By JAY LeBLANC
June 2, 2008
Adrian Alaniz has an uncanny talent for flying under the radar. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, and even after two successful years at the University of Texas, the St. Louis Cardinals waited until the 36th round to take a chance on him in the 2006 draft. Alaniz chose not to sign and returned to school, and even after going 12-3 with a 2.59 ERA for the Longhorns in 2007, he wasn’t chosen until the eighth round by the Washington Nationals in 2007. After agreeing to terms with the Nats, Alaniz dominated the short-season Class A New York-Penn League as a member of the Vermont Lake Monsters, going 8-2 with a 2.39 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 60 innings. Somehow, that performance wasn’t impressive enough to land him on Baseball America’s list of Washington’s top 30 prospects.
However, Alaniz knows that if he keeps on dealing, the people he needs to take notice - like Nationals GM Jim Bowden - will. The 6‘2”, 200 lb. right-hander added a change-up to his arsenal this season has been outstanding while pitching for the Washington’s advanced Class A Carolina League affiliate, the Potomac Nationals. After 10 starts, the 24-year-old is sporting an unblemished 7-0 record to go along with an impressive 2.72 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 53 innings, and chances are it won’t be long before he joins Jordan Zimmermann and Cory VanAllen, both of whom started the season with Potomac, in the double-A Harrisburg Senators‘ rotation. I recently had a chance to speak with Alaniz:
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted in the eighth round by the Nationals? Did you know they were looking to pick you?
A: I probably didn’t know until the night before, actually. I didn’t even know the Nationals were even considering me. It was kind of one of those things where I fell in the slot, and I was happy to be drafted by anybody. I’m glad to be part of this organization right now.
Q: You faced some good competition while playing at the University of Texas. How did your time there prepare you for your professional career?
A: Well, I definitely learned a lot in the four years that I was there, from being at a big university and playing in big atmospheres, going to the College World Series and doing that. I learned a lot, not just by being a player but also as a person, so I took that into Minor League Baseball and I think it’s carried over pretty well.
Q: You’ve added a change-up to your repertoire this season and the results have spoken for themselves. Whose idea was that, and how long did it take to get that pitch game-ready?
A: Well, it’s always been a pitch that I’ve wanted to develop. In college, I had it, and it just wasn’t one of those things that I’d perfected yet, and once I got into the minor league organization I got with our pitching coach, Randy Tomlin, and I was able to do some things here and there that he had taught me. Now I’ve gotten to where I’ve gained that confidence in throwing it a lot. It’s definitely a pitch that’s gained over a long period of time; it’s not something you can figure out just within a day. So I’ve added that to my little repertoire, and I think it’s working well.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the other pitches you throw and how you use them?
A: I throw a fastball, curveball, slider, change. I’m not a guy that throws really hard. I’m not going to throw 95, and that’s just the person that I am. I like to mix pitches in between counts, you know, start off with a breaking ball and stuff like that - trying to keep these hitters off balance. And I think that’s just the type of pitcher that I am, and how effectively I can do that will depend on my success.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: A mixture of the two. You know, I do record the strikeouts, but obviously like I said, I’m not an overpowering guy. I definitely work well in between the counts and in and out of the strike zone with my stuff, so it’s a mix between the two and I think it’s good to have that.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you’ve tried to model your approach after?
A: I really don’t model myself after anybody - I just try to be the person that I am. But if I had to say that there was one person that I looked up to, it was Roger Clemens growing up. Being a guy that’s from Texas, and you know, he was from Houston and pitched at the University of Texas, he’s one of those guys that I looked up to, not only in the way he does things on the mound, but also his intensity out there and the way he works hard, day in and day out, in between starts and stuff like that.
Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this year?
A: Obviously the change-up was one thing that I really wanted to work on, and I think I’m going about it the right way in doing that. Another thing is to just get better every time I go out there - not try to do too much, and kind of take it game by game. It’s a long season, and it’s my first full year in the system. I got to play short-season, so it was only for three or four months. See how well I can handle that, and just take it as it comes.
Q: When do you envision yourself making your big-league debut? Do you have a specific goal in mind?
A: (Laughs.) Obviously my goal is to get to the big leagues. It is in my hands, but then again, it’s up to the organization and what they want to do. It would be nice to jump there as quick as I can - we all feel the same way, all the guys who are in my position right now - but it’s yet to be determined, so I’ll just kind of take my chances, and whenever I get that call, I’ll be ready for it.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Deborah L. Heckman/Potomac Nationals