Recently I was lucky enough to speak with the Mets 11th round selection in last June's draft, LHP Adam Kolarek. For those of you unfamiliar with Kolarek, he was drafted as a junior out of the University of Maryland where he was a late reliever/spot starter. Coming into the draft he was ranked by many as one of the top 50 lefthanders in the country thanks to a fastball that reaches 93-94mph and an above average slider; watch his scouting video here. The reason you should know him is that he possesses the ability to move up the ranks quickly as a major league LOOGY candidate much like fellow ACC lefty, Mets 2007 3rd rounder Eric Niesen.
So listen in as Adam and I discuss pitching in the talent-rich ACC, his first-hand oberservations of first rounder RHP Matt Harvey & why Duke can't ever seem to handle the Terps on the hardwood. To listen press the 'Play' button below or click here. Or read on for the script of the full interview below the break.
Rob: First off, I just wanted to congratulate you on what was a pretty big year for you; after you had a a pretty solid junior season with Maryland you were drafted in the 11th round back in June like I mentioned and you went on to have a very strong pro debut split between Kingsport & Brooklyn, including a 2.89 ERA with the Cyclones. Can you talk about what this big year for you has been like for you overall?
Adam: Oh man it's been exciting every step of the way. Leaving Maryland, that was kind of a tough choice, leaving my school and my friends behind. But I feel like I made the right decision, getting my feet wet this summer with the Mets, between Kingsport & Brooklyn. You know I felt confident going in, I felt like I had a good approach about me, not trying to do too much but at the same time trying to do as much as I can. I felt overall I had a pretty good season.
Rob: Now for anyone that doesn't know, you're a big, left-handed relief prospect but you've kind of bounced back and forth between starting and relief. So do you see yourself long-term as a reliever? What kind of role do you see for yourself going forward?
Adam: I really enjoy doing both. I mainly relieved in college, but I had a few spot starts. I've learned to really appreciate being in the game, whether it's for one batter, for one inning or even two innings sometimes and get my adrenaline going in big situations and try to work my way out of it.
Rob: You mentioned that it was kind of a tough decision for you to leave school and sign with the Mets. But as far as the draft itself, talk about when you heard your name called. Was it a really nervous process for you waiting? Were you expecting to go? Had you heard from anybody beforehand?
Adam: It was very exciting. I actually had all my sisters there -- I have three sisters -- even my oldest sister was in town. So it was really exciting to get to share the experience with my whole family. It was a tough waiting game. I didn't know when I was going to go, I didn't expect to go as high as I did. But hearing my name called was a lot of emotions all at once. It was being proud of the achievement and also a sigh of relief that it was, in a sense, all over in terms of waiting. It was definitely an experience I'll remember forever to be able to look back on where it all began.
Rob: You mentioned making that transition to pro ball, what would you say is the biggest difference between playing at the college level and now playing in the pros?
Adam: I'd say the main difference is that every day you're playing. In college it's close to that, pretty much four to five days a week. But now at the pro level it's every day, every night. But I kind of enjoy it better, being able to prepare each day and have a good routine going in terms of eating & working out, being able to focus on my one part of the game which this past season was the seventh, eighth inning-type deal. Everything I do during the day now is working towards those two innings I'll have that night. So the biggest difference I think is focusing every day, being ready and available.
Rob: Going back to your season with the University of Maryland, for all of the good things you did on the mound, I'm guessing that your favorite moment of the past year - on the field - was probably accomplished while you were at the plate. Specifically, I'm talking about a big win you guys had against the University of North Carolina back in April where you had come in as a defensive replacement in the ninth and in the bottom of the ninth you come up with an at-bat and you end up hitting a walk-off bomb. Now was that as awesome as it sounds and also was it your favorite moment of the season?
Adam: Oh absolutely (laughs) that was probably my favorite baseball moment of my life, to date. Exactly like you said, i came in in the ninth and was able to get one at-bat...I mean anytime I close my mind and put myself back in that situation I get that rush, that good feeling of when it first came off my bat. The crazy part about it was actually that I swung at the first pitch and I crushed it and it went foul. The next pitch he threw a slider instead of a fastball and I hit that out. And as soon as I hit it I knew it was gone. At Maryland we were such underdogs going into every weekend series against the big ACC powerhouses like North Carolina. To get a win and for me to do it at the plate instead of on the mound was a pretty big rush.
