When you first meet Joe Musgrove, the first thing you notice is his sheer size. At least it was the first thing I noticed. He is every bit of his listed 6'5" 230. The second thing you notice is how open, easy-going and engaging he is. Then you realize that he's only 19 and you can't help but be impressed.
Musgrove came to the Astros organization in the July 2012 trade that sent David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon to the Blue Jays for major leaguers Francisco Cordero and Ben Francisco and minor league pitchers Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Kevin Comer and catcher Carlos Perez.
I sat down and talked to Joe late last month in Greeneville where he was assigned to the Astros Appy League affiliate. Although I didn't get to see him pitch while I was there, I nevertheless walked away impressed. Here is just some of what he had to say ~
On his size: "I've always been big. My mom's full-blooded Italian. My Dad's Mexican and a few other things so I get good cooking around the house, and I'm just blessed with the size I guess. My Dad has five brothers and all of them are six foot plus so I got some size from that."
On the trade from the Blue Jays: "I think it's huge. I had a great time with the Blue Jays. [It was] the first team I was with and I was obviously really excited when I got drafted by them, especially where I got drafted. It wasn't really where I was expecting to go. I talked to scouts and stuff and they all told me they were expecting maybe second, third round so when I got the call and saw it on TV on draft day, I was ecstatic. We had a really good group of guys over there in Bluefield too. Just a lot of young guys that had a lot of upside. I think the Astros made a huge pick up with the guys they got. They got three first rounders or supplemental rounders and a catcher who's a big prospect and a couple of big leaguers so I think it was a really good trade for Houston.
"I'm comfortable with this organization. They seem to move guys pretty well so I think it's a good spot for me.
That organization [Blue Jays] is stacked with players at all levels, stacked with players, especially pitching. It would have been tough for me to make a move up there any time soon. Here, I think they tend to move their guys fast. Blue Jays like to keep their young guys down for a couple of years and let them grow. [With the Astros, if] guys are doing well, they'll give you an opportunity and that's what I'm looking for.
"When I first got the call, I was kind of shocked. I didn't expect it to come at all. They woke me up and said, 'Hey, we traded you to the Astros this morning.' It didn't even seem real. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to do. I'm just thinking, 'I just got comfortable with all these guys and we're doing a ton of stuff, have a good team and now they're throwing me away.' But I talked with my Dad and [my godfather] Dom and they made it clear to me that it's a good thing. It's just another team that wants you. They don't want to trade big leaguers for a guy that they don't think is worth anything so I think it's good. It's a different way to look at it and I'm excited for it."
On what he's accomplished since being drafted in 2011: "I've come a long way from when I first started playing. I didn't start pitching until my freshman year in high school so I've only been pitching for about five years. My godfather, Dominic Johnson, taught me everything I know about it. He worked with a lot of ex-big leaguers and guys that were injured, trying to get back with the game. He taught me everything I know.
"I'm sure it was the same for a lot of guys, [but] in high school we threw hard so we could get away with throwing fastballs right down the middle. Guys just couldn't catch up to it or square it up well, but I learned pretty fast when I got in to pro ball my first year that I can't leave pitches over the middle. I'd have a good at-bat where I'd throw good pitches and leave one pitch over the middle and that's the one they'd crush. Over the past year of pro ball, I've learned a lot. I actually worked out with Jamie Moyer a few times in the off-season. He was throwing with my godfather and I got to meet him and talk baseball with him for a few hours and he really opened my eyes to the game. It's a lot more than you think. Not just physical, but much more the mental part. I've come a long way and I think I'm in a comfortable spot. I'm nowhere near where I want to get, but it's a process."
On his pitch repertoire: "I have a 4-seam and a 2-seam, curve, slider and the change, straight change. Coming in to pro ball, I threw something called a fosh. It's like a splitter/changeup kind of pitch. They kind of took it away from me, the Blue Jays, my first year because they said a lot of guys who throw splitters have elbow injuries down the line so they didn't want me throwing it but that was my out pitch and I liked it. It was a good pitch. I got a lot of good results with it. I could throw it in there either as a waste pitch to get someone to chase it or try to spot up with it and get a guy to look, but they [the Blue Jays] didn't like it too much and took it away. And when I got here, I told them [the Astros] about it, what had happened. I hadn't thrown it in a while but they're slowly letting me get back into it. I haven't thrown it in a game yet because I've been away from it for about a year so I had to get a feel back for it. It's definitely something I want to use in the future. It's a good pitch and I enjoy it."
On his velocity: "[In] high school, some scouts said they saw me up to 98. I don't know; that's pretty fast. I know I've hit 96 a few times and last season I was sitting anywhere from 91 to 95, hit 96 a few times and this season I've gotten up to 94 a few times - not as much but I had a shoulder injury. When the season started, I had two starts in and then I came down with a muscle strain in my shoulder. They said it was in the rotator cuff or in the labrum, somewhere in the shoulder. They said it was a strain, nothing serious so I did a ton of rehab and cuff exercises to try and strenghen it up and now it's feeling good so now I'm just trying to get back into it and slowly move my velocity up. I'm not too worried about velocity. I know it helps, for sure, to have a little extra something on your fastball but at this level it's more about locating your pitches rather than running it up on the gun. I'm not worried about it. I know it will come. I'm still young and have room to grow."
How is his shoulder doing?: "It feels great, 100%. I feel so good to have it 100%. It's the best feeling I've felt in a while, just to have a healthy arm."
On playing in Greeneville: "I love it. The park is unbelievable. It's unreal. It's one of the nicest parks I've played at. The guys are all real great, all good guys. [After the trade] I was worried because [sometimes] you get those guys that are kind of cocky and they want to brush off the rookies and the younger kids, but these guys all welcomed me in nicely and made me feel pretty comfortable so I'm enjoying myself. Coaches are real good. I really enjoy working with [Pitching Coach] Hector [Mercado]. I've heard nothing but good things about him and I'm enjoying [working with] him so far. Omar's [Manager Omar Lopez] a great guy. So I'm liking it. I'm comfortable here."
On something most people don't know about him: "When I was younger, I went to a performing arts school, kindergarten through sixth grade. We had a program called FAME, Fine Arts Magnet and Education, [where the day was split between regular classes in the morning and rehearsals in the afternoon] and at the end of the year, we'd put on a play. My sisters were all in to that. My sisters were big theater freaks. They love acting and singing and stuff. They got me tied in with that and when I wasn't playing ball, I was doing tap-dancing, tap-dancing with my sisters. We have a big fair in San Diego called the Del Mar Fair and it's huge. There's a big stage with thousands of people. Me and my sisters actually got invited to the fair to perform the tap-dancing [routine] on the stage and I'm the only one that didn't mess up out of my two sisters. I was the only one that nailed it perfect. That's definitely something I don't talk about a lot."
Flash forward a few years. Joe makes his major league debut at Minute Maid Park. A little step-ball-change tap move as he toes the rubber? Probably not, but he'd certainly be a hit with the fans, particularly if he nailed it.