A two-sport star at Stanford University, Joe Borchard chose a professional baseball career in the Chicago White Sox organization over a career as an NFL quarterback. Now 25 years old, with talented outfielders in front of him (Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee) and behind him (Jeremy Reed), Borchard faces a pivotal point in his career. Told earlier this week that he’ll begin the year at Triple-A Charlotte, he hopes to get back up to the big club soon, with an eye on claiming a starting job. BP recently spoke to Borchard–before news of his demotion–about his off-season training regimen, his quest for a steady job in the big leagues, his choice of baseball over football, and more.
Baseball Prospectus: You were highly regarded at Stanford as both a football and baseball player. How did you decide which sport to pursue? How much did the money the White Sox offered affect the decision?
Joe Borchard: The White Sox were definitely willing to go to great lengths to prevent me from playing football. The last thing I wanted to do was stop playing football, but yeah, the money I was offered made the decision easier.
BP: Did you feel at that time that you were better at one sport compared to the other?
Borchard: I think I was about equal at both. Because of baseball season, I didn’t get the full time and experience that I might have needed for football, with spring camp and everything. Whether I was better at one or the other didn’t matter, though–I just loved to play both.
BP: A big part of your future in baseball could depend on you being able to play center field effectively, given how rare it is to find a major league center field who can hit and field. What have you tried to do to develop into a major league-caliber center fielder? How much of a barrier is it given that you’re pretty big for the position (listed at 6’5″, 220 lbs.)?
Borchard: The big thing has been that they’ve sat back and let me develop and play it out, and I haven’t worried much about my size. I’ve gotten significantly faster in the last three or four years. I’ve done work for the last few years with a speed and strength guy who’s helped me develop a better first step, which is so important for a center fielder. With the improvements I’ve been able to make, I honestly feel I can play that position.
BP: Talking about the speed work you’ve done, what kind of off-season training regimen do you use to prepare for each season?
Borchard: The guy I work with is Glen Reyes, from West Coast Sports Training in L.A. He’s worked with me four times a week, in the weight room twice a week and on the track twice a week.
When I first signed, I had back problems, some pretty bad stiffness. Now when I wake up, there’s no pain–I feel that much better. The exercises we do in the off-season eliminate a lot of the muscle and joint soreness you might expect to get over a long season.
BP: What type of hitting preparation do you go through to improve? Are there specific areas you’ve focused on to improve your hitting lately?
Borchard: My first full season in Birmingham was great; the only tough part was that I struck out a lot. I broke down a lot of things that were working well for me. I shouldn’t have been obsessed with renovating my swing, just adjusting it little by little. Just getting good pitches to hit and moving runners is more constructive than obsessing. Watching video has its place, but you also have to trust the work you’ve done.
BP: Every minor league system has to deal with this dilemma: Do you try and build a teaching environment for your best prospects or do you try and win championships at each level? How can teams strike the right balance?
Borchard: You usually know what kind of team you’re going to have after the first 20 games. When you’re playing winning baseball, that’s when you’re at your best anyway as a player–when you’re having fun. So you can do both at once.
BP: Some teams have specific areas of focus that they try to stress in the minor leagues. The A’s, for instance, won’t give out player of the week and player of the month awards unless a player reaches certain thresholds for walks. Do the White Sox have a particular focus within the organization that they really try to stress to players?
Borchard: There’s an award for situational hitter of the month. That’s a combination of things: walks, moving runners, bringing runners in from third with less than two outs–it’s all done on a points system. It enhances your ability as a hitter–nothing but beneficial.
BP: Have the White Sox talked to you about what you can do to make and stick with the team this year?
Borchard: Well going on my own thoughts, I need to get back to being the hitter that I was in Birmingham in 2001, rather than the struggling hitter of 2003. Gregg Ritchie, the Triple-A hitting instructor, had me focus on my last good month of the season. We worked on making mechanical adjustments and building from there, so hopefully I’ll be able to carry those through.
BP: With Drew Henson making news recently about going back to football, and another Stanford grad, Chad Hutchinson, who did the same thing not long ago, have you given any thought at all to going back to football, especially during some of the tougher times?
Borchard: Not at all. When I signed a contract, I made a commitment to be the best baseball player I can be, and I also made a commitment to the White Sox. I enjoyed what I was able to do, and I’m thankful for my days as a football player. But I’ve made that commitment, and I have to stick to it.