Rob: Now are you a pretty good hitter or was that just blind luck...?
Adam: I came into college as a two-way guy, I played outfield and first base. But going into my freshman fall my pitching coach really wanted me to just focus on just pitching because he thought my future was on the mound. I was a good hitter in high school like most pitchers are but in college I got my opportunity in my junior year when we had some injuries. So it took a while to get my swing back...I didn't have great numbers taking three years off from hitting. But overall my coach would just tell me to just swing as hard as I could because I had a little bit of pop.
Rob: So you kind of mentioned that you were lucky enough to pitch in the ACC throughout your college career. And that's a conference that is always full of really talented teams and really talented players; who is one player you faced during your college career that just made you say "wow he's definitely going to be playing at the next level, definitely going to be a player in the pros, maybe even in the majors"?
Adam: No doubt my freshman year we played against Florida State and I was able to play against Buster Posey. Everybody going in -- especially me being a freshman -- everyone kind of knew about him and that was our first time seeing him play. You could tell right away, it showed already that it was the big league for him, that he was going to be a star.
Rob: Another guy who played in the ACC was actually another 2010 Mets draftee, their first round selection Matt Harvey. He played at UNC, he was a starter there; did you ever have the chance to see him pitch at all and if so what did you think of him?
Adam: I did, I saw him pitch for I guess two or three years. He's a very strong, very polished pitcher. You can get a sense looking at other college players who just has the look, he looks like a ballplayer. He has a strong arm and he knows how to pitch at such a young age. He's definitely got a bright future ahead of him and he's definitely got the stuff to make a career for hopefully a long time.
Rob: I heard about something you guys did there at Maryland called 'The Omaha Challenge' that I know a lot of schools do at the end of the baseball season to kind of wrap it up. Can you kind of explain that a little bit for me?
Adam: Yeah 'The Omaha Challenge' is kind of a culmination of all the hard workouts we had in strength and conditioning. It's kind of one big, week-long event. We break off into teams of four and we compete in different compeitions that aren't exactly the most normal workouts -- we're flipping tires that weigh 600 lbs, tug-of-war and it all builds up to the end of the week where we had an obstacle course across campus. We did anything from running loops around the stadium to a campus run and then we're on the football practice field an there's a whole bunch of stuff that we have to carry -- sand bags -- and our coaches actually made a mud pit that we had to Army-crawl through. It was like 30 degrees out and raining and we're having to crawl through mud and our coaches squirting us with a hose. But it was fun, and everybody finished it. It was just a great way to end all the training that we had gone through in the fall and winter. It was a great experience. We have pictures of it and it's definitely something that everybody looks forward to even though it's so hard.
Rob: It sounds like a great team-building experience but I have to say, that sounds brutal. (laughs)
Adam: (laughs) Yeah it's about a one-hour workout and it's pretty tough.
(Watch a pretty badass video about Maryland's 'OMaha Challenge' here)
Rob: I've read that your dad was also a pro player and that he climbed about as high as Triple-A in his career, I think he was with the A's. Now has he been a good resource for you as far as advice about your game and kind of what to expect now that you're in the pros? And it probably helps even more so that he was a catcher when he played...
Adam: Oh absolutely, he's been with me every step of the way. He was never really a head coach but he's always helped out with my teams. So having him as a resource at home -- I'd called him after every outing this summer and we'd just talk about it. He's the ideal player's coach but I get to have him as a dad and that's even better sometimes. Going through his experiences he did get to Triple-A and to big league spring training camp a couple times. And especially as a catcher he offers as much as he can about proper mechanics and conditioning your arm. But the knowledge of how to pitch and how to attack a hitter in certain counts and different situations has probably been most valuable.
Rob: You also happen to be from the same small, Baltimore-area high school as another big, tall relief pitcher that people in the NY-area may have heard of, the former Yankee great Jeff Nelson. Now I'm assuming he's probably one of those local legends around your high school that some of the young players in the area look up to; was he a favorite of your growing up as a pitcher and have you ever had the chance to have any contact with him?
