For today's Prospect Interview I was lucky enough to chat with the Mets' RHP Tobi Stoner. Tobi had no problem going in-depth about everything from pitching through injuries, the mental side of baseball, Josh Thole's development & why The Fighter was overrated.
To listen to our chat click on the 'Play' button below or click here.
Read on below the break for a transcribed version:
Rob: I want to start off with your 2010 season but before that I wanted to ask about your shoulder. I know you were shut down in mid-August with a shoulder strain; how's that feeling?
Tobi: It was actually bone chips and a bone spur in the elbow [instead of the shoulder] that really shut me down. The elbow is doing great, it's recovering really well. The shoulder is still a little bit sore but I'm trying to get through that in hopes of being ready for spring training.
Rob: To get back to your 2010 I have to imagine it was a bit of a disappointing year and I'm sure it was affected by the injuries. To kind of go over it, you got the call really early on in mid-April but unfortunately you only made one appearance before you were sent back down and you never were actually able to get back. Beyond that you struggled a little bit more with Buffalo than you had in '09. Now how would you describe your 2010 and what would you say was the main reason for those struggles?
Tobi: The way I would describe it is as a battle. I went out there every day with a sore arm or I didn't have the same mechanics that I'd always had but I tried to go out and there and tried to give 5-6 innings the best I could just to keep the team in the game. But it was disappointing because I did not pitch the way I know how to pitch. I wasn't locating well, I did not have near the action on my breaking balls, I was leaving pitches up, my velocity was down. It just snowballed. And I knew the way I pitched last year, it wasn't the way I know how to throw. That being said, I hope that next season I can come back out and recover from that, get healthy and get back to the way I pitched in 2009.
Rob: So obviously I can't even imagine how tough it must have been to throw through the injuries and that sort of thing...
Tobi: Well it is and pitchers pitch through soreness. I never got to the point where I couldn't pitch. I've always been a sore guy my whole career. I'd wake up the next day and be sore here after I pitch or sore there. And then it got to the point where I had to tell my trained 'Listen, my arm hurts. I can't do it." And then I find out that it's bone chips and a bone spur. So there was reasoning behind my soreness and we got those removed. So hopefully next year that helps out and it gets a little better.
Rob: So as a pitcher whose had a little taste of the big leagues now can you describe for me some of the differences between pitches to hitters in the minors compared to major league quality hitters?
Tobi: They're more disciplined. More disciplined, more patient and they see pitches better; they hit mistakes better. And that's the same way through the minor leagues. The higher you go the better they hit mistakes. But it's the same as pitching in Triple-A. I still have to throw strikes, I still have to locate my pitches, I still have to pitch smart. it's all about execution and consistency. So pitching in the big leagues is definitely an adrenaline rush, it's a great time with all of the fans and stuff and it's definitely what I thought it would always be. But at the same time it's still the same game I was playing when I was 13-14 years old. I still have to pitch 60'6", I still have to throw strikes. So it's different [in that] they're bigger, they're stronger, they hit balls farther but it's the same game as Triple-A.
Rob: Actually you just hit on something that I'd like to talk about a little further, pitching smarts. That's something that when you ask scouts for a scouting report on Tobi Stoner, that's usually one of the first things that's always brought up: Pitching smarts or pitching IQ. It's something that you're always able to do, think ahead of the hitters. Can you talk about that aspect of pitching? How were you able to develop that ability? Is it something that you were born with that indicates your smarts off the field or is it just something that you have to develop?
Tobi: I think it was the development of maturity. Like I said when I was younger, like in Lo-A or Rookie ball I could rear back and throw a fastball 92-93mph and leave it up in the zone and get away with it. You do that in Triple-A or the big leagues and that balls gonna go out faster than it came in. So I had to learn how to pitch; not just throw the ball, I had to learn how to pitch. And what helped me was pitching to a situation. You kind of want to put yourself in the hitter's shoes, personally I like to put myself in the hitter's shoes and think about 'what is he trying to do? Is he trying to go opposite way? Is he trying to get a fly ball to get a runner in? What's he trying to do?' So like you said I guess you can say I try to stay one step ahead of the hitter. But that's what I do, I try to pitch backwards compared to what they're trying to do. So if it's a right-hander trying to hit a ball opposite field, trying to get a runner over from second, I'm going to try to pitch him inside or sink something at his knees, inside so he can roll over to the left side of the infield. Execution is another thing but that's my mental plan, to go in, and that's what I'm gonna try to do. So it's definitely trying to pitch to the situation.
