many thanks to Valatan for holding down the fort yesterday; outstanding job, V. today's guest is adam ottavino, the cards' 1st-round selection in this year's draft and one of three 1st-round picks on the quad cities pitching staff (the other two are mark mccormick and chris perez). those of you with an opinion about the organization's "pitch to contact" philosophy are sure to be interested in this conversation, which took place about a week ago.
i'll open a new thread tonight for the ballgame, which the cardinals would be well served to, like, show up for.
sam walker, the author of Fantasyland, wrote something interesting about you in the wall street journal about a month after the draft. he was inside the cardinals' "war room" on the day of the draft, and he told this story about how kobe perez --- the scout who filed the report on you for the cardinals --- had seen you strike a couple guys out in an exhibition versus the red sox and break a third guy's bat. do you remember that game?
when was it?
it was the first time i threw this year. it was down in fort myers, i think it was march 3 or 4. we [northeastern university] played them in spring training; we do that every year. this year i got to start the game. i had pitched against them my freshman year, but i didn't pitch against them my sophomore year, because i had to pitch another game the day after. but this year i got to start the game. it was exciting. the first batter was coco crisp. i got ahead of him, and my arm felt pretty good that night. i definitely felt a lot stronger tan i had the year before, and in the bullpen warming up i could feel all the work i had done in the off-season. i had a little extra.
so the first batter was coco. i don't remember the count, but i threw pitch in on his hands and broke his bat, and he grounded out to second. so that was one out. then the second hitter was tony graffanino - before he left in spring training. so i got ahead of him 0-2, two fastballs, and then i threw him a curveball and he got a single on it; single to left. and then the next batter was jt snow and he singled also, on the first pitch. so it was first and second. they were hitting some of my off-speed stuff, but my fastball still felt good. so the next batter was, i think, dustin mohr, and i struck him out on three straight fastballs. and he swung at all of them, and he was way behind on them. i was surprised. the ball was exploding out of my hand pretty good. so then the last batter was david murphy, and i struck him out on four pitches, also all fastballs. i came out of the game and i felt like i had had a pretty good inning, but i didn't know how hard i was throwing or anything. and then somebody told me i was throwing, like, 93 to 96. it was a good feeling because i'd never thrown that hard before. the hardest i had even thrown was 94. so i felt like i had a pretty good year coming up. that gave me a lot of confidence.
did you know there were scouts in the stands?
i knew there were a lot of people watching, but i was more worried about the hitters. because my first go-round against the red sox, my freshman year, i was a little intimidated by them i think. i faced varitek and manny ramirez and a few other guys, and i was pitching real carefully. but this year, with all the work i had put in and all of the confidence i had from the past summer, i knew i could get these guys out. so i went right after them. it was really awesome to see the way the batters were reacting to the ball coming out of my hand. after the game, jt snow came up to me and he was telling me he felt my stuff was really good and he thought i was a tough guy to hit, and he was happy i didn't throw him that fastball because it looked like i was gonna overpower him. that was pretty interesting coming from a guy who's been in the league for so many years. so it gave me a lot of confidence.
at that point, your college team was down there on spring break, getting ready for your season?
yeah, we were on our spring break and since we're up in boston, we couldn't play any games that early in the year. so we had to go down to florida to start our season. so we were there anyway, and we always do that game against the red sox. that's the last exhibition game we have, and then the next few games are real. us and boston college played them. it was a good experience and something i could build on.
and you were coming off a good sophomore season and obviously had pretty high expectations going into your junior year. were you pretty much the ace or the staff heading in?
i think i pitched every big game our team had from midway through my freshman year until i left. that was the role i had. we played georgia tech, who was number 1, two weeks later, and our staff went out of their way to make sure i threw that game.
you mentioned having gained confidence from last summer. did you play in the cape cod league or something?
yeah, i played in the cape cod league, i was with horwitch, and that was huge for me. i'd had a good sophomore year but i was still in a small conference, and i knew i needed to prove myself on a larger scale. so when i went to the cape cod league, that was huge for me. i had a good summer -- i had a 1-point-something era by the end, and i got a lot of attention because there were so many scouts up there who really liked what i was doing. so going into this year i just had so much confidence because of that. after that exhibition game i had even more confidence.
was it important to you to be drafted in the 1st round?
well i mean, everybody wants to be picked as high as possible. i had seen all the best players in the nation, and i knew i was up there with them. i thought i was one of the best pitchers around. so yeah, i definitely thought i could go that high; i thought that maybe i deserved to go that high. but at the same time, i was just excited to play pro ball. i wanted to get started, and as long as somebody was going to give me a legitimate chance then i was happy. i just didn't want to go with a team that was gonna think of me as just another guy. so the higher you get drafted, usually the more stock a team has in you. when i went in the first round, it was like a dream come true. especially with the cardinals. i was just thrilled.
tell me a little bit about your repertoire. you said your fastball's in the mid-90s, upper end. what else do you throw?
