Drew Storen is the other high-ceiling pitcher that the Nationals took in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Stanford product hasn’t received nearly as much ink as Stephen Strasburg, and he doesn’t possess the same once-in-a-generation potential, but he has a chance to very good, and very soon. The 22-year-old right-hander wasted little time establishing himself in pro ball, quickly advancing to Double-A thanks to an outstanding fastball and a mound presence that rests somewhere between Greg Maddux and Jonathan Papelbon. Storen, who has designs on the Nats’ closer role, discussed his approach to the game, and product design, during the final weekend of the Arizona Fall League season.
David Laurila: You were in the mechanical engineering department at Stanford. What does that say about you?
Drew Storen: It basically shows that I have aspirations outside of the diamond. My major at Stanford, product design, is something that is as big of a goal for me as getting to the big leagues. I want to finish that and do something in that field.
DL: With product design in mind, what is the best uniform in professional sports?
DS: Oh, that’s a tough one. I know that the worst one is the throw-back Broncos jerseys that they’ve been wearing this year, for sure. But I’d have to say that that’s one of the coolest things about being down there in the Arizona Fall League-seeing all of the uniforms first-hand. I’m actually a big fan of the Blue Jays uniforms; I think those are cool. And I think that the cream Phillies uniforms are up there among the coolest ones as well.
DL: What do you like about the Phillies’ uniforms?
DS: For one, they’re different. They’re a little bit different, obviously, than the polo whites. They kind of have some character because of the tradition behind them. The combination of bright colors bouncing off of that cream is a pretty good look.
DL: How would you describe the Nationals’ uniforms?
DS: I think they’re good. Obviously, they have a lot of patriotism behind them, and I really like the gold intertwined in there. I’m a big fan of them.
DL: Are there any parallels between product design and pitching?
DS: I don’t think there are at all, and that’s something I like. For one thing, there’s not as much competition in product design-there’s not the direct competition that you have in baseball. I guess that you could say that it is challenging in a different way. Pitching is more about being all amped up-real wired up-and when I was in drawing class, I’d just sit in my room, listening to something like movie-soundtrack music, kind of chilled out. I’d be really relaxed. When I’m pitching, especially being a closer, it’s more of a high-strung type of thing.
DL: What are you visualizing when you look in from the mound? Is it the quadrants of the strike zone, the catcher’s mitt, or something else?
DS: I kind of visualize what I want to happen. When it comes to pitching, I’m a person who is big on feel. I don’t necessarily visualize the strike zone. It’s all kind of a feel thing. You might think it is more of a visual thing, but it’s actually a lot more feel for me.
DL: Are you familiar with PITCHf/x?
DS: Yes. I’ve checked that out and it’s awesome because you’re able to see how much movement you get on the ball, although it almost feels like you need a college degree to check out and understand some of the graphs they have on that Brooks site. But it’s interesting to see how much movement you get on your fastball, because you don’t really realize it. When you’re on the mound it’s kind of tough to see the movement that you have and a lot of times you have to rely on the catcher. “How was that?” or “What do you think?” It’s good to be able to see what the difference in movement is that you get on each pitch.
DL: How much do you like to know about the hitters you’re facing?
DS: It used to be not at all, but now that I’m facing better and better hitters, I can’t get away with that as much. You kind of need to know what these guys look for and find something in their approach. So, I think it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes you have to stick with your own strengths, and at other times you have to kind of cater to the hitter and understand what they’re looking for, and what had been done to them earlier in the game. If I try to go with the same approach the starter had, two at bats before, I might get hit around.
DL: Do you pitch to a hitter any differently if the stats show that he’s hit .500 over the past week?
DS: I don’t really pay attention to any of their stats. I really just watch their swing. The biggest thing that will change my approach is how they’ve been thrown to earlier in the game. I get kind of a free scouting report for the first six or seven innings when I’m just sitting there watching the game. I see how guys are handling each pitch. I see which pitches they take and which pitches they’re looking for in each count.
