August 8, 2001
File, a Philadelphia native with an easy, conversational manner, was drafted in the 19th round by the Blue Jays in 1998 and immediately sent to the mound in rookie ball to learn how to convert his strong throwing arm into a ticket to the majors. He pitched so well in rookie ball that he was moved through the system as a closer, and got the call to jump from Triple-A to the majors in April. After two appearances he was sent back down, but came back to stay in May. He's been the 12th-best reliever in the AL, according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools.
The quick rise of File to the big-league level is a credit to the 24-year-old's willingness to learn, and to the Jays' scouting and minor-league development people, who saw something in File that no one else did--not even File himself.
We spoke the morning of July 26. That evening, he was the loser against the Boston Red Sox, allowing three runs on three hits in just one inning of work.
Baseball Prospectus: How did it feel at draft time, when the Jays picked you in the 19th round and then said, "We'd like to move you off third base and convert you to pitching?"
Bob File: At the time, I was just happy to be drafted, to get a chance to play pro ball. So I was like, "whatever." When I got to [rookie ball in] Medicine Hat, Alberta, it kind of hit me that I wasn't taking batting practice anymore, and I was debating whether to stop playing. I didn't like it at all.
BP: Did it feel like an insult to be converted after having been such a good hitter in college? You hit .542, best in Division II, when you were a senior.
BF: No, I didn't see it as an insult. I saw it as more like that they saw something that I didn't, that I had a great arm with a sinking fastball. But I didn't know anything about pitching! So I really didn't realize it as much as they did. But I gave it a shot, and here I am.
BP: Given that you pitched just three games in college, did the Jays consider making you a starter to get you more innings?
BF: No. In the minors, if you're a later-round draft pick, they're gonna just throw you out there in a relieving role, and if you develop, you develop. If I had been a top-five-round pick, maybe I would have been a starter. But my situation, being a 19th-rounder, I was a "luck pick," and if it works out, it works out. And it did.
BP: Has anyone at the big-league level in Toronto taken you under his wing this season?
BF: No doubt: Paul Quantrill. He's been amazing, all through spring training and into the year. I've learned so much...it's like having an extra pitching coach. He sees it from a player's level, and he has pretty much the same stuff I do. He throws a sinker, and he's taught me new things I can do with that. He's been incredible.
BP: It seems that your background as an infielder would mean that your throwing would be more of an on-the-line four-seam action--where you don't want the ball to sink--but you throw a two-seamer. Was it easy to develop the pitch?
BF: Well, a lot of it has been natural. I've refined a couple of things here and there, but being an infielder it helped me. A lot of sinkerballers are short-arm pitchers, and being a short-armer, I get more sink with that kind of arm action. When I went on the mound, my ball naturally did that. I changed the grip a little bit, and it's done wonders for me. Just done wonders.
BP: Do you miss hitting?
BF: Not anymore, but I did. My first season was tough. Going into my second season, it kind of got away from me, and I really didn't care as much. At this point, we take batting practice occasionally, and I hurt my hands with the wood, strain my thumbs. But I think hitting is like riding a bike. I know I could hit again. But it's easy for me to work on one thing, which is pitching, rather than work on a position player's game. It's so much tougher...I don't know how these guys do it. It's harder than what I do now.
BP: Do you miss playing every day?
BF: In the beginning I missed it a lot. I couldn't stand sitting in the bullpen for a full game. It was so boring to me. I couldn't get used to it...but I'm used to it now. I like being a reliever, because there's the chance that I could pitch any day. Now, I'm mentally in the game every day.
BP: What was your biggest eye-opener about moving to pitching?
BF: Had to be learning how to pitch, rather than just rearing back and throwing. In my first short season, I was just throwing. I was throwing sliders and fastballs, getting guys out with my movement and because my slider was pretty good.
But the toughest thing for me was learning how to pitch. It's really 99% mental--setting up hitters, things like that. That's been the toughest part for me.
BP: When did you have your first big revelation as a pitcher, like "Hey, I can do this?"
BF: I would say after my first full season , into last year when I was going to Double-A. I began to see that this could be fun too, setting up hitters, really thinking about what you're doing out there instead of just throwing. It makes the game a lot more fun and a lot more interesting for me.
BP: A lot of people say it takes years to go from throwing to pitching. Are you a thrower or pitcher now?
BF: I'd definitely be a pitcher now. I'm still learning how to be a better one, but I'm definitely a pitcher now. No doubt about that.
