Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pitching & Pitching With Smart Young Pitchers

When Our Washington Nationals started their very first Accelerated Spring Training last week for its top prospects, I was fortunate to see, first hand, the futures of this Franchise. For the first time in years, there is hope at the Minor League Level. Since The Lerner Group took over, real talent is being brought into their system, each and every day.

But, when a team goes young, looking to build for the future, the players are many times, just out of High School, barely adults. And as such, they have a difficult time discussing their futures and talents when questioned. That's to be expected on any growing teenager. Part of the many skills they need to learn about life. Life does not exist solely on the baseball field.

Fortunately, Our Washington Nationals also have two extremely bright pitching prospects in their system. Bright, young kids, well ahead of the curve of life, who have an understanding of everything going on around them. Both acquired last year. Garrett Mock (along with Matt Chico) was delivered to Washington in The Livan Hernandez Deal last August. Zechry Zinicola, a stopper hailing from Arizona State University (College Baseball Haven) is enjoying a metoric rise through The Nats Farm System. From the June, 2006, Draft, Zechry moved his way up to AA Harrisburg by September of last year.

Mock and Zinicola were outstanding to chat with. Interested, knowledgeable about what they need to accomplish to succeed at the game of baseball. And, Mock has that terrific Texas twang in his deep voice. Both big kids, Mock downright massive at 6'4 and 220 lbs. Zinicola, 6'1", 220 lbs. The following moments were some of my most enjoyable during my week in Florida at Nationals Spring Training.

First, I asked Garrett Mock: What about the day you got traded to Washington?

“I got the phone call, as I was heading to the field for a game. I was going to get a bite to eat. AJ Hinch (Arizona Farm Director) called me, telling me it was business. He talked to me about how the trade went down. It’s not about The Diamondbacks wanting to get rid of me. But, it’s a deal that’s going to benefit the Major League Club. So, I guess what they were telling me is that the service of The Minor League Team is to service The Major League Team. So, I was the odd man out, because it was going to help the Diamondbacks. The Nationals wanted (Matt) Chico and I in that trade. I was excited that a team wanted me, here. Really, (the trade) benefited everybody. I can’t complain.”

“But, to finish your question, it was really exciting to pack up to just get where I was going, meet a whole new group of guys. But, I called my girlfriend and told her, ‘Babe, I just got traded. To Whom,’ she responded. ‘Where you going.’ Well, I told her I got go home to pack and tomorrow morning I will be in Portland, Maine. She asked what she should do? I didn’t have an answer, I didn’t know (both of us laughing). I had never been traded before. It was a pretty cool experience. Even if I never get traded again, or whenever I get done (playing baseball). It will be a really good story about the day I got traded, and how in about 8 hours, I had to pack up, change my life, get on a plane, head out to the east coast. It was a really cool experience.”

Once you arrived in Washington hands, you had an injury problem with your knee. How’s it recovering?

“My knee was bugging me for a couple of years. But, I finally had a procedure at the end of last season.” (So, how you feeling right now?—SBF) “I feel fine. I had surgery at the end of September; it’s a fairly long healing process to get it to 100%. They (Nationals Doctors/Trainers) cleared me to do this stuff (Spring Training). I was a little tender at the end of yesterday. I did the ice, and lots of rest. So, I have a bullpen (throwing session today). If you ask me after the bullpen, I can tell you exactly (And, he was fine).”

When you say tender, are you talking arm or knee?

“My knee. My arm feels fine. It’s my knee just doing, getting use to all the drills, pickoffs, and those types of things. Those are movements that I have not worked on since the off-season and the operation to get my strength back. So, as far as my arm is concerned, it’s fine. And, with my knee, now since I am back on my feet all day, I just have to get use to moving around.”

So, what are your goals this year? What are you hoping to do? Maybe move up?

“A lot of those goals, moving up and all that, are really out of my control. My goal is to stay healthy, and performance wise, I want to win every single game, and strike out everybody (chuckling a little). But, that’s not going to happen. You have to be realistic. But, realistically, I need to stay within what I know I am capable. I know it sounds cliche. But, I want to stay within myself and let my abilities make my pitching work for me. And, as far as goals and numbers, that also not in my control. I just want to do my job on the day I pitch. If my job is to hold the lead, keep us tight in the ballgame, whatever the case may be. I need to do my job for the day. And, that job is to win.”