DL: Do you watch more carefully if the starter is similar to you in style as opposed to, say, a soft-tossing lefty?
DS: Not at all. I’d actually rather come in behind a soft-tossing lefty. It doesn’t really matter how hard a guy is throwing. The hitters are going to act the same way, regardless, on things like changeups. Even though I can throw harder than some guys, I still really can’t get away with a bad fastball-if I leave it up in the zone. So, it doesn’t really matter what kind of pitcher it is, because they’re going to react the same way.
DL: You’ve talked about using your two-seamer to pitch to contact. To what extent can a pitcher delineate between pitching to contact and trying to miss bats?
DS: Honestly, it’s so much of a mental thing where you’re not scared to have them hit the ball and make contact with it. I guess it’s just more of trying find more of the plate with something that moves rather than trying to throw it past somebody, or trying to get cute.
DL: Can you talk a little about your off-speed pitches?
DS: I throw two different types of breaking balls; I throw a curveball and a slider. I also mix in a changeup, but that’s rarely. I pretty much live off of my fastball, but I’ll mix in my breaking pitches in any count. That’s pretty much a key for me.
DL: It isn’t all that common for a closer to throw both a curveball and a slider. Do you see yourself continuing to use both?
DS: Yeah, definitely. I learned the slider as a cutter and it kind of turned into a slider. I think that’s crucial because it gives me a different edge. The ability to throw a lot of pitches as a reliever is a little like playing with house money. I kind of feel lucky in that regard, that I can do that.
DL: Are you surprised that you pitched as well as you did after signing?
DS: People have asked me about expectations, and I expect to do well, but I never actually have an actual tangible goal in mind. I am surprised, and I feel very fortunate with how I’ve thrown, and I think it really comes down to the people who have been around me, because I’ve learned a lot. Although I’m confident, I do ask a lot of questions.
DL: You were drafted out of high school by the Yankees, but obviously didn’t sign with them. As a young athlete, is there a difference between saying, “I pitch for the Washington Nationals” or “I pitch for the New York Yankees“?
DS: Do you mean if I’m telling other people that, or trying to impress a girl with that?
DL: That’s why guys play, isn’t it?
DS: Exactly! But seriously-I don’t know, but I think maybe it is different, because there is that prestige of “New York Yankees” because there really isn’t a bigger tradition, or prestige, in professional sports. At the same time, the Nationals are up-and-coming, so it’s cool, regardless. Plus, I was a 34th-rounder [out of high school] and I’d much rather say I was a first-rounder by the Nationals than say I was a 34th-rounder by the Yankees.
DL: The club’s other first-round pick received a pretty sizeable bonus. Balancing that with the almost insane expectations placed upon him, would you trade places with Stephen Strasburg?
DS: Oh yeah. I don’t think there is anybody in the world who wouldn’t trade places with him. Yes, there’s a lot of pressure, but he’s the right guy for it. He understands what he needs to do and he doesn’t get caught up in what everybody says about him, which is good. He’s in a tough spot, but I don’t think there is any guy in professional baseball who wouldn’t like to be in his position.
DL: Is there any pressure on you?
DS: Yes, but regardless of what the pressure might be on me from somebody else, the pressure I’m going to put on myself is going to outweigh that. I always tell people that. Even though a lot of the attention is on [Strasburg], I have my own expectations as to what I feel I should do. That’s where the pressure on me comes from.
DL: Earlier in the year, a scout opined that you might be in the big leagues by the end of the 2009 season. Conversely, other people called you an overdraft. Why do you think opinions of you differed so much?
DS: I don’t know. A lot of it probably depended on who saw me when. A lot of times you’ll read stuff and the people who said it have only seen me once. But that’s what it’s going to be like with any reliever, because relievers are going to have your down and up days, so maybe someone saw me on a bad day and said, “OK, this guy doesn’t have any business being where he is.” So, I don’t read into stuff like that too much. It doesn’t hurt me, nor help me, in any way. I just go out and try to get guys out.
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