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The Tigers have to decide what to do with Rick Porcello, who's competing for the fifth-starter slot with Drew Smyly this spring and could end up on the trade block. They were facing a similar situation when David Laurila caught up with a younger Porcello in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Prospectus Q&A" column on April 1, 2009.
Rick Porcello is on the doorstep. One of the top pitching prospects in the game, he went into the final week of spring training with a chance to go north with the Tigers in only his second professional season. A 20-year-old right-hander who was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft out of Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, Porcello is armed with both a power repertoire and poise that belies his age. Viewed by most scouts as a future big-league ace, Porcello made his professional debut with High-A Lakeland last year, going 8-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 125 innings. Now, with question marks looming in the Tigers' rotation as Opening Day nears, the Rick Porcello era may be about to begin in the Motor City.
David Laurila: How would you describe Rick Porcello's pitching style?
Rick Porcello: I'm kind of-at least I try to be-aggressive. I go after hitters and try not to back down from anybody. I'm the type of pitcher who pitches a lot off his fastball. I'm the type of guy where there really aren't going to be a lot of surprises. It's more of a, 'Here it is, try and hit it' sort of mentality that I have when I go out there. I'm going after guys. They know what I'm going to throw, so it's my best against their best, and that's the way I like it.
DL: Do you consider yourself a power pitcher?
RP: I don't know if I really consider myself a power guy. I know that I throw my fastball a lot, and so far it has worked out for me pretty well, but you never know the adjustments you're going to have to make along the way. Maybe I'd say that I'm more of a semi-power guy.
DL: When you say "adjustments," are you referring to your overall approach, or pitching specifically to certain hitters' weaknesses?
RP: Probably both of those combined. Your approach, I think, entails that you have to pitch to certain weaknesses of hitters. If a guy is up there and is a good fastball hitter, and you throw your fastball a lot, you might have to make an adjustment and maybe throw a couple of fastballs followed by a changeup, or something along those lines.
DL: Which of the veteran pitchers here in camp have you been learning the most from?
RP: I've been watching everybody, really. Everybody from Verlander to the bullpen guys like Bobby Seay. Everybody has something that they bring to the table that is the reason they're a big-leaguer, and a successful big-leaguer. I'm trying to pick up as much as I can from them. I'm trying to emulate them as best that I can, and hopefully it will work out and help me develop a little bit.
DL: When you say "emulate," are you referring primarily to how they go about their business?
RP: Yeah, I mean as far as going out on the field and how they attack hitters-what they do to certain hitters. Obviously, I don't have the same breaking ball as Verlander, or the same fastball as Verlander, but there are certain things that I can learn from him, like how he attacks a hitter. Picking up stuff like that can definitely help me.
DL: Jon Matlack is the pitching coordinator here. What were some of the conversations you had with him last year?
RP: A lot of the conversations were about my breaking ball, and him just basically telling me to trust it. He'd tell me to throw it with conviction and not baby it at all, to not worry about getting hit or anything like that. He's been really helpful in giving me confidence in it and helping me to get it back… not give it back, but to improve upon it and that sort of thing.
DL: Has his impact on your breaking ball been more on the mental side than on the mechanical side?
RP: I think it was kind of half and half. Half of it was mental, with me trying to throw it too good-trying to make it too good, trying to throw it too hard. And half of it was, because I was trying to throw it too hard, my head would pull and I'd kind of cast it. I wouldn't get on top of it and get a sharp break. We've been working hard on it, both last fall and this spring, and I think I've made some big improvements.
DL: Is that a mechanical flaw that has always been there?
RP: I think it's something I've happened to lapse into, especially over the last year. You're seeing guys in professional baseball, and how most of them have a pretty good breaking ball, and then you think you have to make yours better. You want to make it the best, and when you try to do that you kind of fall into… at least I kind of fell into a routine of trying to throw it too hard, to kind of force it. That was my biggest problem.
DL: Psychologically, does being only 20 years old make it harder or easier to compete for a spot in the big-league rotation?
RP: I haven't really felt any pressure from it at all. I'm kind of just looking to go about my business, work as hard as I can, and put my best foot forward in camp. Wherever I end up is out of my control, so I don't really focus on it all that much. I just kind of worry about getting ready for the season, trying be effective, and refining all of my pitches.
DL: Have you talked to Jeremy Bonderman about pitching in the big leagues as a 20-year-old?
RP: No, I haven't really. I know that he was up when he was real young, but I'm just kind of… I talk to him about pitching, and that sort of stuff, but not about coming up to the big leagues when he was young.
DL: What about Al Kaline, who is here in camp as an instructor? He obviously wasn't a pitcher, but he was in the big leagues when he was 18.
RP: I've talked to Mr. Kaline a lot, but I haven't talked to him about being a young player and coming up to the big leagues. I think that if I happen to make it up, that might be the time to maybe have that conversation with one of those guys. But for right now, I'm just working hard in camp, and we'll see where it goes.
DL: Do you ever try to take a step back and look at where you are in life right now?
RP: Last year, on road trips and that sort of thing, there was kind of time to think about stuff like what you're doing and where you're at. I haven't really thought about it all that much recently though, because I've just been so busy with spring training and trying to get ready for the season, but it was kind of cool last year on the road trips. I'd be riding the bus and thinking that a year ago I was in high school, and I never thought that I'd ever be where I am now. That was pretty cool.
DL: Can you talk a little about who Rick Porcello is off the field?
RP: My competitive nature never really leaves me. I'm a big fly fisherman, and when I'm fishing with my brothers it's about who can catch the biggest fish. Or if I'm out there playing golf with my buddies, we're always kind of competing and going at each other. I just enjoy that, because I think it makes it a little more fun. That's just kind of what I'm all about. I like to compete, and I'm looking for an opportunity to compete at the highest level.