Hardball Questions: Andy Baldwin

Andy Baldwin was born in Minnesota and wound up all the way across the country in Corvalis, Oregon to play baseball for Oregon State University. After spending his first season pitching out of the bullpen, Baldwin spent most of his second year in the Beavers’ starting rotation, going 5-5 in 13 starts.

A draft-eligible sophomore because he redshirted in 2002, Baldwin was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth round of this June’s amateur draft. He signed for a $170,000 bonus and is now a starting pitcher for the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League, where he is 4-2 with a 4.82 ERA and 37-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 starts.

Aaron recently talked to Baldwin about pitching, college baseball, getting drafted, and life in the minors.

THT: Tell us a little bit about what type of pitcher you are. What do you throw? How fast do you throw it? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

Baldwin: It’s difficult to classify what type of pitcher I am, because I’m still working to become more consistent. Guys like Mark Prior and Curt Schilling can be classified as “power pitchers.” Guys like Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer are much more precise and rely on command and movement. Personally, I’m working on trying to combine both aspects.

I have an average big league fastball that sits at around 91. I throw a change-up and a slider as well. In a game I’ll throw close to 75% fastballs, unless the game dictates otherwise. I try to work inside as much as possible for two reasons — guys are still trying to make the transition from aluminum to wood bats and are hesitant to be aggressive with an inside pitch out of fear of getting jammed, and the working inside allows my slider to be more effective when I’m ahead in the count.

I tend to go after hitters; so far I think I’ve walked eight in 10 starts, which might explain why my batting average against is high. As far as what kind of pitcher I am, I think I’m still trying to figure that out.

THT: How did you decide to go to Oregon State? Coming out of high school, were you a highly-recruited player?

Baldwin: Several schools recruited me coming out of high school, some for baseball and some for football. I decided that my future wasn’t as a quarterback and that I was going to play only baseball in college.

I visited several schools the fall of my senior year of high school. It came down to OSU and the University of Minnesota. I would be close to my friends and family if I stayed in Oregon and have the chance to play in the best baseball conference in the nation. I ended up choosing OSU and am extremely glad I did, I had a great three years there.

THT: Did you play other positions in high school? How was your hitting?

Baldwin: Until college, I played shortstop and center field at every level. I was pretty good in the field, but it was clear that I wasn’t going to play any other positions at the next level. I had pretty good power throughout my hitting career, but never developed a consistent swing.

Playing in the National League, I’m going to have to attempt to re-learn how to hit once I get to Double-A. I’m thinking I’ll most likely just bunt anyway.

THT: At what point did you realize you might be able to make a career out of playing baseball? Did that change the way you approached or prepared for playing the game?

Baldwin: I never really thought baseball should be considered a “career.” Playing a game and making money for it is more like a fantasy. I never thought it would be something I would be able to do until I got my first paycheck. Even when I got drafted and began playing it never really sunk in that this was my job. Truthfully, I don’t think it will really dawn on me that I’m playing baseball for a job until spring training.

I don’t think I could ever change my approach to playing simply because I’m getting paid now. If anything, a paycheck gives me more incentive to work even harder. I want to make sure I let the Phillies know that they didn’t waste their money.

THT: You were drafted in the fifth round as a draft-eligible sophomore. At what point did you decide that you were going to turn pro? And do you think the leverage you had, being able to go back to school if you wanted, got you a better signing bonus?

Baldwin: I wasn’t sure that I was ready to play until a few days before I signed. My agent, Jim Lindell, and I went over every possible situation before the draft and how certain aspects of my eligibility status might influence the round and money I might get from the draft.

From early in the season, I told scouts that I’d sign if I got drafted in the first five rounds. I felt like regardless of eligibility status, a team that selects you at that point in the draft considers you to be a prospect worth investing in. I got picked in the fifth round, and five days after the draft I signed.

Looking back, I feel like I made the right decision. There is always the possibility that I would have had a better year in college and gotten drafted higher next year, but for all the improvements I have made and the quality of the instruction I get at this level, I made the right choice playing pro this year.

THT: Pitching in the PAC-10, you saw a lot of very good players over the past couple years. Who were the guys on other teams who impressed you the most? Which guys do you see becoming stars in the major leagues?

Baldwin: I was fortunate to play against some very talented players in my three years in the PAC-10. My first two years I played against Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Anderson, Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson, all first rounders. I also got to play with Brian Barden and Mark McLemore, both of whom have a great chance to make the big leagues in the next few years.

This year I got to play against guys like Dustin Pedroia, Sam Fuld, Jed Lowrie, Jeff Clement, Wes Whistler, Aaron Hathaway, Anthony Mayberry, Danny Putnam, Casey Janssen, Tim Lincecum and Ian Kennedy. I also got to play with Aaron Mathews, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dallas Buck and Jared Sanders. I think each of those players has a great chance to be in the major leagues.

THT: You were the first player selected from Oregon State this year, but you guys had a total of six players chosen. I’m a Twins fan, so what can you tell me about Kyle Aselton (Minnesota’s 11th-rounder)? And we have a couple big Blue Jays fans here at THT, so what can you tell them about Aaron Mathews (Toronto’s 19th-rounder)?

Baldwin: Honestly, a lot of us were surprised when Kyle got drafted when he did. Not because of a lack of talent, but because he only pitched a handful of innings this season. Kyle’s got good stuff from the left side, and fits a middle-relief role well. He’s going to have to get a little more aggressive if he wants to be successful, just because he’s a very shy, mild mannered guy. He definitely has the potential to be good though.