I have read and heard that sometimes you throw the fastball too much. And, it gets you in trouble?

“Well, sometimes I throw too many balls. And, sometimes I throw too many breaking balls (we are both laughing). It just depends on the situation. I have always tried. You know, it really is a learning experience. But, sometimes, I am sure I am guilty of that (throwing too many fastballs). At the same time, this Minor League experience is a learning process. There is a curve that you must master to advance. There were problems last year, with runners on base, where I just went with fastballs. I don’t think it was the pitch that hurt me, but the location of the pitch. So, if all those fastballs that hurt me were down in the (strike) zone, and over a better part of the plate inside and out, there might have been totally different comments made about my fastball. But, I really believe it’s a learning process. And, I am getting ahead of the game. The more innings I get, the more failures I have to deal with, the more successes I have to deal with. I learn more about myself and what I can bring to the mound each and every time.”

Opportunity here with Washington has got to be better than Arizona?

“That’s yet to be seen. With the Diamondbacks, I enjoyed being a part of that organization. I think they do a great job of critiquing talent, deciding who is ready or not. Now, this morning, we had a meeting with Mr. Kasten , Stan Kasten, Jim Bowden and Bob Boone. They told us opportunity is here. So, everything is performance based. And, if me, or who ever else goes out there, performs as they are capable, and the Big League Team needs them, we are going to get a fair shot this year.”

Even with opportunity available, do you still need someone within the organization, someone in the front office, to be in your pocket. Like, is Mike Rizzo (who originally drafted Mock with Arizona, now with Washington) backing you?

“I hope so. When the trade happened, he talked with me. He was really pulling for Chico and I. Rizzo wants to see us through it (to the Big Leagues). He drafted both of us. So, if I got a guy like him pulling for me, in the higher ups (in Nats Management), in the brass, it certainly is going to help out. But, if I go out there and pitch poorly, I don’t think he (Rizzo) is going to say ‘Put this guy in the Big Leagues’ (both of us laughing).”

When the Livan Hernandez trade occurred last August, as much as many Nationals fans were saddened to see Livo go, there was a general excitement over you and Chico coming to Washington. That trade was a significant turning point in the direction of This Franchise. Many in DC are pulling for both of you (SBF).

“Chico and I are staying together, along with (Mike) Bacsik and Bill White. “Whitey” and Bascik were also with the Diamondbacks last year, too. So, all of us, although we are different pitchers, we are all excited about being with this organization. Everything about the way they manage the teams and players, they talk to us all the time, give us information. Those guys (Kasten, Bowden & Boone) being in there talking with us. It just shows how The Nationals do care about what is going on in the Minor Leagues. They most importantly understand that players have to pull help from somewhere. This organization is taking pride, in the fact, in getting home grown players and building from within. THIS IS DEFINITELY EXCITING TO BE A PART OF THIS FRANCHISE!!”

"And, I like the climate a lot better than in Arizona. Florida is a lot more like home. In Arizona we had to buy stock in Chapstick. We bought logs of that stuff just to keeps your lips moist. I like this climate a lot better (laughing mightily)."

You are very outgoing, very personable. If and when you make it to Washington, you will hit it off with the fans. DC loves people like you (SBF).

“I hope so”

You are a real pleasure to talk to. Thank you so very much for your time.

“I loved chatting with you. If fans are as enjoyable as you in Washington, I can’t wait to get there.” (We shook hands strongly. Garrett Mock was a terrific kid. Great Head on his shoulders. I really liked him.)

Mock was such a joy to talk with, I didn’t think I would find anyone more interesting in Nationals Accelerated Camp, until I came across Zechry Zinicola. This Arizona State Prospect is going to be a free spirit. One of those guys fans LOVE TO SUPPORT--talented, smart and downright funny. Practice was about to begin, but Zech gave me a few minutes.

“Everyone in Washington is talking about how you have skyrocketed through the Nationals Organization. What has management told you of what they are expecting from you this year?

“I was told to come to camp in good shape and try to get better each and every day. I worked very hard this off season. Hopefully, I can make it a tough decision for them (one whether he makes the Major League Roster in 2007).”

Where you surprised at how well you did in you short time of professional ball last summer?

“I surprised myself in how quickly I moved up the ranks. My play spoke for itself. My game is pretty sound.”

So you weren’t surprised at your success directly out of Arizona State?