BP: Is there anyone in the minors you credit with helping you get here?
BF: That's tough, as there have been a lot of guys. Well, for one, my Double-A and Single-A manager, Rocket Wheeler. He was great, even though he was not a pitching coach, he was just a great guy. Bruce Walton, our minor-league pitching coordinator, did a lot for me. He's a down-to-earth type of guy. He's not your straight "pitching mechanics this, pitching mechanics that" kind of guy, he talks to you in normal layman's terms, which was good for me, because I didn't know that much about pitching when I was first coming up. He'd put it in normal terms for me to understand. He was really good at explaining things like that.
BP: Has anyone in the system talked to you about what an acceptable level of arm soreness is? For example, did they tell you that if it hurts a day after you pitch, that's acceptable?
BF: I'm still learning that today. I don't really get a sore arm, because I keep myself in such good shape by working out every day--I'm a freak like that--but I know what you're saying. I wasn't used to pitching, so I didn't know how much soreness I should have.
So no, nobody told me. I'm still kind of feeling this out every year. I know my body well enough...earlier this year I pitched four innings against the Yankees, and I sure as hell was pretty sore the next day. Otherwise I've becoming adapted, pitching more now, recovering faster, and the next day I'm ready to go again.
It's sort of a "feel" situation. You have to feel your body. Everyone is different.
BP: A lot of pitchers who throw the power sinker use their legs a tremendous amount to push off. What about you?
BF: I do an incredible amount of weightlifting. Not to the point where I'm trying to get huge, but I'm keeping my legs heavy. During both the season and off-season I lift six days a week. In fact, that's where I just came back from. I'm really into weight training, keeping myself in good shape, running, things like that.
BP: Well, the hitters have sure bulked up. Maybe you have to deal with strength with more strength.
BF: Yes, I think you do. It's a different type of strength. I was a hitter, too, and in college when I lifted weights, I was doing it to get big and strong, to hit home runs during my senior year.
Now, it's a whole different routine, more like power and powermetric drills. I work with a strength coach here. It's a different type of strength. I still want to be lean, but be strong, not like Mark McGwire.
BP: You've gotten good reviews for your fielding. That's a big thing for a ground-ball pitcher, I assume.
BF: I take pride in my fielding. I was a good fielder at third base and shortstop when I was in college, so it translates for me. I like fielding my position. I'll do anything to field a ground ball or a pop-up. I'll be diving all over the place. It's just instinct for me.
BP: You had a lot of success at the college level, but not at a college that people saw as a powerhouse. Did you feel that baseball was going to be your career?
BF: I thought baseball was just going to be fun. It's funny you say that, because to me, baseball still is fun. If baseball ended for me today, I wouldn't have any regrets. I still have a computer science degree in my background, so I'm not worried about anything.
BF: As far as being from a small school, I think that's a crock of crap. I played with guys on the Cape [in the Cape Cod League] for about a month, and I've seen these other guys from Florida State and Miami, and they're great players, but those schools are just [deeper]. I hit .542 in college. I don't know many guys from the best D1 schools who could hit that in Division II, and I don't care who they are, you know?
BP: Did you feel like you had to fight your way through the scouting thing at that time?
BF: Yes, definitely. I think too much emphasis is placed on schools that have a name. There are a lot of guys at schools I played against at the Division II level who have the talent to play pro ball who get overlooked because they played at the Division II level, which I don't think is fair.
The worst player in the major leagues is a superstar at the best college. People don't realize how hard it is to get here. These players are incredible. Nobody comes close to being a bad player in the major leagues. I don't care what anybody says.
BP: Does being in the majors still freak you out?
It does, but at the same time I'm still enjoying being here. I could get all pressure-packed every time I go out there and think, "Oh, God, that's Manny Ramirez," but if I got like that it would hurt my game more than anything. So I see everybody as just another guy and have some fun with it.
BP: Was it still an eye-opener to play at the Vet?
BF: Yeah, it was a crazy experience for me. Especially how it turned out: my first big-league ejection. It was the first ejection of my life, at any level. My family and friends were loving it. They were just happy to see me out there on the field. I could have given up 20 runs, and they still would still be amazed at the fact that I was playing at Veterans Stadium.
BP: Besides family and friends, who have stuck in your mind as influences?
BF: My college coach, Don Flynn. He coached at Temple for 20 years, then came over to Textile. He was unbelievable. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here right now. He gave me the opportunity. Had I gone to a D1 school, I would never have gotten the opportunity to pitch.