Aaron was my roommate my freshman year and is one of the best guys on and off the field that I’ve ever met. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever played with, and plays with a passion for the game that I have yet to see in anyone else. He was drafted far lower than he should have been, and is proving it in Auburn. I’ve already faced him a few times this year, and I still haven’t figured out how to pitch to him. Aaron is going to be good for a long time, keep track of him.

THT: What can you tell us about the whole pre-draft process? This seems to be one area of the draft where not much information is available. I know you’re not allowed to have an agent, or you lose amateur status, but you can have an advisor, right? What’s the difference? Do the scouts who come to see you pitch talk to you at any point?

Baldwin: Scouts started calling me at the end of my first season. They can call you and talk to you as much as they want without violating any of the NCAA’s copious rules. They call and talk to you throughout the rest of the season and basically will let you know what your draft status is. They’ll tell you things like, “I think you can expect to be drafted somewhere between the second and fourth.” Scouts will even come over to your house and meet with you, evaluating what kind of a person you are and just get to know you better.

Advisors start calling midway through the season. I started meeting with advisors in late March. They’ll call you and ask if it would be okay to come out and meet with you. Once you decide you’re going to use an advisor, they must be just that, and advisor, not an agent. Your advisor basically calls scouting directors, general managers and other front office people for teams that may be interested in drafting you. They then report back to you and come up with an idea of what might happen on draft day.

In my case, Jim basically told me that I was going to get drafted in the fourth or fifth round, the kind of money I would expect in that round and what my other options were if I decided not to sign right away. After I got drafted, Jim basically did all the negotiating of my contract and handled all the small print stuff that I didn’t want to bother with. After I signed professionally, I signed a contract for him to be my agent.

THT: Before the draft, did you hear from teams that were interested in you? Did they say, “If you’re available in X round, we’ll take you”? Were the Phillies one of those teams?

Baldwin: I honestly had no idea which team was going to draft me. A few clubs called and said they would take me if I was around in the sixth, but they were reasonably confident that I wasn’t going to be. There were around 20 or 21 clubs that I thought had a realistic chance of drafting me, it just worked out that the Phillies did.

THT: Some college pitchers don’t pitch in the minors after signing because of how much they’ve already pitched during the year, but you were pitching again almost immediately after signing. Was there any hesitation on your part about logging more innings this year?

Baldwin: One of the reasons I signed so quickly was because I needed to throw more innings. I’ve never really had arm problems, and I wanted to get started throwing to pro hitters as soon as possible. I think this season has been huge for me as far as how many innings I’ve been able to pitch.

Pitching every fifth day has its drawbacks, but it is much easier to improve when you get an opportunity to throw all the time. I think if I had decided not to throw this summer, I would have regressed rather than improved.

THT: What is your take on the whole pitch-count issue? Do you agree with those who think some of the big workloads college starters are racking up are bad for their future, or do you not have a problem with someone throwing 150+ pitches in the right circumstances?

Baldwin: Some guys can go out and throw 130 pitches and be fine the next day. Some guys can only throw 50 before they start wearing down. Every pitcher at this level for the Phillies is on a 75-pitch count. Personally, I would like to see it get to 100, but I understand why the organization implements the counts.

No one here has thrown every fifth day in their career, so the club just makes sure that we’re fresh when our turn comes around. Also, there are 11 pitchers on the club right now, and the six bullpen guys need to get their work in as well. I wouldn’t mind throwing a few more pitches, but I understand why they keep us at 75.

THT: Aside from the pitch count, have the Phillies laid out any sort of a developmental plan for you? A timetable for your advancement through the system?

Baldwin: The ultimate plan is to get to the big leagues. As far as when and how fast, that part is up to me. People don’t advance extremely fast in this organization, but if you go out and prove that you can pitch, you’ll get your chances. I’m going to play in the Florida Instructional League this fall. If I’m successful there and have a good spring training, I’ll be in good shape.

THT: You were both a starter and a reliever at OSU. What do you see yourself as down the line? Is there a difference in the way you pitch out of the bullpen?

Baldwin: The Phillies want me to be a starter. I prefer starting and feel that I’m best as a starter. I like to be able to know exactly when I’m throwing so I can formulate a routine with working out, throwing, etc. between starts. I closed at times in college because I had a good college fastball and could come in and shut teams down for a few innings. Here, my fastball is average and wouldn’t be as successful in a short-relief role.

THT: Have you noticed any major differences between the pro game and the college game?

Baldwin: Wood bats are a pitcher’s best friend. They allow a pitcher to be much more confident throwing inside. With aluminum, hitters could hit one on the handle and still manage to get it into the gap. Here, if you jam a guy, his bat will most likely break and the ball won’t get out of the infield.

Other than the bats, the talent here is somewhat better, but not as much as you’d think. Overall, the adjustment has been fairly easy for me to make as a pitcher. I think that being a hitter would be a much different story, though.

THT: A lot of the pre-draft scouting reports on you from various sources talked about what a great arm you have and how you are very “projectable” going forward. At the same time, I read some stuff that said you are still sort of “raw” as a pitcher (as opposed to a “thrower”) and that you have to work on your control. Would you say that stuff is pretty accurate?

Baldwin: When a scout writes that I’m raw, I think he’s referring to my ability to be consistent inning to inning. I’ve never been wild with my control. The consistency they talk about is my ability to use three pitches for strikes and my ability to manipulate counts. In school, I threw far too many fastballs, so I gave up a great deal of hits. Here, I’m learning how to mix pitches and keep hitters off balance. I feel like my control is fine, I just need to keep learning the process of pitching, which will come easier with all of the innings I’m throwing.

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