Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Interview with LHP Kenny Long

LHP Kenny Long should probably be pinching himself. A 22nd round draft pick in 2012, he rapidly became a bullpen stalwart for the dominating New York-Penn League Tri-City ValleyCats team. He then skipped Lo-A Lexington altogether and was promoted to the Hi-A Lancaster JetHawks just in time to be a part of a fairy tale playoff run that culminated in Long recording the final out as the JetHawks won the California League Championship Finals.

Long had an amazing season. In 22 and a third innings, he had a 1.61 ERA and a 0.627 WHIP, but against lefties he had a ridiculous 0.61 ERA and 0.205 WHIP. He gave up one hit, one run and three walks against lefties while striking out 28. His 12.6 SO/9 at Tri-City jumped to 20.2 at Lancaster for a combined 15.3 SO/9 for the season.

I got to "talk" to Kenny via email recently. Here is what he had to say ~

WTH: Can you tell me a little about your college experience, the Cape Cod League and the draft?

KL: My experience at Illinois State University was instrumental in preparing me for professional baseball. Coming out of college I was one of the older guys to be drafted. I spent 5 years playing in college so I gained a lot of valuable playing experience that I feel had helped me mature as a pitcher. Also, playing in the Cape Cod League was an amazing experience. I was able to pitch against the top talent in the country. I believe this is when I started gaining some looks from scouts, although I do not think they were sold on me. I wasn't even sure I would be picked up in this past draft. Thankfully the Astros saw something in me. They say that I was able to get guys out consistently at the college level and also in my two years in the Cape.

WTH: What was the biggest surprise for you during your first season in professional ball? Worst part? Best part?

KL: I guess my biggest surprise was how many dedicated fans there were for our minor league teams. Before my first professional games the fans came up and already knew who I was. It is great that the fans are so involved and informed about baseball. I really did not have a bad experience. I had former teammates who play professional baseball warn me about a lot of what it is like. Also, I think going to a Mid-Major school at Illinois State prepared me. I was used to long bus rides and some of the playing conditions because we did not have the money to fly everywhere like the big time schools. As far as the best part, I would have to go with winning a ring in my first year of pro ball. This was an amazing experience. I was lucky enough to be the last pitcher on the mound to get the last out of the game. There was no greater feeling than being smashed at the bottom of the dogpile. I was one game away from winning two rings but unfortunately Tri-City couldn't finish off the magical season they had out in New York.

WTH: Were you surprised to bypass Lo-A completely and get the call to Lancaster? How different was the experience on the two teams?

KL: I was completely caught off guard with the call up! I had no idea that there was even any thought of me moving up at the time. I had done pretty well in Tri-City and got almost every lefty I faced out but it was in such little amount of innings. I figured I would be in Tri-City the rest of the year. The little sample size was enough for the promotion. There were some differences between the teams. The Tri-City team were mostly guys coming right out of college so we were all going through our first experience of pro ball together. In Lancaster, these guys were a few years into pro ball so they knew what to expect. I have to say that the guys on both teams were amazing teammates. Both groups were amazing and I couldn't have asked for better groups of guys.

WTH: What do you feel you accomplished in the short season? What do you need to work on to get to the next level developmentally?

KL: I feel like I showed to people that I can get people out at this level. Some people were worried that my non-traditional pitching style would not work. I had to re-prove myself again after the promotion with my style and as I move up each level I will have to do the same. I need to always be looking to improve. Right now my main goal is to put on weight [Note: he's listed as 6'1" 155# on the MiLB site] and become more consistent with my fastball. I love the challenge of improving myself and finding new ways of getting better.

WTH: Could you tell me a little about your pitch repertoire? Anything you're working on?