He just had triple bypass a week ago. I have to call him again to see how he's doing. I was glad that he did get to see me pitch at the Vet.
BP: What is the relationship at the major-league level between pitchers and hitters? Do you feel like Roger Clemens, who says he doesn't want to associate with hitters because he might have to face them someday?
BF: You can see that sometimes on teams in the minor leagues. The pitchers there are their own separate team. But I still have a position-player mentality. I'll talk to the hitters a lot. I'll talk to Shannon Stewart, even talk to Carlos Delgado and Raul Mondesi about hitting and how they approach certain situations so I can get some ideas.
I think it's stupid to not talk to hitters. You might face 'em someday, but so what? You'll get 'em out, because you know their weaknesses. I think it can help you more than it can hurt you. I'm still trying to get a feel for the whole league.
Our team is open and friendly. Every guy on our team has been nothing but helpful to me.
BP: Buck [Martinez, Jays manager] seems to have done a good job keeping the bullpen effective. How does he do that?
I think it's a tough job if you don't have the quality guys we have in our bullpen. I think we're doing so well in our bullpen this year in that everybody has been interchangeable, pretty much. So it's not like there are a couple guys in the doghouse who aren't pitching well and he has to go to the same guys every couple of nights.
He has guys doing well so he can pick from this guy or that guy every other night, every third night. He keeps us all rested, and he keeps us all pitching. I'll see on other teams a guy is struggling a little bit so he won't pitch as much. In the majors, the better you pitch, the more you pitch.
BP: Does it help to have a manager who was a catcher?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Buck understands a lot about pitching. He's talked to me a lot about pitching. He's very knowledgeable, especially from a catcher's point of view.
BP: On another team, you might be closing right now. But in a deep bullpen, you aren't doing that. Your bullpen has a bunch of guys who can close.
BF: Well, it's good for the team to have guys of that ability who can help the team in different roles. On a personal level, it's something I've got to deal with. Everybody starts out their first couple of years just doing whatever they have to do. Eventually I'll develop into my own role.
BP: The knock on you had been that you had trouble with left-handed hitters. There are options to get lefties: cutter, back-door breaking ball, straight change. What's the key to your success?
BF: Well, that point about lefties came up last year at Double-A. But the stat on that was that I faced only about 15 lefties, so if they get six hits, they're batting .400 against you. This year, I'm throwing a back-door breaking ball to lefties, a change-up. That's the only thing I see. When a lefty comes up, I feel that I can get him out just as much as a right-handed batter.
BP: When you're in a situation now where Buck has you walk a tough lefty, do you think, "Hey, I can get this guy?"
BF: Well, yeah, because you just do feel that way. But the numbers overall say that a power sinker has a ten times better chance of getting a righty out. You can get a double-play ball from a righty much easier.
There's been an adjustment. When I first came up here, I was trying to do too much and I walked a lot of guys. I think my walk numbers are better now; I'm pitching differently. I wasn't used to major-league hitters. Their approach is different. But I've made the adjustment now.
BP: Do you see the kind of intentional-walk strategy in the minors that you do in the majors?
BF: No, not at all. I may have had one intentional walk in my minor-league career. Down there, they're trying to develop you, let you pitch. But in the majors, it's all about winning.
Instead of being in the minor leagues going for the strikeout on three pitches, I can get a ground ball on one pitch, and everyone's just as happy. You don't have to worry about proving your skills or putting up the big numbers. You've got to just get results.
BP: A lot of young power pitchers have big opposition stolen-base numbers. How do you deal with the running game?
BF: I haven't been in many situations where I've had to worry about runners. I have a slide step. I'm pretty quick to the plate.
One thing I know is that major league-baserunners are a lot smarter. They know how to time guys, they know how to read your moves, read everything. They're really smart with that. I try to work on it every day, see different baserunners and see what they do, talk to Quantrill about things.
BP: Is it hard to have a personal life in the majors?
BF: It is, and it isn't. You've got to be smart about it really. You could have a great social life in the majors, but at the same time you have to be smart. It would affect your game, going out every night.
BP:I find talking to players that there's always someone who wants to be your friend, who just wants to bask in the glow of being near a professional athlete, but it may not be the best thing for you.
BF: I've heard that a lot, but it hasn't affected me yet. I'm pretty much new and nobody knows me. I've heard it, but I'm a college graduate. I've been through all kinds of things. I'm pretty smart, I know what's good and what's bad. I've been through things. I've seen it all. Well, a lot of it, at least.