First up in my 2010 draft prospect interview series is Cal State Fullerton’s ace starting pitcher Daniel Renken. A rising junior with a history of success, Renken enters his 2010 season with solid draft position. Thanks to Daniel for taking the time out to answers some questions. Here’s the interview:
Andy: After having such a successful sophomore season at Fullerton, how do you feel about your chances to improve on that as a junior?
Daniel: There’s always more room for improvement in baseball, which makes it such a beautiful game. I still have a lot of skills to work on and hone, ranging from working the inside corner, developing my slider, to just basic weight gain.
Andy: How has Fullerton helped you with those things?
Daniel: Without Fullerton, the coaches, and my teammates I would be nowhere near developed as I am today. Not many teams work harder then the Titans, and it shows when games come around. I’m truly blessed to be able to pitch for this team and put on the pinstripes in the spring.
Andy: You were one of the better prospects not to play on the Cape or with Team USA last summer. What was the reasoning behind that?
Daniel: My coaches and I sat down at the end of the year to discuss the summer and the 2010 season. I had pitched 125 innings last year, which was more then most pitchers get to throw in a year. I came to Fullerton to win a national championship, and the thought process was I could go out and play summer ball and come back possibly tired in need of rest, or take the summer off to rest my arm so that when Fall ball starts I’m ready to go. My team is going to come before the draft, and my first goal is being the last team standing in Omaha, so I decided to shut down during the summer. A lot of guys want to go out and get as much exposure as possible before their draft year, but we get plenty of exposure playing at Goodwin Field every week.
Andy: That was probably a good decision. Do you ever worry that you’re going to get too many innings during a spring season in such a competitive program?
Daniel: Our program at Fullerton is all about trust, and I have all the trust in the world in our coach. Dave Serrano knows how pitchers work, and he knows how many innings a pitcher can handle. That being said, our conditioning during the offseason and in between starts is no joke, and we as players make sure that we are in good enough shape and health to go out and throw however many pitches our team needs from us to keep us in a ball game.
Andy: Do you think that conditioning will ultimately help you transition to the pro game when the time comes?
Daniel: There is no doubt in my mind that it will. In college, our coaches as well as ourselves make sure we run and keep our bodies healthy. When turning pro all that responsibility is one’s own to deal with, and the Titans are instilled with a great work ethic to keep with us as long as were allowed to keep putting on the uniform of whatever pro team we play for.
Andy: Transitioning to the pro scouting side of things, do you think your history of already being drafted helps you with the spotlight of being a top draft-eligible player for this coming year?
Daniel: I honestly don’t know if already being drafted out of high school will help my positioning on team’s draft boards, but I do know that going through all the scout’s, questionnaires, and just the stress of dealing with the draft in high school was a great experience and I now know how to deal with all that spotlight. My goal this year isn’t to worry about being drafted high. I’ll tell you the same thing I told my coaches when our season came to an end last spring. I’m not going to worry about the draft or any of the hassles that come with it, because I know that if I can help my team to win a national championship, the draft will handle itself.
Andy: Give me a scouting report on yourself. What are your greatest strengths?
Daniel: From a personality standpoint, I am one of the biggest competitors when I get up on the mound. When I start that game, I have no other intention then to finish it. I also am not afraid to throw to any batter, which might seem a little foolish or cocky, but if someone is afraid to throw a certain pitch in a certain spot, chance is that person is going to end up leaving it right over the middle of the plate. From a pitching standpoint, I can locate my fastball in and out and subtract and add velocity whenever needed. I never like to stick with one consistent speed, so the batter can never get comfortable. I also have a good changeup that I love to throw at anytime, which really makes the hitters a little angry.
Andy: And you said you’re working on your slider?
Daniel: My slider was pretty good last season, with the ability to either backdoor or throw it as a strikeout pitch. However it had some tendencies to get a little too loopy, so I am trying to tighten it this spring and make it more consistent once spring comes around.
Andy: You seem to be quite aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Is this because of your coaching staff or do you put extra time into your work?
Daniel: A little bit of both. I’ve always listened to what Coach Serrano says and if it works for me I take it and gain a substantial amount of knowledge. However, I will always do things or talk to others about things I can work on. Watching tapes from last year teaches me a lot of things I can work on, from arm angle to location of pitches and so on. Most of my drive for doing so many things comes from the feeling of being overlooked when I was younger and playing. I just want to go out there and help my team win and prove to others that I am as good as my record showed last year. There is nothing better that can help me do that then working by myself on things on my own time.
