Extensive and Exclusive Interview with Ian Kennedy, June 2007
On the heels of my Joba Chamberlain chat from last year, I figured it would be a good time to post my lengthy interview with Ian Kennedy as well.
Thunder fans were very fortunate to have Chamberlain and Kennedy on the same staff at the same time, and perhaps the media was just as lucky as well…the stories seemed to write themselves with last year’s pitching staff.
In any event, here’s the transcript from my interview with Kennedy, which took place outside the Thunder clubhouse in mid-June. As with the Chamberlain post from a few days back, this interview has never seen the light of day, and only small portions have been used in the paper.
Note: You might notice that a lot of the questions I asked Kennedy are similar to what I asked Chamberlain. I originally had planned on writing a single feature on both of them, and was trying to go for the same kind of questions. When you write for a weekly, you really have to plan out your space very carefully…but I eventually decided to do two separate features.
Ashmore: The Yankees drafted you 21st overall just a year ago. Take me back to draft day, what was that like for you?
Kennedy: I guess it was kind of nerveracking, because I had to wake up and wait by the computer and see where I’d go. There were some teams that were interested. I actually didn’t even hear my name get picked. I got a phone call before that — my college pitching coach, Dave Lawn, called me and said congratulations. And that was weird, because the computer was only on 17, so there were still a few more to go. He called me and said ‘congratulations on the Yankees taking you,’ and I was like ‘what?’
We didn’t look at the draft tracker, but that was going faster than the actual broadcasting was. So I heard it, and I talked to the area scout, Bill Mele, and then my agent called me and told me everything and congratulated me and all that stuff. So it was kind of an exciting morning.
Ashmore: You mentioned some teams who picked before the Yankees were interested in you. Did you get drafted where you were expecting to go?
Kennedy: Actually, from the night before, the Yankees sounded more interested than all the other teams. I was still trying to figure out where I was going to go and all that stuff, but it ended up being the Yankees at 21.
Ashmore: The Yankees gave you a $2.25 million bonus as their first round pick. What’s it like going from a college kid with not a lot of money to someone who’s got seven figures in their bank account?
Kennedy: It didn’t really change much at all. I think of it as God’s money, and He gave me all this talent in order to get that. I didn’t really do too much with it. I got a house that I had to pay my parents for. But I basically put it all in investments. I’ve got to live off some of it, but a lot of it is in investments.
Ashmore: I’m sure a lot of people think of USC as a football school with their recent success, but they’ve also got a legendary baseball program as well. You emerged as an ace there and took over for Anthony Reyes, who went on to the big leagues. Take me through what that experience was like…
Kennedy: I had big shoes to fill. The year before, they didn’t have a lot of pitching and they had a lot of openings on the weekends because people were hurt, people failed out of school. I was a freshman, and the year before I got there, they weren’t doing very well. I think they finished below .500 for the first time in 10 years. Then I went out there and I actually beat out a sophomore for Friday night pitching. That was kind of cool, I got to pitch against Jered Weaver for my first start, which was really cool. I was just hoping to get a no-decision out of it.
Pitching there, it’s like pitching for the Yankees. They’ve won more college championships than any other school, and a lot of big names came from there — the latest one was Mark Prior. Hopefully he does something soon.
Ashmore: I’m not too familiar with the college game myself, and I think there are a lot of fans who might be in that same boat. You talked about getting to pitch on Friday nights…can you talk about the significance of that?
Kennedy: Usually, Friday’s are where they put out their best starter. Then Saturday is the next best. Traditionally on Sundays, it’s a good, talented freshman that would pitch. I pitched on Friday’s, so that was kind of a big thing for a freshman to do that. Randy Flores, he pitched for the Cardinals…actually (current Thunder catcher) Jason Brown played with him, he was the last freshman pitcher to do that. He pitched on Friday’s through his whole career there. I was lucky enough to do that. But I also came at a bad time for USC. But Friday’s are traditionally where you want to get that first one out of the way. If you win on Saturday, then you can get a sweep if you have a good enough rotation. But Friday’s the most important day I think.
Ashmore: You look at all these guys who’ve gotten an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues this season: Phil Hughes, Matt DeSalvo, Tyler Clippard, Chase Wright. Do you think that’s allowed you to fly under the radar this season, or do you think that’s kind of intensified the pressure on you?
Kennedy: I don’t know, I just look at that as it’s good for our organization to do that. As a young guy, if you get drafted by a team, you want to be on that big league team. You want to make your way up there, you don’t want to get traded unless you don’t like the organization. But I like the Yankees organization, and of course I want to be a big league Yankee. But I don’t really know if I’m flying under the radar. I don’t really pay attention to that, if I am or if I’m not. But there’s so many guys going up and down almost every other day, I guess it does make it look like Joba and I are under the radar.
Ashmore: Are you where you thought you would be at this point in the season? Did you think you’d be in Double-A this early in the season? Did you think you would be here earlier?
Kennedy: No, I kind of expected to be in Tampa. I didn’t know, all I wanted to do was pitch well. I knew that I couldn’t determine where, or if I got moved up fast. The opening up here, Chase Wright got called up to the big leagues, so that spot opened up quick and it stayed open until I came in. I really didn’t even look at that, I just wanted to do well wherever I was. I wanted to do well in Tampa and hopefully be here by the end of the season, that’s what my goal was. Here I am.
Ashmore: For someone who hasn’t seen you pitch before, give me an idea of what you throw…
Kennedy: Fastball, changeup, slider, curveball. I command all my pitches a lot of like Clippard does. That’s who they compare me to. Fastball command is the most important thing. I think if you do that, you can pitch anywhere. I can throw it about 89-91, but I like to outthink the hitters and that’s about it. If he expects something else, hopefully he gets fooled on something else. If he expects a fastball, I’ll throw a changeup. Basically, keep everything at the same arm speed to throw off their balance.
Ashmore: It seems like you’ve made the adjustment from Single-A to Double-A quite nicely…but still, how big of an adjustment is that?
Kennedy: I honestly haven’t noticed that much of a difference. You still have to go after hitters, you can’t be afraid, you can’t be timid. There’s a couple guys in the lineup that you have to look out for here compared to High-A. There might be one or two guys down there, and up here there might be three or four. But you still have to go after them, I haven’t noticed much of a difference. I think in my first start, I was kind of timid. But after I watched a few games, I realized I’ve just got to do the same things I’ve always been doing. My second outing was a lot better, and hopefully from here on out I’ll keep doing well.
Ashmore: Everybody likes to project when prospects are going to make their big league debut. Do you have sort of timeline when it comes to when you think you’ll be making your Major League debut?
Kennedy: All I can do is keep doing well. If I keep doing well, everything looks really good. Things can change where you can’t think about injuries, or if you’re not having success. But if I keep having success, this fast track seems pretty nice. But I don’t know, I can’t really determine that.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com