I caught up with Patrick by phone over the weekend and asked him about both his career with the Astros and his 2013 season. This is what he had to say (edited for brevity and clarity) ~
Patrick Urckfitz - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen
WTHB: Your path through the minors hasn't always been on a straight line. Can you tell me a little about how your career has unfolded?
PU: When I signed in 2008, obviously there were all different higher-ups and player development guys and I tried to establish myself with those guys. Then in 2011, everything kind of changed and I had a down year that year between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City. Then I finished in Lancaster so I bounced around a lot that year. Then the next year, they kind of told me, "You've got to prove yourself to the new regime." So they sent me back to Lancaster last year and I had a pretty good year and then this year, I just tried to build off that. So, yeah, it's been a little crazy throughout the years, just bouncing around, but I guess that's part of it sometimes.
WTHB: Why weren't you drafted?
PU: I'm not too sure. I was at a junior college here in New York [Monroe Community College in Rochester] and we played a lot of good teams around the country and then we played in the Junior College World Series at the end of the year. That's when Houston saw me pitch and they were kind of interested, I guess, and saw me through the summer ball league and then they offered me a free agent contract after the draft and I took it.
WTHB: Can you tell me a little about your pitch repertoire?
PU: Last year, I started throwing mainly two-seam fastballs, trying to work on movement and keep the ball on the ground, induce a few ground balls. I also throw a kind of a slider. That would be my main off-speed pitch. And then at times [I] use the change up mainly to right-handed hitters. [Fastball velocity?] I've been anywhere this year 90-96, anywhere in there.
WTHB: I noticed that your strikeout rate has been down this year and your groundball rate is up. Is that by design? Are you pitching more to contact?
PU: That went along with mainly moving to two-seam fastballs. When I was throwing four-seamers, I was getting more pop up and strikeouts and now you see last year and this year, it's been more ground out to fly out ratio and lower strikeouts. Not necessarily by design, but moving to a two-seam I think had something to do with that. It [groundball rate] definitely went up from the way I pitched before. I basically transformed the way I pitch and the way I think about pitching the last two years.
WTHB: Tell me more about that.
PU: I used to try to overpower guys and that got me into trouble at times so the last two years, I've been working with the different pitching coaches at different levels and we kind of lowered my arm angle, moved to more two-seam so [that] just gives the hitters a slightly different look than what I did before. Just kind of switch it up a little bit and I've been happy with it. I feel like my command has been better from that arm angle and everything that follows I'm happy with. I'm just trying to improve on it.
WTHB: What do you feel like you've accomplished this season and what are you still working on?
PU: I feel like I've definitely proven that I can get left-handers out. I think with that different arm angle, it definitely gives them a little tougher of an angle so I feel like I've done that well. And what I'm working to improve on, and I definitely focused on it in the second half of this season, was kind of a swing-and-miss off-speed pitch [that] I can go to in a tough situation and know it will be there. Second and third with less than two outs and you need a strikeout ... a pitch that I can go to to definitely get it. So that's what I've been working on from basically the All-Star break of last year to now.
WTHB: Changing gears now, who in the Astros system has a pitch you would like to steal?
PU: Jason Stoffel's slider has been nasty since I met him three years ago when we traded for him. That pitch ... he can throw it at any time and these hitters can't seem to lay off it. If I could get anything close to that, I would be more than happy. Very impressive.
WTHB: What hitter in the system would you least like to face in the box?
PU: I think Austin Wates would be a tough hitter to face. Obviously, [George] Springer ... you wouldn't want to see him in the box. His numbers have proved that and every time you see him hit, he kind of shows you that. Playing with Wates at the beginning of the year in Corpus, I was very impressed with the way he handles that bat. Springer has come a long way discipline-wise so I'll say Springer first and go from there.
WTHB: Are there any players that you've played with over the last couple of years who you think are flying under the radar a bit?
PU: I feel like there's a lot of players that would fit under that category. I definitely think that [Kiké] Hernandez is a great player, all around good. I haven't seen a second baseman cover the range he can cover and I don't know if he's underestimated or not because I don't know what they think of him, but I think he's definitely one of those guys that I feel is up there. From what I see, I feel like he's a great second baseman and good all around. [And fun?] Yeah, he's one of the funnest teammates I've ever been around.
WTHB: That brings me to my next question. Who on the teams you played on this season could really make you laugh?
PU: [Kiké] would be one of them and up there with him is Jose Martinez, for sure. He's a great teammate. Great guy.
WTHB: Who do you like to just sit back and watch play?
PU: There's a bunch of them. I like to watch a lot of the guys I've played with pitch and one guy I thought was fun to watch when he got to Corpus, just because he's so young and learning how to pitch at the higher levels was [Mike] Foltynewicz. The way he pitched when he first got there and what he turned into was impressive, to see how fast he picked up on what the hitters were trying to do. I looked forward to seeing him pitch this year. Just the way he goes after it is pretty cool. I also liked to see Jake Buchanan when he'd come around every five days. That was fun as well.
WTHB: What would you do if you couldn't play baseball?
PU: If I could do anything, I love the outdoors so basically anything outside. I love to fish. I love to hunt. I love anything, just being outside is kind of my thing. If I could do anything other than baseball, that's what it would be.
WTHB: Can you tell me something about yourself that most people don't know and might be surprised to hear?
PU: The last year I just started making, just to go along with the outdoor thing, duck calls and turkey calls. I don't think many people know that I do that in the off season as a hobby. So I would say that would be it. [Patrick's business, Beaver Creek Game Calls, can be found here.]
WTHB: One last question. Since you've been in the Astros system since 2008, you've seen a lot of changes. What do you think of everything?
PU: Oh, yeah, there's been a lot of changes for sure. I think it's definitely a good thing, seeing as the last two years, I've had winning seasons on all the teams I've been a part of so that's definitely encouraging. It's a lot more fun being part of a winning team than a losing team, obviously. I think that really helps with the way players develop. Keith Bodie said it all year, "You've got to learn to win." Certain teams know how to win and how to pull it off and other teams know how to lose. And it definitely seems like the teams I've played on since these changes, all of them have known how to win and how to pull it off. We always had that thought in the back of our head, even if we were losing, that we would find a way to do it, and most of the time we did. It's been cool and definitely encouraging to see.
Thank you for your time, Patrick. Enjoy the off season because I have a feeling big things are headed your way in 2014 and people won't be forgetting about you any more.