Prospect Q&A: Mariners SP Jordan Shipers on Strikeouts, the Walker-Hultzen-Paxton Motivation Factor, and Facing Miguel Sano
The Mariners doled out $800,000 bonuses to two of their draftees in 2010. The first was 43rd overall pick Taijuan Walker, a Louisiana prep right-hander who is now MLB.com’s fifth-ranked prospect in all of baseball.
The second was Jordan Shipers.
You probably know less about him, but not because there’s less to know. Seattle gave Shipers (bio, stats here) the same amount of money to sign despite the fact that he, then a Missouri prep left-hander, wasn’t drafted until the 16th round. Shipers showed he was worth the investment in his first full season in 2012, compiling a 3.89 ERA in 23 starts for Class A Clinton.
Know this, too: The power-armed if diminutive 21-year-old has accomplished something that Walker — and the M’s other top pitching prospects — have yet to sniff: a professional no-hitter, which was just one of his two complete game shutouts last year.
I caught up with Shipers, presently ranked 13th in Seattle’s system, this afternoon, and we talked about that achievement, among other topics. We started our chat, however, with his off-season job at the gym. Because six-figure bonuses don’t last forever.
Me: So what’s this about your job — working where you work out?
Shipers: I have a job to take up my off-time, when I’m not working out. I work out five days a week, hit the weights hard, run. I work at 68 Inside Sports in Overland Park, Kansas. I just work at the front desk and just sit down, take phone calls and greet people when they come in. Pretty simple.
Me: Nice way to earn a little money in the offseason?
Shipers: Yeah, I just sit. I mean, before I got the job, I would just sit downstairs and do nothing after I was done working out. Then I was like, ‘You know what? I could just get a job and sit somewhere and make money.’ I’m usually pretty busy because there are a lot of baseball, softball people coming in and getting ready for their season.
Me: I bet they don’t know that a pro ballplayer is manning reception…
Shipers: No, they don’t. I try to keep that on the ‘DL,’ so they don’t try to act weird around me.
Me: Aside from workouts, how is your throwing coming along?
Shipers: I started throwing, probably, about three weeks ago. I feel great. I’m excited. I threw my first bullpen three days ago, and it was about 30 pitches. I was already hitting my spots on the corners, which I wasn’t really trying to do. I was just trying to get it across the plate to loosen up the arm a bit. I have another bullpen tomorrow [Friday].
Me: Now that some time has passed, how do you evaluate your 2012 season?
Shipers: I thought it was a really successful season. I learned a lot, and that’s what I tried to achieve. I’m going to take what I learned last season into this coming season.
Me: What were the positives?
Shipers: The fact that I made it through a whole season, that’s the most I’ve thrown ever in my baseball career. I know how to go about my throwing program, and that’s a big part of staying healthy. Just to know I can make it through a whole season is a relief.
Me: Has it sunk in yet that you threw a no-hitter last July?
Shipers: Yeah, it has. I try not to think too much back on it, because I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, I need to throw another one this coming season to top it.’ It’s just a blessing that it happened. I’m glad it happened. If it happens again, then good; if it doesn’t, then OK.
Me: What do you remember most about that day?
Shipers: I could throw anything anywhere at anytime that day. It was fun.
Me: After throwing the no-no, how hard was it to block that out and go on to the next start? (This question came from reader Trey Huntsman.)
Shipers: That was actually really difficult. Honestly, I can’t remember the start after it. I don’t know what happened.* It probably wasn’t too good because that’s usually what happens. It was difficult. I tried to spot-up [my pitches] like I did that no-hitter game, and it didn’t just work out the same. It just didn’t feel the same that day.
*Here’s the box score from the game that followed his no-no.
Me: What do you hope to improve from the ’12 campaign?
Shipers: I want to hold runners batter. I want to continue placing fastball better, I kind of fell off a little bit at the end of the season last year and that was disappointing for me. Just staying stronger, keeping my shoulder stronger throughout the season. I got just a little bit tired and a little bit fatigued.
Me: From 2011 to 2012, your walks were down but so were your strikeouts. Is that a concern, or merely a cause-and-effect situation?
Shipers: Cause and affect. I really don’t go out there and plan to strike out five to 10 guys a game. I’m learning to pitch more instead of just throw. When I was younger, I would just go out there and try to strike everybody out, and I could at that level. But now that I’m going up the ladder, it becomes harder. I have to learn how to get guys out instead of just throwing it past ’em.
Me: I know you’re not one of these 6-foot-5, 220-pound guys — you’re listed at 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds — so how do you still throw a very good fastball?
Shipers: A lot of it has to do with flexibility and muscle strength. I’m just blessed. You can’t really coach to throw harder.
Me: Are there guys with similar body types that pitch similarly to you?
Shipers: Scott Kazmir is a similar body size, but I don’t necessarily watch anybody. I just pay attention to my own self and do the best the I can do.
Me: Tell us more about your repertoire: Good fastball, good slider and improving changeup, right?
Shipers: I actually throw a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, a changeup, and my breaking ball is actually a spike curve — it looks like a slider. I can throw a slider, but I don’t have one right now. I’m confident with all the pitches I’m throwing now. I felt good with everything last season. All my pitches improved from the year before. I could locate better, and that helped me out a ton.
Me: What have you altered about your mechanics or the way you pitch since you turned pro?
Shipers: For the most part, I’ve pitched the same. My coaches tweaked a little bit on me, which needed to be done, and I understand why they did that. It’s just that building strength changes your mechanics. My body became stronger, and my mechanics changed a little bit
Me: What were the tweaks?
Shipers: My legs were a little bit weak, and I tucked my knee down a little bit and dropped, and I was a dip-and-drive guy. I stayed taller on my back leg and tried to drive downhill more to get that angle on my fastball since I’m not really that tall. Anything helps.
Shipers: It’s actually fun. I’m good buddies with all them guys. It’s fun to watch them do well, but then I’m like, ‘Man, I want to do well now. I want to beat him out.’ We all want the advantage over each other. It’s fun. It keeps your motives straight and help you drive throughout the season.
Me: Walker, Hultzen and Paxton get the pub. Do you use that as motivation?
Shipers: Of course, anything negative thing about me, I use that to motivate myself. I don’t see [our depth in prospects] as a negative, and I’m happy for them guys. They deserve it. I know my time will come. I just have to stay healthy and do well.
Me: The logical next step for you would be Class A Advanced High Desert. What do you have in mind for 2013 and what you’d like to accomplish?
Shipers: If I start off in High-A, then that’s fine. I don’t plan on staying there, hopefully, the whole season. Double-A is my goal this season. We’ll see what happens. I just want to pitch well, pitch a lot of innings, pitch fast. Know real early, early goals.
Me: Alright, enough time left for two quick lighting round questions. First up, who is the best hitter you have faced in the Minor Leagues and how did you fare against him?
Shipers: That big guy that played for Beloit. Miguel Sano is pretty good. I would say that’s probably the No. 1 guy. He hit a home run off me one at-bat. I pitched against him probably three or four times, and he took me deep that one time. I threw a fastball right down the middle because I got behind in the count. The other times, I think he popped out and grounded out. I do [have to get him out a couple more times to get even]. He hit that ball a mile. It’s probably still going.
Me: If you could pick the brain of any pitcher, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask him?
Shipers: Randy Johnson, being the big lefty that he is. I would ask him about his work ethic and what he did in the offseason to stay so strong.