i usually throw between 90 and 94; i can get to 95, 96 a few times in a game. in college ball i was trying to strike a lot of batters out, so i was pretty much throwing a lot of 4-seamers up in the strike zone, but since i got here the cardinals have really preached to me the pitching to contact and throwing to ground balls. i have a good sinker that i'm developing right now, and that's become my main pitch that i've been working on since i've been in pro ball. i'm struggling a little bit with it right now, at times, because it's a new philosophy and a new thing and i'm just not used to it yet. but i can see already the benefits of it -- i'll throw a sinker down and it'll get good late movement and get an easy groundball. it makes my life easier -- i don't have to throw a lot of pitches and can stay in the game a little longer. so that's my main pitch right now. i still throw that 4-seamer up high, a little higher up in the mile-per-hour range, if i need to get a strikeout. i also have a curveball, a pitch i can throw to keep hitters off balance; i have a slider, which is kind of like my strikeout pitch -- it's my best breaking ball, it's the most deceptive. it seems to be pretty effective. and then i have a changeup that i didn't really use much in college but i've used a ton since i've been in pro ball, because i'm facing a lot more lefties than i did in college. i'll throw it to righties, but i throw it a lot more to lefties.
so that's basically my repertoire, but it's still a work in progress. right now i'm just trying to refine all my pitches and be able to throw more consistent strikes with them, because since my philosophy has changed a little bit, i'm having a little trouble with my command right now. but i think that once i get it, it's gonna really help me in the future.
you've played at two levels this year, and i noticed that you got off to fast starts in both cases --- at state college, and then more recently at quad cities. do you just get psyched up for those initial appearances?
i think i'm the type of guy who, when i have to come in and prove myself, i always seem to be able to rise to a better level. i think that happened in my college career whenever i had to face a big team, or my first start of the season -- i was always ready to go right out of the gate, that first game. and part of the reason is that i was pitching my old style that first little while at state college. i was just pitching my old style, not really changing anything from college. and that low level of the minor leagues, that was getting me by just fine. but i know that there are certain changes i need to make to get the majors. because i don't want to be a good pitcher in low a or short-season; i want to be a good pitcher in the majors. so i need to make the changes that are going to help me down the line. so working with the pitching coordinator and some of the pitching coaches, i've just been trying to work on this new style of trying to get groundballs and be a little more efficient out there. because i had a tendency with my old pitching style to throw a ton of pitches. in pro ball, they're not going to let you throw 140 pitches in a game. so if i want to be out there, i've gotta be a little more efficient. i know i have the capability of doing it.
is it difficult when you have had a ton of success pitching with a certain style, and then you come in to begin your pro career and start blowing guys away --- if i remember correctly, you didn't allow an earned run in your first 20 innings or so at state college --- and then you have to start learning something new and struggle with it, does that produce a desire to go back to what used to work for you?
yeah, there is some of that. but at the same time, i've shown flashes with this new thing that i'm learning. and it's not a huge change; it's just a little bit of a mental change and a little bit of a mechanical change, and some things take repetition. so i've shown flashes of this being the thing that's gonna get me to the next level. i've had a few innings where i've thrown 6 or 7 pitches, got a couple broken bats, get out of the inning no problem. if i'm able to be more consistent with that, i think that's better for me in the long run. whereas the old way, yeah it's a little more exciting to strike out more batters, and i'm a little more confident in that at this point because it's what i've done my whole life. but there are times where i'll try to go back to that, and then when you're facing better hitters who can catch up to a high, hard fastball, it ends up over the wall or you just end up running into a long inning. i'm willing to give this every chance. i'm still young, i'm gonna work on it hard for the next while, and hopefully i can become comfortable with this so that next year i can just feel that this is second nature.
i'm really curious, because it's definitely part of the cardinals' organizational philosophy. some guys really fight against that transition when they have a style that they've had success with, and then there's a remoldling process. there are some guys who embrace it, and some guys who resist it. but it sounds like you're really comfortable with that change in philosophy.
well, i mean, i always have my old style and my old mentality in my back pocket. and i know that if i have to come out in certain situations and get a strikeout, i can go back to a different style of pitching. but if i want to get out there and pitch 200 innings for the cardinals someday and keep them in the ballgame, be out there 6 or 7 innings every time i go out, then this is a change i'm really gonna have to make.
what pitchers did you identify with when you were growing up? who do you pattern yourself after?
my favorite pitcher growing up was a guy named jimmy key; he pitched for the yankees for a while. i think i liked him so much because he had a good rhythm on the mound, and he threw all his pitches at any time for strikes. he seemed like he was having fun out there and being nice and easy and relaxed, and making it kinda look easy. i didn't want to be one of these guys who was just jerking the ball up there. that never seemed attractive to me, to just go up there and just grunt and muscle up and throw the ball by somebody. i want to be the guy can effortlessly get it in there, hit his spots, and be able to dial it up when you need to. so he was somebody that i admired. nowadays guys like roy halladay or even chris carpenter, guys who can get the strikeout when they need to but they can be efficient when they need to -- guys who are just adaptable on the mound. i've always admired that.
