Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spring Training Interlude: Interview with Zach Mortimer part 1

One of the great things about coming down to Spring Training is that you meet so many fans from all over.  Sure, there are a lot of Canadians down here to catch a glimpse of the Blue Jays or maybe an autograph, but there are also a lot of scouts and baseball writers.

One such person who I've met in Dunedin is Zach Mortimer, a writer for Baseball Prospectus who has been checking out the Blue Jays camp over the past several days.  We got to talking last week and caught up this afternoon for an interview after the Blue Jays intrasquad games today.  It wasn't a long chat -- we got chased away by a security guard who wanted to close up the complex -- but Zach shed some interesting light on the world of scouting and what he thought of the Blue Jays organization, as well as some of the prospects he's seen over the past few days.

Part 1 of the interview is here and deals with the world of scouring and Zach's unique perspective on it.  Part 2 will go up tomorrow and will focus more on the Blue Jays.


Blue Jays from Away: So we're here in beautiful Dunedin, Florida at the Bobby Mattick Training Complex . . . I'm sitting here with Zach Mortimer who's a writer for Baseball Prospectus.  And we're going to ask him a little bit about scouting and a little bit about what he thinks of some of the Blue Jays prospects.  So first of all Zach why don't you introduce yourself to the fans...

Zach Mortimer: All right, I'm Zach Mortimer, I'm from Woodstown, New Jersey which is a southern area around Philadelphia.  I've been with baseball for 2 years, I worked for Pinetar Press previous to working for BP.  I've just started my tenure at BP and can't wait for the good things going forward.

BJfA: Why don't you tell me how you got into scouting and into writing about baseball.

ZM: I was a baseball player.  I would like to think I had a decently high ceiling and I suffered a shoulder injury back in high school.  I always loved the game and was always a student of the game.  I went to school to be a Phys Ed teacher, I learned all about the biomechanics and everything like that.  I decided that maybe I should apply it to the baseball field myself and I figured that this is where I'd end up and I couldn't be happier.

BJfA:  You studied biomechanics -- how do you think it gives you a different perspective than a lot of scouts out there?

ZM: I believe that it gives me a different perspective than a lot of scouts because a lot of scouts have a pretty thick baseball background because they played the game or coached the game at a pretty high level.  I, however, did not play or coach at a high level, but I do have the mechanical information available to me through the studies that I've done to understand what needs to be done, where the arm needs to be, where the bat needs to be, what everything needs to look like in order for peak optimal success. 

BJfA: So, let's say you see two pitchers and one of them has been doing well and may not have the best biomechanics, and the other has been maybe struggling and has better biomechanics. How would you incorporate that in your scouting reports?

ZM: You know, a lot of times what I've learned is you have to let the pitcher be their own person, so even if one person is not biomechanically sound, you have to the let that pitcher do what he's doing if it's working. You know it's an old saying -- if it ain't broke don't fix it.  Because you know maybe you can make really small tweaks to stay away from injuries and things like that because if you get out of your biomechanically correct ways, injuries will occur that that could be problem.  But, You know, I've looked at a ton of biomechanically sound players who have zero chance of ever making it just because they're not blessed with quick twitch muscle fibres and things like that that will enable them to throw a ball 90 plus miles per hour or hit a ball over the fence or run with ample speed.

BJfA: You told me that you were writing about the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Single A club for Kansas City.  What did you learn in writing about them that you're applying today?

ZM: What happened was I was offered a job at a blog and I just took it and ran with it.  I started with just covering the Blue Rocks and I would sit with the scouts and the thing I would tell anyone who ever was interested in getting into this field is just sit and listen.  Don't speak, don't say anything for the first 3 months.  Just sit and listen to everything they say and try to soak up everything with a sponge.  You'll learn so much just sitting near the scouts.  There are so many good people who know so much and that can apply information that you would never even think of.  That's what I found most important from covering the Blue Rocks.  The product on the field was the thing that I knew.  How to get from the product on the field to what was a correct scouting report is what I learned.  I learned what to look for in a pitcher and what to look for in a hitter.  What's a good frame, what's a good projectable body, and what's not.  And what is just deception.  Maybe a guy throws up crazy numbers in a Low A league but he's only throwing 90, the reason is that he's coming from a crazy angle and the young hitters just absolutely are not ready for that and he dominates.  When he gets to a higher level he gets dominated and that's how it goes.

BJfA:  I heard you mention a lot about deception.  What are the types of things that a pitcher can do to deceive the hitters?

ZM:  Deception's a very big thing.  There are different levels of deception.  There are some pitchers who just live on deception and there are some who use deception to improve their game.  Deceptions that I've seen -- you have the different arm slots obviously.  A lower arm slot's going to be a little tougher to pick up especially if it's right on right or left on left because it's going to almost seem like it's coming from behind them.  If maybe a guy can move himself on the rubber, that's one that's big. A guy can work from the extreme first base side or the extreme third base side meaning that he's almost pitching at an angle to the hitter causing an angular effect - a hitter has a tough time picking the ball up.  Deception is key in having success for guys who lack stuff.

BJfA:  Is there anybody that you've seen here today that would be a good example of a deception guy?

ZM:  Yes, Wil Browning [click on Wil's name to get to his Milb.com page] as just we watched today -- excellent deception.  He worked on the third base side, complete side armed righty, almost had a little jerk at the end where he stood up got a ton of sink on the ball and you know what he played the slider really well off of his fastball.  But I hate to tell it, Will Browning probably is never gonna get a major league inning.  It is what it is.  He's throwing 88-90 and he has a 78 -80 mile an hour slider and I promise he will dominate until he gets to double A.  When he gets to double A it will probably be a rude awakening.  He will see hitters that have seen it before, they can stay back and they're probably going to have a good day off him.


Alrighty!  That's Part 1 of my interview with Zach.  I'd post an audio file, but it was pretty windy out and the audio isn't all that clear!  Part 2 will be coming tomorrow with more Blue Jays content!

Part 2 can be found here: Part 2
Part 3 can be found here: Part 3

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter -- @jaysfromaway

If you want to find Zach, you can find him on Twitter -- @zachmort 

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