitched amazing against Wichita State [16 strikeouts in 6 innings].

MP: Our guys really didn’t like him, because he’s very confident. Kind of arrogant, almost. I watched the guy, and I loved the whole game, even though he was shoving it against us. I loved the whole game, just watching his attitude and just watching him go after guys. Brandon Green swung at the first pitch and hit a line drive to right field, and he [Weaver] kind of stepped off the mound and stared at him. I was loving that. Other guys on the team, hitters especially, were like, “Hey, don’t be doing that.” I just totally loved watching the guy work and pitch. That’s definitely a guy I can learn from.

THT: So you can respect that, stepping off the mound and staring a guy down.

MP: Oh, definitely. I enjoyed that. I told myself, “That’s the attitude I need to have.” He knows that he’s the best, and he’s probably got the same expectation, that he has to be perfect. And he knows he can get the job done. Half the reason he’s so good is the mental side. He’s so confident, and he’s not afraid of anybody. He just goes after everybody, and I love that about him. I loved watching him.

THT: Are you concerned about having a pitching coach or a manager who doesn’t know when to say no? Obviously you aren’t going to pull yourself from a game unless your arm is falling off. Does it concern you, that there are some coaches that just ride a pitcher?

MP: No. That has something to do with the player—you’ve got to look out for yourself. That’s one thing about Wichita State—they’re never going to abuse you. Even if you tell them you’re fine. Like the other day [against Arkansas], they told me they weren’t going to let me go in. I asked Gene, and he told me they weren’t going to do that to me. You as a player, you’ve got to know when to say no. There’s always a chance to be a hero, but your future, in the long run, is a lot more important than any game.

THT: Next year, you’re losing the core of your offense (Drew Moffitt, Brandon Green, Logan Sorensen, Nick Blasi). Are the guys coming in going to be able to take up the slack there, or does that put more pressure on the pitching staff?

MP: I don’t think there will be any guys for awhile who can come into our program and make up for losing these guys. Our seniors this year were unbelievable. They were leaders on and off the field. The home runs they produced and the runs they produced, that’s going to be hard to make up for. So I’m thinking more, in terms of next year, that we’re going to have to play more small-ball. I’m thinking our attitude as a team is going to have to be a little different. We’re going to have to go after guys, we’re going to have a little more swagger. Because we’re not going to have any guys that are high-profile, position-wise. We’re going to be fine, we’re going to play small-ball, and our pitching staff is going to be unbelievable. We expect that, though; it’s not any more pressure on the pitchers. We’re going to approach everything the same. Everything’s going to work out.

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