the quad cities team is pretty loaded right now - kind of the 1st-round draft pick ghetto for the cardinal organization. is it exciting to be in that kind of environment?
oh yeah, we have a great team. every day we go out there thinking we're gonna win the game. a lot of the guys on this team, we're all thinking we're gonna be able to move up in this organization together. everybody recognizes the talent that the players on this team have. i think we have a good group of guys here, not just for now but for the future. when i go out there and pitch, i have so much more confidence. when you know you have a lineup that's gonna score runs for you, a defense that's gonna play good behind you, and you just have to do your job - you don't have to pick up the slack for anybody else, because everybody's more than capable on this team. you play on a lot of good teams as you get older, but i think this is one of the most talented teams i've ever seen. and it's a good feeling. it's really nice to go out on the mound when you feel 100 percent confident rather than when you feel like you gotta carry the load.
how much contact did you guys have with mark mulder when he pitched there the other day?
we had a little bit. he was great. he came in and he set up food for everybody - a pregame spread, full-team spread, which was pretty incredible and a pretty unbelieveable thing for him to do. i think the thing i learned the most was how to carry yourself. just watching him in the locker room, how he got mentally prepared for the game, how he warmed up, how he was focused, what type of things he was thinking about during the game -- it just teaches you a lot about what it takes, on the mental side, to be there. if you look at him physically, there's a lot of guys on our team who are just as talented or can get to that level physically. it's just the mental side that's gonna separate whether any of us make it or not, and to see a guy who's already mastered that was really interesting. he was real nice -- he signed whatever anybody wanted to get signed, he helped out with whatever anybody had any questions with, and he went about his business. and it's something that, maybe one day when i'm in the majors and i have to make a rehab start, i'm gonna definitely remember how he was and how good of an experience it was for the young guys.
it hasn't happened much in the cardinal organization for the last few years. the pitchers have all been so healthy they haven't been down on the rehab assignments where they can expose the young players to that big-league attitude.
he was impressive. just the way he handled himself, everything about him. he just had "big league" written all over him, so it was pretty cool to see that.
what do you do to stay in shape between the end of the college year and the draft? your season ends; you wait around to get drafted; then there's a period of time after the draft where you negotiate; you finally sign, and then you get assigned to a team and finally start pitching again. so what did you do to stay in shape while all that was happening?
i just threw every couple of days to whoever i could, and i did some running and lifting and tried to stay mentally focused. it's a little tough. the first day back - the first day i signed with the cardinals and got out there on the field, i felt a little rusty. but i seemed to pick it up again pretty quickly.
and what specifically are you working on now? i guess you've already answered that question as far as learning to pitch to contact, but are there any other parts of your game that are an area of emphasis as far as making improvements?
all my pitches need some refining. they're all very effective at times -- i have good stuff, i just have to be more consistent with it. i'll throw one good changeup and then i'll leave one up. i'll throw one good fastball and then i'll leave one up. i'll throw one good curveball and then i'll cut one off and spin it into the dirt; same thing with my slider. i think the changeup is the pitch that needs the most work, because i never really used it that much in college, it just wasn't necessary. but i think in general experience is gonna bring a lot. i'm working hard at all of them every day, just trying to become more consistent with them, trying to get that consistent mechanical approach. i'm a big lanky guy, so sometimes it's hard for me to control all my body parts. they go off in different directions. once you get comfortable doing it one way, which i had, with one set of mechanics, then that becomes second nature. so i'm just waiting for these [new] mechanics to settle in and become muscle memory and become second nature, and i think everything else will follow. and that includes all my pitches. once you get a consistent release point, then you can know where to make the adjustments. it's all a learning process, but i guess that's why i'm still down here and not up with the big club.
do you notice a difference between the hitters at full-season A ball and short season, where you started?
i think there's a few better hitters here in each lineup that you're gonna face -- just guys who have seen more pro pitching. when you go to a short-season league, it's a lot of guys fresh out of college. a lot of the hitters are getting dominated because they're not used to seeing this good pitching consistently. and also the style of pitching in pro ball is totally different from the style in college. there's a lot more fastballs thrown in pro ball. so when the hitters get up to this level, they've experienced that a little bit and that makes them a little better hitters. guys aren't striking out as easy.
have you discussed your timetable with anybody in the organization? do you expect to be pitching at high A next spring?
it hasn't really been discussed, but i'm hoping that at the end of this season i can do well in the instructional league and get myself ready to go, so that in spring training i can have a good spring. i'm hoping that at least i'll be ready for the florida state league. i just want to go wherever my talent takes me. if i need more time here [quad cities], then i'm fine with that. i'm just trying to get to the majors as fast as i can, so i'm hoping that i can at least be in the florida state league by the beginning of the year and then work hard and do well and just keep moving up.
adam, i appreciate your time. good luck to you.