Mike Foltynewicz was a first round pick in 2010 out of high school in Illinois. In 26 starts in 2011, he was 5-11 with a 4.97 ERA and a 1.493 WHIP. This season, through six starts, he has improved dramatically to 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA and a 1.170 WHIP. Batters are hitting only .214 against him.
I talked with Mike at length last weekend. I'm not sure what I expected, but I didn't expect to find him so completely charming and easy to talk to. It certainly makes it easy to pull for him to be successful. The following is a verbatim transcript of most of his answers to me.
On his approach on the mound: "I'm real competitive and everything and I'll do everything I can to get a guy out. I'm just going to go at him and not back down. I don't care who it is. Just go right at him. Who cares?"
On how his curveball is coming along: "I feel it's gotten a lot better since Greeneville a couple of years ago. I kind of had trouble with it a lot so I got into instructs that year and then spring training and then instructs again and I've worked on it a lot. Made it a lot sharper, made it break more and it's coming along at a decent pace right now. I'm still trying to get the hang of it, trying to throw it where I want to throw it more than just a guess where it's going to go. So it's coming along for me."
On his pitches: "Fastball has to be my best pitch. Change up is coming along real nice ... It's a 4-seam circle change up and it's just slower really. I just throw it just like my fastball and it's gotten a lot of swing and misses, a lot of pop ups to first base, grounds out to first base. It's basically night and day on my change up when I first came into professional baseball. It's coming along real well. It's probably my second best pitch."
On his velocity: "Fastball the last couple games I've been sitting, I think Bork [pitching coach Dave Borkowski] told me 93-94, getting up to 96 a couple times in the game. It's getting there. It's staying the same. I'm getting it above 92."
On what he works on in the off-season: "I try to gain weight. It's hard for me. I don't know why. I just lose it. I eat and eat like a horse. Just get big and work out and work on the mechanics. That's what we worked on a lot in instructs last year was my mechanics, so I just took that in the off-season as well."
On the biggest difference between this season and last: "Just the confidence, I think, and just a little tweak in the mechanics and in my motion. After Hagerstown [his second start], I had a pretty good outing and I just felt real confident after that. I just felt like no one could hit me - just go out there, let them try and hit me. I'm just really in the zone a lot of people like to be in. Just go along with it. I'm getting a lot of strikeouts so far this year, a lot better than last year. I feel like I'm putting guys away better than last year, making them hit it on the ground better. It's all starting starting to come together for me."
On the long delay in getting his first professional win: "It didn't really bother me. Borkowski would joke with me all the time about it. It was just kind of in the back of my head. It's like ... I gotta get that first win, I gotta get that first win. It was a pretty fun time when I got that first win."
On whether workload contributed to his late-season fade in 2011: "It might have been. It was my first full season. There was just a lot of hype on me, a lot of people watching me because it would be my first year to see what I could do. I was a little nervous all year, didn't know what to expect and it was a real long year. But now I know. I know how to train in the off-season. I know what to expect."
On where he sees himself and the key to getting there: "Where I see myself ... I always thought of myself as 2-3 [in the rotation], maybe 1, maybe some day down the road. The key there is to stay healthy and work hard every day. When I'm between those lines, it's 100%. I'm going at it. There's a time to joke around and a time to have fun, but when I'm out there to work on something, I'm going to do it the best I can and I think that's going to take me where I need to go. Whatever Bork says or Matlack [Jon Matlack, roving Pitching Coordinator] has to say to try to fix my mechanics or something, I'll do it and see how it works and try to work on that every day and get better and that's what I think is going to get me there. And stay healthy."
On who on the team makes him laugh: "Chowning, it's gotta be Chowning. [Jason] Chowning, [Tanner] Bushue and [Nathan] Pettus ... all those guys are funny. [More on Jason Chowning] He's a good guy. Basically took me in last year. He was in Lexington with me last year, and we just hit it off in Spring Training. He's a real good guy. I love hanging around with him. He's one of those people to look up to. He's done it all already."
On what he would do if he couldn't play baseball: "If I couldn't play baseball, I'd more than likely try to play golf, try to get on the tour. Or play basketball. Try to get in the NBA. Because I was decent in high school in basketball. [Did he ever play football?] Mom wouldn't let me. Mom wouldn't let me play football."
On which teammate he would least like to face in the batter's box: "Johnson [1B Zach Johnson] right now because he's been on a tear. He's hitting anything. [Matt] Duffy - he kind of scares me in there, just a big figure. Looks like he's got a ... tree trunk for a bat. He's got good power."
On something most people don't know about him: "I play the drums. I play the drums all the time, and I used to be in a band in high school, high school days. That's what a lot of people don't really know about me. I used to play the drums a lot. I used to play them every time before a game in high school."
Any final words?: "I'm a real competitive guy and I'll do anything to win out there. I'll lay it on the line for the team every day and try to get a win, hopefully a championship ring down the road some day."