Monday, April 1, 2013

Interview with Tucker Donahue, Lansing Lugnut

One of the Jays' minor leaguers that I had a chance to see play when I was down in Florida was relief pitcher Tucker Donahue.*
Tucker Donahue pitching for Stetson University.  Photo:
Tucker is a 22 year old righty who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of Stetson Univeristy in his home state of Florida.  After a championship season with the Vancouver Canadians last year, Tucker will be pitching for the Jays' A-ball affiliate in Lansing, Michigan to start 2013 and he was kind enough to answer some questions for me to pass the time flying up to Michigan from Florida.

It's noteworthy that Tucker was part of the Blue Jays' strategy to "game" the 2012 draft.  By agreeing to a $5000 signing bonus as a college senior, he (and the rest of the Jays draftees in rounds 4 through 10) enabled the team to spend above slot in order to sign guys like D.J. Davis, Marcus Stroman, Anthony Alford, and Matt Smoral.  When I talked to Zach Mortimer, we had just seen Tucker throw in an intra-squad game at the Jays' minor league complex in Dunedin.  Zach was really surprised to see the quality of Tucker's stuff and you can see what he said HERE.  I think you'll see from his answers that Tucker is a thoughtful, intelligent young man, and we wish him the best of success in 2013.


Blue Jays from Away:  Obviously, the Blue Jays had let you know that they were interested in selecting you fairly early in the draft last season.  What can you tell me about the conversations you had with the Blue Jays and their scouting staff?  What other teams were you in touch with?  Which scout was responsible for "signing" you?

Tucker Donahue: Well, the Blue Jays’ interest in me dates back to my junior year at Stetson (2011 draft) when Joel Grampietro and I spoke quite a bit leading up to the draft that year.  I ended up going to the Rangers in the 38th round after a handful of deals fell through in earlier rounds.  But I chose to finish my degree at Stetson (finance) and return for my senior year.  In 2012, I had a good amount of attention from a vast amount of scouts for different teams.  Mr. Grampietro and the Jays had maintained their interest and as the draft got closer the conversation of selecting me in the top ten rounds started picking up steam from about 10 teams (Royals, Yankees, Rangers, White Sox, Cubs to name a few).  And on draft day Mr. Grampietro and [Blue Jays scouting director Andrew] Tinnish both spoke to me on the phone to confirm I’d sign, a few times, before they made the move.

Essentially the overall feeling from all of the teams were they would be able to draft me in an earlier round and it'd make sense from a business stand point due to my lack of leverage, but they felt they were getting a pitcher with a valuable tool as well. I couldn't disagree, I knew the situation going in and not many college seniors are gonna turn down a top ten round draft position. To me I knew what I could do on the mound and that I still had room to grow and if it were about the money I could have left school as a junior, or pursued a job with my degree. 

BJfA: How has pitching changed for you between college and pros? What kind of pitcher would you say you are (then and now)? 

TD: The biggest difference I've seen in pitching from the short time I've been in pro ball is learning what pitching down in the zone really means. I'd say from a "stuff" point of view I'm a power pitcher but I don't approach the art that way. I attack the zone and try to induce weak contact in early counts much like a more crafty pitcher may classify their game as. I just do it with a little more velocity. 

BJfA:  How do you feel about your season last year?  What did the coaching staff ask you to work on in the off-season?  How did you train differently this off-season (your first in pro-ball) than in the past?

TD: I thought my first season with the Blue Jays was great. I really bought into making the changes I needed to clean up my delivery and become more consistent with my fastball command. I loved that I was able to do so, worry free, in game settings because there's no better chance to learn about yourself than when there's a guy in the box trying to get his job done. If you wanna find out how good you are, hitters will let you know. From Vancouver through instructs and my time in the Dominican I feel like I made some big strides in the right direction and I'm really going to benefit from the work the staff has put in with me. 

BJfA: What was it like pitching in the Dominican Republic?

TD:  The Dominican was definitely a great experience.  A chance to continue to pitch against hitters and I was able to see the game from their perspective.  I definitely don’t take the things we get here for granted after seeing how hard it is for those players to get off the island.

BJfA:  Are you doing anything differently than you did last year?  

TD:  I worked a lot on raising my arm angle a little bit to get more downhill tilt on my pitches and I think it's paid off to this point. I'm more consistent with repeating my delivery and release point and that's something I think I struggled with when I first arrived in Dunedin last year. 

BJfA:  Do you have any experience pitching in cold weather?  Are you looking forward to Michigan in the spring-time?

TD:  Yeah, last summer in Vancouver was pretty cold, for me at least. I've spent my whole life playing baseball south of Jacksonville so that was a little shock to my body. But the best baseball is played in the cold so it's something we all have to adapt to. I hear Lansing is real nice, but I know Florida is real nice too so I'm trying to get back to playing there soon as well.** 

BJfA:  What's it like sitting in the bullpen for a game?  How do you react when the call comes in to get up and start throwing?

TD:  We have a lot of down time down there in the 'pen. For the first couple innings I like to stay loose and talk with the guys a little bit. Maybe play a movie trivia game but after about the third inning I start to mentally prepare for the impromptu call to get hot. When that call does come down I've already gotten my body as loose as possible without throwing and I'm ready to get it started. I'm lucky and I don't take much time to get hot so after about 10-12 throws I'm ready to go. 

BJfA: What's a bigger rush: Striking a batter out? Or getting a batter to ground into an inning ending double play?

TD: Anytime you can get 2 for the price of one I think you're a little more happy with the outcome. 

BJfA: What was it like pitching in Vancouver last season (both in terms of the team winning a championship and in terms of the city itself)? 

TD: Vancouver was a great introduction into playing with the blue jays. You play to win the game no matter what level you're at and I hate losing so coming home with a ring was the only acceptable ending to my season in my eyes. The city was beautiful when it finally cleared up and temperatures warmed up a bit. On our off days (all 2 of them ... the third was spent on a bus) I went for a run along Kitsilano beach which is a great backdrop for a good long run.


* Click on Tucker's name to go to his Baseball Reference page.

** Note: Tucker clarified for me that by saying "the best baseball is played in the cold," he's talking about playoff baseball in October. When he talks about getting back to Florida, he's referring to the Blue Jays' Advanced-A affiliate in Dunedin, Florida.

Don't forget to follow Tucker Donahue on Twitter: @TuckeRyan

And Zach Mortimer: @ZachMort

And us: @Jaysfromaway

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