Rob: Now is that something you do indepedently or is something that you work with the catcher? How does that work?
Tobi: I'll tell you what, I've been lucky to work with catchers that do the same thing, that I work well with. For example, one of the best was Josh Thole. He's so smart and he calls a great game behind the plate. He and I worked well together with Buffalo and in the big leagues. But me as a pitcher, I have the final say about what I throw. I have the final decision and if my catcher doesn't like it he'll come out. If there's some kind of confusion, we'll talk, we'll see what I want to do and we'll find a happy medium that we can work with. But again, if I don't like something but I feel like a hitter is trying to do something then I'll call my pitch. Now my catcher also might see something different, seeing how he sits in the box, seeing how he adjusts, seeing what kind of swing he took on the previous pitch. He can - the catchers see that type of stuff. So that's where my catcher definitely helps me, in the aspect of pitching smart. I don't just go out there and throw whatever I want; it's a battery. We've got to have positive and negative working together and that's what he and I can do. My catcher and I have got to be on the same pag. And whenever things are going smooth, it's a walk in the park. But some of the funner game are whenever things aren't going smooth and we actually have to work. We have to work harder, we can't just go out there and everything's on cruise control. But yeah, my catcher definitely helps and just me putting myself in the hitter's shoes of what he's trying to do and I try to pitch against what he's trying to do.
Rob: So you've been pretty impressed with Josh Thole as someone who didn't quite start as a catcher so he's a little late to the game but I've heard from a lot of pitchers that he's really picked it up...
Tobi: Yes, most definitely, most definitely. I didn't get to pitch to him much this year but I've watched him on TV and he just calls a smart game. He's a leader, a young leader. He's a very young kid but he's definitely got the smarts to be back there and help a pitcher out.
Rob: You're a pitcher that's always been known more for your ability to stay ahead of hitters and for your four-pitch mix rather than your dominant fastball to blow guys away. As a guy who doesn't possess that overwhelming velocity, what do you rely on specifically to be able to stay ahead of the hitters?
Tobi: Getting ahead. First pitch strike with any pitch. Either 0-0, 1-0 being able to throw a change-up for a strike. Bein able to throw a slider when you're up 1-2, back door, breaking off the outside corner. That's of course when I was healthy. I did not have that this past year. My change-up was popping out of my hand, it wasn't coming out like a fastball. My slider was very loopy, it was not sharp. I was leaving it up and I was getting crushed. And I really think I've always been a location pitcher. Locating your fastball and getting ahead is probably uno, number one. But having a secondary and a third pitch that I can throw for strikes anytime I wanted was definitely a helping hand. I'd have to say getting ahead of hitters with the fastball and offspeed stuff, throwing it for strikes but then also if I was behind in a count, being able to throw my offspeed stuff when I'm in fastball counts. I think that helped me out a lot also.
Rob: Throughout your career - in the minors at least - you've been a starting pitcher. But in your transition to the majors you've been looked at more as a relief guy. Is that a move you've been comfortable with and is it something you'd be comfortable with long-term? And for you, what would you say are the biggest difference between the two roles?
Tobi: Well I personally Like being a starter because like I said I'm a sore guy. So if I pitch several innings it takes me a couple days to be ready to pitch again. But as a reliever they can use me back-to-back days, they can use me with a one day rest. I like being a starter so I have a routine, I've had a routine since I was in college. Knowing when I pitch, knowing what to do, excercising, conditioning, having all that set. My body is trained to do that. But if an organization like the Mets, or if I get traded somewhere and they want me as a reliever, if I can help out that team that's gonna be my job. If me being in the bullpen is what they need me to do, then I can definitely do that role. I'll do whatever they need. I'm not gonna sit there and say 'No I can't be a reliever' and be hard-headed. I will do whatever will help the team, whatever they think will be in the best interest of the team.
Rob: I've got to ask you the big news with the Mets of late, that's the hiring of the new manager Terry Collins. Now did you have the chance to work with him a lot last season in his role as the Minor League Field Coordinator and what were your impressions of him as a teacher and instructor during spring training?
Tobi: I only got a little bit of interaction with him because I got sent down out of spring training toward the end. So I think I had only a week, if that, in the minor league camp. But he's a great individual. Very, very smart guy. He's a player-coach, he's the kind of guy you can come up and talk to. You can talk to him face-to-face, man-to-man or even friend-to-friend. He's a guy that you can sit down and talk to, you're not intimidated by him, you can be open with him. You're not scared of his position, like are you gonna step on any toes by telling him this or talking about that or anything like that. I think he's a guy that you can come to about anything and he'll respect you. He'll be straight up with you, he'll be honest with you. He's not gonna beat around the bush and blow smoke. He'll tell you straight up how it is. Again, you can go to him about anything and you'll get his direct honest opinion about it.
