To me, one of the most fascinating things of a trade such as the one that has tentatively sent Johan Santana to the Mets for four prospects is hearing baseball personalities and writers go into great detail about the minor leaguers involved. The problem with that is that a lot of these guys have never seen any of them play.
But if you regularly attend games at Waterfront Park, as I know many of you reading this do, you got to see three of the four players the Twins will be getting; Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez and Philip Humber. The other, Deolis Guerra, is likely to appear at some point with New Britain this season.
Mulvey was the only one who set foot in Mercer County in 2007. He faced the Thunder three times last season, all of which came in Waterfront Park. In fact, if Mulvey ever makes it big, you might have been fortunate enough to say you saw his last Double-A start, which came on August 26th.
He faced Alan Horne that day, and struck out 10 batters in six innings of work without factoring into the decision.
His first appearance in Trenton was on April 19th, where he earned the first of his 11 wins on the year. He went just five innings, but allowed only two runs on four hits.
His other stint on the bump in Waterfront Park was a memorable one, as his June 5th start saw him opposed by Ian Kennedy, who was making his Double-A debut.
Neither hurler pitched particularly well, and Mulvey came out on the losing end after allowing six runs in four and a third innings. He also set a season high with five walks.
Thunder fans got to see plenty of Carlos Gomez, as he manned center field 11 times in Waterfront Park during the 2006 season.
He made his Waterfront Park debut on May 26th, and went 0-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base.
Overall, Gomez was 16-for-39 (.410) in his 11 contests in Trenton, hitting one home run and driving in three runs.
Phil Humber has made just seven starts at the Double-A level in his career, including six in 2006. Thunder fans were lucky enough to witness one of them, which occured on August 10th, 2006. Making just his second Double-A start of the season, Humber put together his best outing of the season to date, scattering six hits and striking out seven in a season high seven innings fo work.
But he was outdueled by Jason Jones, and Humber would pick up his first loss of his 2006 campaign in Binghamton.
On the basis of Humber being a former Yankees draft pick — and me finally having somewhere I can use this interview — here’s my complete August 2006 chat with Humber, which includes him discussing why he never signed with the Yankees.
Ashmore: The Mets picked you third overall in the first round of the 2004 draft. Take me back to draft day, what was your experience like?
Humber: It was a lot of fun, man. Actually, we were probably coming off of the lowest moment in my college career, we got beaten out of the regional. I gave up a grand slam in the eighth inning, and we ended up losing the game. I was down going into the game, but getting picked third by the Mets is a pretty good pick me up. My whole family was there, and it was a lot of fun, an incredible moment.
Ashmore: Your Rice teammates, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend, also got picked in the first round that year. Have you thought about the significance of “The Big Three” getting picked together like that?
Humber: It was really cool to play with those guys all three years I was there. We became really close by playing with each other and pushing each other. There was a lot of competition, because we all wanted to be the best, and that brought out the best in all three of us. We were all excited for each other when we got picked in the first round. That’s something that will probably hit home more when our careers are done. We’ll look back, and that’s something that’s only happened one time before, and never actually that high in the draft. But it was really cool and that’s something we’ll always be connected by.
Ashmore: You signed for $3.7 million, far more money than I’m ever going to see. What was the first thing you did with the check?
Humber: I put most of it into investments, and then I picked out a car that I wanted and I bought that. I got a Yukon Denali. It’s not too flashy, but it’s very comfortable. I like it, it’s worked out good. I actually just bought a town home in Texas, so that’s really the only two big purchases I’ve made so far.
Ashmore: Do your teammates ever give you an earful about signing for that much money?
Humber: You know, they’ll rib me every once in a while about being a first rounder and stuff like that, but it’s all in fun.
Ashmore: The Yankees picked you in the 29th round in 2001. Was there ever any thought put into pursuing that?
Humber: At the time, I’d signed with a junior college out of high school. They picked me thinking I was going to go to junior college, and they’d have a chance to follow me and maybe sign me after that. I ended up having a really good summer after my senior year of high school, and they wanted to sign me before I went to Rice. But I had it in my mind that that’s where I wanted to go. I thought I could improve my position in the draft, and three years later it worked out that way. It would have been nice to be with the Yankees, but I’m happy with the Mets.