Adam: No, I've never been able to meet him. His mom actually worked in the front office for the high school for years and she always had a picture of him in one of his uniforms on her desk. Yeah, he never made too many appearances but it was the myth or legend of Jeff Nelson around Catonsville. It's actually kind of cool to know that another kid was able to make a big league career out of it and he was such a well-respected guy and veteran pitcher that it definitely inspires you that just because you're from a small town doesn't mean you can't make it big.
Rob: As far as the 2011 season, just wanted to talk about some of your expectations or goals, is there anything specific that you're working on? And have you gotten any idea about where you'll be reporting to once you break camp?
Adam: No they haven't really said too much about moving up. Most likely it'll be probably Savannah, It all depends on how well you do in Spring Training. But I'm really just looking forward to having my first opportunity to go to spring training and experience everything, being around so many players all at once. And really being able to focus on pitching, the craft of pitching. I'm hoping to just soak in all of the information from all of the coaches and rovers that will be there to help us out in our bullpens and take that knowledge with me throughout this 2011 season.
Rob: Have you started to work towards camp? Are you throwing yet and what's your offseason routine like?
Adam: Yeah, the Mets mail out an offseason program as far as strength & conditioning and also throwing so I've been following that. I've been working out since the beginning of October and now that's it's starting to get closer and closer to spring training the throwing program has picked up more and really I'm just trying to strengthen my arm and build up to a couple of bullpen sessions before I go down to Florida.
Rob: Now I usually like to wrap these up with a few personal questions to get to know you guys a little better off the field:What do you like to do in your free time when you're not playing baseball?I've actually started picking up the game of golf. I've been working on my game a little bit, it's a fun way to spend time with friends back home and have a nice day outside.I'm a fellow golfer, I'm pretty terrible but it is a good way to have some fun on a Saturday or Sunday.Favorite TV show?I wish they would bring 24 back, I was a big 24 fan.Last movie you saw (and was it any good)?I just saw The Fighter, that was pretty good. It was what I expected, pretty good movie.If I turned on your iPod right now, what would be playing?I'm a fan of the harder, heavy rock. I like Metallica a lot, System of a Down, stuff to get you pumped up. I don't mess with the rap too much but I like the hard rock.Who was your favorite ballplayer growing up?Being from Baltimore everyone was able to watch and grow up with Cal Ripken, the way he played the game the right way. I would say being a Baltimore kid, watching Cal grow up, he was a pretty good role model.I've got one more serious one before I let you go, do you really think your Terps have got any shot against Duke this weekend? By the way, you should know I'm a big Blue Devils fan (laughs)...(laughs) I think we'll play them tough for sure. I saw the highlights of the women's game last night and they played them tough but Duke pulled it out. They're always an exciting game to watch, I got to go to a couple games at Maryland when I was still there and I saw the Terps beat them a couple times. But there's always an exciting game. Maybe this year if we get good play from our guards, [Adrian] Bowie, I like Bowie a lot and [Sean] Mosley and maybe if our big man down low Jordan Williams can get a couple rebounds we can keep it close for a while.So you follow the Maryland sports programs pretty closely it sounds like huh?Yeah even growing up I was a always a Terps basketball fan so it's been fun watching them over the years. It was really cool to get to know the players being in class with them on campus. But we'll see how this weekend works out.Any thoughts about the new football coach hiring? They got the UConn coach Edsall and that was kind of a controversial hiring for them...Yeah it's hard to say what goes on behind closed doors. Fridge was such a great guy, the players definitely respected him very much. It's too bad, Maryland being his alma mater with him exiting the way he was forced to. But we'll see, the quarterback's pretty young and maybe they'll have a good season next year.Allright we'll just have to agree to disagree because I'm going to be rooting hard for Duke this weekend (laughs) but we'll both just have to see what happens!(laughs) Exactly.Well that about wraps it. Thanks for the time Adam, I appreciate it. Good luck heading down to camp and best wishes going forward!