Prospect Q&A: Cardinals RHP Jordan Swagerty on Getting His Swag Back
Here’s why he should be: Nine months after major surgery — and 16 months since his last MiLB appearance — Swagerty is healthy again, raring to go.
The last time we saw him in action, the now-23-year-old right-hander swept through three levels in the Cardinals’ system in 2011, compiling a 1.83 ERA and an 89-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 2/3 innings, his first since St. Louis made him a second-round draftee in 2010.
Forty-two days from Spring Training, Swagerty is in Arizona, completing two bullpen sessions a week, waiting to resume his trek to the Majors. I caught up with him on the phone this afternoon.
Me: How has the offseason been?
Swagerty: To me, it’s been about a 13-month offseason, but it’s been good. Still going to rehab everyday and getting my arm back in shape. It’s finally coming around. I’m going to be ready for Spring [Training], so it’s exciting to get back to baseball mode.
Me: What stage of rehab are you at?
Swagerty: I have been throwing pens now for a while and actually, probably going to have to slow it down for a bit, just so I don’t build up too fast because I’m going to have a little extra time to play with, which is nice. I’m still strengthening everything, making sure everything is right, stretching everything out. It’s nice to have a couple weeks of time that is extra in case there was something that went wrong.
Me: Sounds like an on-time recovery.
Swagerty: Yeah, actually a little bit earlier than I thought, so everything is on schedule. That is nice thing.
Me: What have you been up to aside from rehabbing this past year?
Swagerty: I did I did a lot of hunting during hunting season, spent a lot of time in the weight room — I can’t do a whole lot of upper body, but whatever I can to strengthen my legs. Reading some books and finding a way to stay focused. I’ve been rehabbing here [in Arizona], but I did get time [in Texas] over the holidays. Two or three weeks at home, always good to see family.
Me: What’s been the challenge of not pitching in a game for more than a year?
Swagerty: Seeing your buddies playing, it’s easy to get you down because you want to be out there. I guess the challenge is staying focused on what you have to do on an everyday basis, going to rehab — rehab get’s very repetitive, so staying focused on what you have to do everyday and not trying to look toward the end of it, I think, is the biggest challenge.
Me: Has the time off helped you in any way?
Swagerty: I think the two things I learned were patience and discipline, just because there is no way to get it done faster. You’re on a timetable and you have to do your rehab everyday.
Me: You pitched very well before the injury — were you cognizant of how quickly you were moving through the system?
Swagerty: Things were moving so fast then that I didn’t even take time to think about it. That’s the past now. You just have to play the cards you’re dealt and work with what you have.
Me: You succeeded as both a reliever or starter. Which role works in the future?
Swagerty: I have always said that I think I have a closer’s mentality, or a late-bullpen guy’s mentality, but it’s fun to get out there and be a starter and have multiple innings to throw pitches and work on things and get adjusted to the game as opposed to [getting] three outs. Both of them have their advatanges, and I’m just here to do whatever.
Me: Which role will help you ease into 2013?
Swagerty: I haven’t talked to the organization about it. That’s totally up to them, but I might be a starter just from the fact that they know that I’m going to throw every fifth day and monitor the innings a lot easier, but I honestly I have no idea.
Me: You mentioned your mentality. Seeing you throw at Arizona State, fair to say you’re an all-out, intense hurler?
Swagerty: I go all out. I’m 100 percent all the time. My thing is, I never back down and I always want to go at every hitter I face. I’m the kind of guy that says, ‘This is what I have. You can hit it or not, we’ll see what happens. I’m not going to back down.’
Me: Where does that come from?
Swagerty: My father — we were always playing sports together and he wasn’t ever going to let me win, so I had to fight. It came from him. That’s one thing he taught me to do, is to never back down and always go after it.
Swagerty: It does build confidence and another thing is that it’s fun to learn off of other guys who are having success as well — that’s the main thing, getting to sit there and watch other pitchers do well, see what works for them and take something from them and put it into your own game.
Me: Has there been a particular pro teammate or coach that has been helpful in that way?
Swagerty: Denny Martinez [pitching coach, at Palm Beach] taught me a lot about the mindset of a pitcher, and another [pitcher] Joe Kelly is a guy that I think just goes after hitters and is one of my buddies. I have learned a lot from him, doing what he does.
Me: As far as you’re max-effort ways, will you have to adjust your mechanics post-surgery?
Swagerty: There are always little things to fine-tune, but I’m not going to change up a whole lot unless [the Cardinals] ask me to. They haven’t said anything to me recently. I had a bone spur in the back [of my elbow] and that [not poor mechanics in past years] led to the surgery, and I think that was from catching, being a two-way player in college, really throwing a lot and not getting much rest — that’s just how it was growing up. I don’t think I need to change a whole lot.
Me: What is your expectation level as far as reclaiming your repertoire?
Swagerty: I have been throwing and starting to throw off-speed pitches already, and it’s kind of like riding a bike: You know what it feels like, and it’s not too hard to find, but obviously game situations are going to be different. And you don’t know what it’s going to be like once you get out there and exactly how good it’s going to be. Right now, it feels good, but you’re going to have to make adjustments during the season. That’s something I’m going to have to learn every game and keep making [adjustments] until it’s finally right.
Me: Have you compared notes with fellow Tommy John surgery survivors?
Swagerty: I have heard different things from everyone I talk to. Some find their fastball command, some don’t, some have trouble with off-speed. So I think every case is a little bit different, and I don’t think I’ll know until I get out there.
Me: We know you throw a fastball, a breaking ball and a changeup, but how do you like to use those pitches?
Swagerty: I like to mix things up. I can go all fastballs to somebody, and the next batter go to all sliders against somebody. Once somebody is comfortable against one thing, I try to switch it up. I like to throw every pitch I have in any count possible. Hitters are too good these days, man, so you have to keep ‘em guessing or they’ll take advantage of you.
Me: Aside from health, what do you want to improve upon in 2013?
Swagerty: Really just controlling the pitches I have and working both sides of the plate well.
Me: What are your goals for the season?
Swagerty: I do set a lot of goals, and this year, they’re obviously a little different. The main thing is to get back out there and learn from mistakes that happen along the way. My goal for this year is to really try to work the first half of the season to get to where I was [in 2011] and then make a late-season push and see what happens.
One bonus question:
Me: If you could have a chat with a pitcher, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask him?
Swagerty: Nolan Ryan — being from Texas, he’s a guy I’ve always looked up to, and the question would be: How did you do for it so many years and continue to have the success that you had?