Ashmore: You were on the mound for the decisive game of the 2003 College World Series, which your Rice team won. Tell me about what it was like to be such a big part of winning the College World Series…
Humber: I pitched a complete game in the championship game, and that’s probably the biggest thing I got out of going to Rice. All three years were fun, but that was just a really special season and a really special team; a lot of guys that played together for a while. That’s something I’ll never forget, actually getting a chance to pitch in the championship game was the biggest thrill of my baseball career. That was awesome.
Ashmore: Another thrill for you must have been pitching in Spring Training with the Mets last year, where you got into one game and pitched two innings. What was your first Spring Training like?
Humber: I don’t remember many names, I wasn’t paying attention to who was batting. It was late in the game, and it was against the Nationals. I don’t think there were any Major League regulars in the game at that time. It was still cool to get on the field with the Mets regulars that are up there now and get a chance to show what I can do. Especially with that being my first glimpse of pro ball in a big league environment, it was really neat. It was fun to get out there and not give up any runs or do anything real stupid.
Ashmore: Did you seek out anyone in particular when you were up there? Guys like Pedro, Glavine…
Humber: Coming in and not even having thrown a pitch in pro ball, I didn’t really feel comfortable going up to a lot of people, I just kind of kept my mouth shut. With a lot of them, they’d come up to you and give you advice, they were real friendly. Especially Pedro, he offered some advice on my changeup and a lot of different things, like being confident with my pitches and knowing that you can get big league hitters out. It’s a great atmosphere up there, those guys were real cool.
Ashmore: 2005 wasn’t all great for you, as you ended up having Tommy John Surgery and are only now starting to come back from that. Take me through what that put you through and what you had to do to get back…
Humber: Well, that season was tough because I’d taken six or seven months off from baseball because of the holdout. I came in feeling real strong, I was in shape. But I think as the season went on, my arm began to wear down. I’ve pitched for a long time, so I’ve pitched with pain before, but the pain got pretty much unbearable to where it was affecting the way I was pitching. I came up (to Binghamton) for one start, and I couldn’t take it anymore so they took me out. (I went to some) doctors and got several opinions and found out I needed Tommy John, so I went ahead and had that. Thankfully, there’s a procedure to fix that and it’s pretty successful, so I had that. I was never really scared or worried that I was never going to pitch again. I had faith in the doctors, and it was easier knowing that a lot of people had it and came back successfully. I had faith in God throughout the whole thing, and so far I haven’t really had any setbacks, so it’s been good.
Ashmore: Baseball America had you ranked as the number three prospect in the Mets organization coming into this season. Do you put any stock into something like that?
Humber: No, I really don’t pay attention to much of that stuff. I’ve seen too many guys get hyped up and not really pan out, and then I’ve seen a lot of guys not get hyped at all and become really good Major Leaguers. That’s really for the fans, and for them to have fun with. It’s nice for that to be said, but I want to be the best.
Ashmore: Mike Pelfrey, who was the number one pick of the Mets in 2005, recently got called up to the big leagues. I heard you guys are pretty tight…
Humber: We keep in touch. Coming in, we had a similar background. Both first round picks, both coming out of good college programs, and both right handed pitchers. We had a lot in common, and during Spring Training this past year, we got pretty close. I went through with him what I’d went through, and I told him not to go down the same path, because I ended up getting surgery. But I was real excited for him earlier when he got called up. I tried to watch all the games that I could, and I kept in touch with him as much as I could. I was real excited, because him and Henry Owens I’m real close with. Those guys being in the big leagues was fun for me too.
Ashmore: You started the year in St. Lucie, and you did really well in your first action since your surgery. Were you almost surprised at how well you did?
Humber: I wasn’t really focused on the results. I had a couple of rough outings, I knew my command wasn’t going to be there when I first started out, and it’s still not where I want it to be. But I was fortunate in my last four or five times out there, I was making really good pitches and my stuff was pretty much back. My arm strength was there, so when I make the pitches I wanna make, I’m going to be tough out there. And that’s what I’ve been working on; there with Ricky Bones and here with Mark Brewer, just being more consistent with my pitches. That’s something that everyone coming off of major surgery has to deal with. Hopefully, every single start, I’ll be as consistent as I want to be.
Ashmore: As you mentioned, two of your close friends, Mike Pelfrey and Henry Owens, got to the big leagues this season. When’s it going to be your turn?
Humber: I don’t know man, that’s in God’s hands. All I can do is go out and work every day as hard as I can. The most important thing to me is to mentally focus on the right things, and right now I think I’m in a good place as far as that goes. Whenever there’s an opportunity, I want to be ready for that and hopefully take advantage of it.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com