Rob: Yeah I've met him a little bit and he seems like a very direct guy. (laughs)
Tobi: Most definitely, most definitely. And I'm excited to see what he does with the team. I know there's been a lot of moves, things have been changed. But I think him having the reigns is going to be very exciting to see this year.
Rob: Going into this year, is there anything that you're focusing on specifically to work on and improve with your pitching coaches?
Tobi: I'd like to get back to the pitcher I was in 2009 where I could just rear back, throw s fastball, put it where I want it and throw 91-92 mph. Get my arm healthy, get it back into shape. That's my main focus this year, being healthy, just be healthy. Because I can't do anything if I'm not healthy; I learned that last year. I tried to battle, I tried to put my best effort forward and it hurt me in the long run. I didn't get called up. I was keeping my team in the game the best that I could but it wasn't doing me any good because it wasn't showing the big league club that this guy can pitch up there in the big leagues...at least not in 2010. Because I'm not putting up numbers, I'm not doing the things I was able to do in 2009. So getting healthy is the main thing and getting back to the pitcher I was in 2009.
Rob: As a former 16th round pick back in 2006, do you ever feel like you have to prove yourself more than some of the higher round guys who might have gotten taken earlier with the big bonuses? Do you ever feel like you have to prove yourself a little more?
Tobi: No, I've never put that pressure on myself. I was just overwhelmed and very appreciative to even get the opportunity to get to play professional baseball. If I went in the 6th round, in the 16th round or even the 48th round, once you get drafted and you sign that contract and you get that bonus or you get whatever you get, it's a clean slate from there. Everybody that got drafted in 2006, you've got to go out there and you've got to perform. And you have to show them that you can play the game. It doesn't matter what round you went, everyone is gonna get a chance. And you've just got to get out there and you've got to perform and you've got to get outs. At least as a pitcher you've got to go out there and get outs and pitch smart and pitch the best you can.
And always learn something new; I've learned so much in the past five years that I've never thought I would ever, ever learn. I thought I knew a lot about baseball, until you get into a professional organization and then I'm like dissecting things, dissecting hitters. Taking different mental approaches on the mound. Learning so much about the game is unbelievable. There's guys up here that can pitch the crap out of the ball, there's guys like that that are just awesome. But there's a lot of guys that put pressure on themselves and they buckle or they can't handle for example being away from home for long periods of time. Or pitching in front of big crowds. Or like I said before pitching all the pressure on them to win the game instead of letting the other eight players help you. Yeah so there's different variables that cause people to break and not succeed and I've always pretty much taught myself that pressure is only what I put on myself. So if I just go out there and I just have the approach 'Hey, I'm just playing a game' and just throw strikes and do the same thing I've done for years and years and years now, that seems to be working for me. So I'm gonna stick with that mental approach and just go with that.
Rob: Allright well I usually like to finish these things off with a little lightning round of personal questions about you guys to just learn more about the players off the field a little bit:
Favorite TV show?
Tobi: Don't know about a TV show but the Outdoor Channel, hunting and fishing.
Rob: Ah so you're a hunting guy?
Tobi: Yes, most definitely.
Rob: The last movie you saw (and was it any good)?
Tobi: Oh I just saw The Fighter last night. It was definitely different than I thought it was gonna be. I thought it was gonna be better.
Rob: Really? I've heard a lot of good things about it, you didn't like it?
Tobi: I thought it was gonna be about Mark Wahlberg being a big stud fighter but here it was more about his coked-out brother more than about the fighter himself. It was a differerent angle than what I was going to the movie to see.
Rob: Maybe I'll pass and go see Tron tonight instead then. (laughs) Allright if I turned on your iPod right now what would be playing?
Tobi: Country music.
Rob: Country music, so you are a hardcore country boy huh?
Tobi: Yeah I live in the mountains, straight up redneck. (laughs)
Rob: (laughs) Ok one more, who was your favorite ballplayer growing up?
Tobi: Ryne Sandberg.
Ok I think that about wraps it. Tobi, I appreciate the time this morning. Enjoy the rest of your offseason, good luck with the rehab and hopefully we'll be able to catch up a little bit during spring training.