By JAY LeBLANC
June 26, 2008
As the Chicago White Sox slumped toward their eventual 70-92 record last summer, it became obvious they’d need an influx of good young pitching to compete in the American League Central going forward. Realizing this, the ChiSox took pitchers with their first six picks in last June’s MLB draft, including a pair of college hurlers they hope will be able to help the big league club sooner rather than later in first-round pick Aaron Poreda and third-rounder John Ely.
So far, both young hurlers are looking like solid investments. Poreda, a 6’ 6” lefty out of the University of San Francisco, was recently promoted to double-A after following up his outstanding debut in the Rookie-level Pioneer League last summer with a good start in advanced Class A this year. Ely, a 6’ 1”, 200 pound right-hander out of Miami of Ohio with three big league-quality pitches already in his repertoire, isn’t far behind.
After an outstanding debut with the Rookie-level Great Falls Voyagers last summer, Ely has held his own so far this season with the advanced Class A Winston-Salem Warthogs. Poor run support has his record at X-X, but he’s struck out XX hitters in XX innings while walking only XX and has a respectable X.XX ERA. Ranked as Chicago’s No. 9 prospect by Baseball America, he took Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors after allowing just one hit and fanning eight Wilmington Blue Rocks on June 12. I recently had a chance to speak with the promising 22-year-old righty:
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted in the third round by the White Sox? Did you know in advance that they were going to pick you?
A: I had no clue. I actually didn’t even talk to anybody before it happened; I had a little bit of contact with one of the scouts, but it was a shock. I was a big White Sox fan before I got drafted so it was a big deal.
Q: What kinds of adjustments did you have to make to stay successful as you transitioned from college to pro baseball last summer?
A: Well, basically you’ve just got to get used to throwing every fifth day instead of every seventh day. And especially in this league, you’ve got to study your hitters a little more than the college kids; in college, you probably see the same hitters once each year, and then here you see the same guys over and over. You can’t keep throwing them the same way; you’ve got to kind of learn to pitch instead of just throwing the ball and doing what the catcher wants to do.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: Typically I’m just a fastball-change-up guy. I’ll use my change-up at any time in the count. My strongest pitch is my fastball. I like to get ahead with my curveball sometimes and, you know, show it as a different look - late in the game especially when people are getting used to my approach, I’ll try to change it up with the curveball a little bit.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact or some mixture of the two?
A: It’s a little bit of the mix of the two. I like throwing to contact because I don’t have to throw as many pitches throughout the game then, so that helps out my pitch count and lets me go deeper into the game and help out the bullpen. You know, you like striking guys out too and I’ve tended to strike a few guys out in the past, but it’s not really, you know, your intent to strike people out, but however you get outs is exactly what you’ve got to do.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you’ve tried to model your approach after?
A: You know, I’ve been asked that before. I haven’t really thought about that all that much. I’ve been compared to a few people - in high school I was compared to Kevin Brown of the Yankees because of my motion. But not really - I just try to model myself after what I’ve done and try to improve by just being consistent.
Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this season?
A: This season I’m just trying to get outs, learn how to pitch a little better because in this league, you see the same hitters. There’s only seven other teams in this league, so you have to try to learn to pitch a little better to the same hitters each time. And then just try to become more consistent than I have been in the past. Keep going, keep getting a little bit more consistent, basically - just fine-tune your pitches and try to keep them down and get outs.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the big league club?
A: That’s obviously not up to me. The sooner the better in my opinion, but, you know, you never know. However they feel, whenever it is, then I’ll be thrilled, but it takes time and however long it takes, I’m willing to put in, so we’ll see how it goes.
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 email@example.com.
Photo by Amanda Rice