“A little bit. I know I had a better game plan than other guys that just came out of High School. I came from a BIG TIME Program at Arizona State, so I was really happy with my work last year.”

I was talking to Dana Brown (Scouting Director). He’s very high on you. Very impressed (SBF).

“Dana seems like a good guy. He been very kind to me, he’s very straight forward with me. We’ve had some good conversations. I am extremely excited to be here.”

“Where do you think you are going to start this season? What level?

“I have no idea. But, if I can continue to do the best I can here (at camp), then where ever they tell me to go, I will follow.”

What do you need to work on to improve?

“EVERYTHING!!--Fastball, location, off speed stuff, getting off the mound, being athletic, making good plays, not messing up any bunts (laughing), covering first base. I need to work on all that stuff so they can’t bust my chops (laughing again). I have talent, but I need to harness it.” (Zechry Zinicola is a serious off beat player--SBF)

How much running do you have to do, to keep your leg strength up?

“I run a fair amount. I do. I run about one mile and a half, at most, at a time, as a reliever. Then, I do some bike to mix it up, making it interesting and not drudgery. I try to keep it exciting, so I don’t get bored out on one thing.”

Being from Arizona, do you like the weather here better? Garrett Mock told he prefers Florida.

“The weather is about the same. Its far windier here. Its gorgeous here. I can’t complain about it.”

You seem thrilled about being a Washington National?

“Make no mistake about it, this is the VERY BEST OPPORTUNITY IN BASEBALL TODAY. I have a chance to play in the Big League here. So, do many others. This team is going young, looking to build. I could not be happier. You have to take advantage of this chance. It is really exciting with everything going on with The Washington Nationals. Very pleased to be here.”

Zech (as everyone of his teammates called him) had to go off to practice, after taking few pictures with The African Queen and I. This man is confident. Understands everything about working hard to succeed at the game. No doubt, perfect closer material. There is NO ONE in the Nationals Organization that does not think highly of Zechry Zinicola.

General Manager, Jim Bowden, always talks about "Pitching, Pitching & Pitching". You don't win without it. And, these two guys seem to have that right stuff.

Garrett Mock & Zechry Zinicola--playing on South Capitol Street in the very near future. I can't say enough about them. There are folks you meet in life, that you just know, immediately, are going to be successful. Mock and Zinicola are both winners in the world of life, if they never played another baseball game between them, again.

Very Impressive Young Men.


Anonymous said...

Forgive me for being slightly off-topic, but I have a question about the uniforms.

I thought that for this year, they'd go with the blue caps with the W on them and the blue jerseys with the W instead of the DC. But in the recent pictures I'm seeing, at both camps, there are a lot the new blue caps but usually paired with the red DC jerseys. Did they run out of blue jerseys? Did they change their minds?

Screech's Best Friend said...

The Major League Team will only use the Red "DC" Logo Caps and Red "DC" Uniform as an alternate game jersey. No longer will The Nationals wear the "DC" Blue Batting Practice Jersey nor "DC" Batting Practice Cap. Everything will be Curly "W" Which I find saddening. As I love the DC Logo.

The Minor League Camp was given the 2005 Nationals Batting Practice Jersey and New Curly "W" Blue Batting Practice Cap for this special accelerated Training Camp.

I hope that explains everything.

Anonymous said...

SBF -- I am going to stop by 320 this year and say hello. YOU are an interesting and intelligent guy, and thanks for the ongoing reports from Florida. It's all good stuff.

Mike Edgar said...

I definitely prefer the curly W. I've never really taken to the DC logo.

hartmanbirge said...

SBF.... Thanks for all the work you do - very impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed this write-up and unlike MSM it gives us a good look at the future face of the franchise. These two kids are something we can follow for a long time and build around. Mock in particular appears to have the build and the stuff to last deep into ballgames - I can't believe we got him and Chico for Hernandez (who is in obvious decline). The thing to watch with Mock this year I think is his command - he has the stuff, he just needs to own the plate a bit better and take charge of the strike zone.

Zenecola as a power reliever can get by on gas so I would expect him to rise quickly which he has. It would not surprise me at all to see him take Ayala's spot as soon as this year and if Cordero does get traded then he is probably the best guy in the system (incl even Rauch) to take over the role as closer - now. I would not at all be surprised to see Ayala and/or Rauch or Cordero to be traded this summer. I expect this kid to be in AAA and at 220 lbs throwing at 94mph is the sort of bulldog you want as a closer...