KL: I have two sets of pitches since I throw from two different arm slots. I throw from a traditional over the top slot and also I drop down sidearm. Over the top I throw a fastball and a curveball. The over the top fastball I throw the least out of all my pitches and it usually sits around 86-88 mph. Then my curveball has 12 to 6 action typically coming in at about 70 mph. Then I have my other set of pitches from the sidearm with a fastball and slider or "Frisbee" as I like to call it. This fastball has some very good arm side run at around 83-85 mph. Then there is my best pitch, the Frisbee. This a very slow sweeping pitch that has sideways and downward action. I throw this pitch, no joke, about 70% of the time. I'll vary speeds from 64-72 mph. It best works to lefties where I start it almost behind them and it comes back right over the plate. I am thinking about bringing back a changeup over the break so I can be more effective against a righty if I face one.

WTH: Which teammate from Tri-City or Lancaster has a pitch you'd like to steal?

KL: I would have to choose from one of two pitches. I would love to have Chia-Jen Lo's fastball. He lights up the gun -- one pitch he hit 102! If I can't have that pitch I would take Nick Tropeano's changeup.

WTH: Which teammate at Tri-City or Lancaster would you least like to face in the batter's box?

KL: The hitter that I would least like to face is Andrew Aplin. Even though he is a lefty I would still have to pick Ap. He is such a great hitter it would be tough to get him out and has very few weak spots in his swing. The main reason I picked him is because I have played with him the past few summers now. He was my teammate in the Cape, in Tri-City, and Lancaster. He always is telling me [that he tells] the left or right fielder what pitch I will throw before I get the sign from the catcher. It would be an interesting game of cat and mouse if I faced him.

WTH: Was there one player on either of the teams that you just enjoyed sitting back and watching?

KL: One pitcher in particular that you can just sit back and just enjoy watching was Nick Tropeano. When he is on, it is a treat to watch especially when his changeup is working. He just makes some hitters look silly.

WTH: Who on the teams made you laugh?

KL: Just about everybody made me laugh. It's hard to pick just one especially when you endure some of the conversations you can have in the bullpen. If I were to pick one person that had me laughing the most it was M.P. Cokinos. There was no telling what questions he would be asking next.

WTH: Who gave you the nickname Boogie and why?

KL: There is a good story behind Boogie! I am still not positive of who coined the nickname but I will give credit to Grant Hogue since he is the first person I heard call me [that]. I earned this nickname my very first day after joining Lancaster. I arrived in San Jose and met up with the team to play in the game that night and I got in to pitch. The second batter of the inning hit a tapper right back to me and I went to tag him. He tried to swim move around me but we collided. (Might I add the hitter was an Ex-NFL safety and I'm pretty sure I put a bigger hit on him than [he did] on me!! haha) After the collision my hat was bent upwards and the base runner literally "knocked the snot out of me." I went to strike out the next batter and ran into the dugout to be congratulated by my new teammates that I had just met. Little did I know I had a big "boogie" hanging out of my nose!! That's where the nickname took off and I actually like it.

WTH: If you couldn't play baseball, what would you do?

KL: I went to college intending on becoming a teacher. I love history! I majored in History Education and also received a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. Without baseball I would be teaching high school History and hopefully coaching baseball.

WTH: Can you tell me something about yourself that most people don't know and might be surprised to hear?

KL: I was very close to [being out of baseball]. Going into my sophomore year of college I contemplated quitting baseball altogether. The kind way to put it was that before my 2010 year in college I wasn't very good. Luckily I came to my senses and realized I had an amazing opportunity to still be playing baseball at that point. So many people would love just to be on a team playing. I stuck it out and [started having success] that 2010 year. I think I made the right decision in continuing to play!

WTH: What would you tell frustrated Astros fans about the state of the Astros farm system?

KL: I am sure they have been hearing this a lot lately, but just have some patience. It takes a lot of time to rebuild and get back in the winning ways. We are on the right track with the young players we have on the big league team and in the minors. It will just take a few more years until we start to see it in the Wins column.

With one Championship ring under his belt in only his first season in pro ball, Kenny can pinch himself all he wants, but this season wasn't a dream. There are a few lefty hitters out there, though, who may still be having nightmares about facing him. Thanks for your time "Boogie," and the best of luck in the 2013 season!

1 comment:

  1. These are such an awesome read! Keep up the good work WTHB