Andy: You said you were overlooked when you were younger. Can you talk more about that?
Daniel: Well in high school I was always an average player, basically off the charts until the end of my junior year. I actually thought I was a better hitter then pitcher, which most pitchers still think in college, if you can imagine that. I suddenly developed an arm that could throw 90 miles an hour, but i still would receive critical marks, either from scouts, coaches, or publications. I took it upon myself after my senior year and in college to show what I can do, and through some hard work and a little bit of self-confidence I turned out pretty well, in my mind at least.
Andy: If you had been heavily praised in those times, do you think you would have turned pro straight out of high school or did you have your mind made up to go to Fullerton?
Daniel: My dad took me to Fullerton games when I was younger, and my greatest baseball memory was going to watch the first Fullerton game of the year. The Titans bunted for a base hit, then bunted for a base hit, and bunted for another base hit in the first three batters. I stood there in awe like, wow, this team knows how to get things done. Then all of a sudden, the first pitch to the fourth batter was thrown and the runner at third stole home. I had never seen such a hard played game of baseball, and it made me want to play there. Also, both my parents value education so much, that they instilled in me the value of getting as much of my education as possible before the next chance of possibly being drafted. Basically, Fullerton was my dream.
Andy: If you do end up leaving to sign with a pro club next summer, how close will you be to a degree?
Daniel: I’ll be about three semesters away from graduation.
Andy: Will that be a factor when you talk with whatever team drafts you?
Daniel: If negotiations ever start between a team and myself, there will of course be many deciding factors, and my education will always be a factor close to the top.
Andy: Is pro baseball as much of a dream as going to Fullerton was for you?
Daniel: I think every ball player’s dream is of playing pro ball. Now whether that dream comes to fruition or not won’t be known, but I’ll be extremely happy if I get to extend my career with the chance of playing in front of thousands every night.
Andy: What’s your favorite pro team?
Daniel: I have to be honest, I can’t say I have a favorite team, but I do have to say this years Angel team is a team of grinders that reminds me a lot of how Fullerton is always expected to play. They play hard every day, they have handled a lot of adversity throughout this season, and they are winning despite of not having any huge name stars like Pujols, A-Rod, or Teixeira.
Andy: A dagger to the heart of a Rangers fan…
Daniel: Ha ha, I actually don’t watch too much baseball in general, I get so critical now that I’m a true student of the game that I’ll actually get frustrated at a player not hustling, doing a simple thing wrong, or just disrespecting the game.
Andy: Welcome to the life of a scout. Can’t sit through a ballgame without a pen and paper anymore.
Daniel: Ha ha, that’s why I’m focusing on making sure I keep playing.
Andy: Let’s give you a little practice. Why don’t you give me a quick scouting report on your two high-rated teammates Christian Colon and Gary Brown?
Daniel: Chrsitian has got to have some of the smoothest hands as an infielder I’ve ever seen. He makes plays that I don’t think many college or minor league shortstops could make. He’s worked hard gaining a little speed, and he’ll steal a few bags. He’s also become a great bat handler and can put line drives anywhere on the field. Gary has got to be the faster player in college baseball. He absolutely flies, and can steal any base he wants to. He can be a great line drive hitter with a few small adjustments, and he even has some power, because even though he is so small, I’ve never seen a guy so cut and strong.
Andy: Very nice. How’s Colon coming back from the bad leg injury he suffered with Team USA?
Daniel: He’s great, it was a clean break so he was walking two weeks after the break. He’ll be back in no time.
Andy: How do you think the loss of guys to the draft this past June will impact your team in the spring? Fellhauer, Davis, and Clark were a big part of your offense in 2009.
Daniel: Those are big holes to fill, however being at Fullerton we always just reload. We have some returners who are looking to step up, and a lot of freshmen who are willing to fill any holes that we need.
Andy: Who do you consider the leader of your team now? Do you think you’re the leader of the staff?
Daniel: We’re lucky to have a team that polices itself. Even though we have certain guys who are thought of as captains, no one is better then anyone else. We don’t have a true leader, but many guy who are vocal and can be a leader at anytime. On the pitching staff, I know that I am going to be looked at a lot more as a leader and maybe as the captain of the staff, but I’ve already told my teammates, anyone can tell anyone if they need to pick up their game or if they are doing something wrong. We don’t care if you are a freshman or a fifth-year senior, everyone has something valuable that can be said.