It helps when your first player interview comes with someone who is your age. Lance McCullers, Jr. selected out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 2012 draft, recently finished his 2nd full season as a minor league pitcher. In the time that Lance and I engaged in conversation, he presented his growth in the Astros organization as a ballplayer and a person in general.
Lance McCullers (Photo Taken by Richard Guill)
CTH: How did your season go personally?
LMJ: “It was up-and-down, as far as performance goes. But as far as learning curves and development it was great. I learned a lot about myself as a pitcher. I kind of came out of this year with more of an identity of who I am as a starting pitcher when I go out to the mound every time. I definitely grew so much in the area of my change-up. Before the year started I was really a two pitch guy. I was a fastball/curve ball kind of guy. After the year, my last start, I threw 25 really good change ups. I got a lot of ground balls, a lot of strike outs. My change up toward the end of the year was a pitch where I could start throwing in counts that weren’t in my favor and getting guys out. That was one of the biggest issues this year for me and I feel like I really tackled that.”
CTH: Who’s your toughest hitter so far in the minor leagues?
LMJ: “I’m gonna go with Corey Seager. Just watching him hit, just watching the way he kind of takes pitches, and kind of gives what the at-bat will bring him. He’s a guy who could hit 30-35 home runs plus. Or he’s just as happy with hitting a 6-hole single than he is with a home run if that’s what the at-bat gives him. I think the guy with that much power is tough to face. You can’t face him approach him one way, every day. Every at-bat has to be different, it has to be situational. You have to be thinking along with him, and try to counter act.
CTH: What are some of your offseason goals? What’s your main goal for the next season?
LMJ: “My offseason goals are similar to last year. To get bigger in the areas that I need to and get stronger throughout my entire body. When my season ended after Quad Cities — I got shut down in August. My body was 100% totally spent. I had no energy. I wanted to come home and I wanted sit on the couch and watch football for as long as possible. I was just spent, it was a long year on my body. I really trained hard last year. I ended up working out with a couple of different people that I respect and trust. And this year I get home after roughly the same innings that I threw. And I’m gonna start working out next week. My body just feels good. It feels like it stayed with the year. And it feels like I did a lot last offseason to prepare myself. I’m going to continue to do that and continue my development.
CTH: Who’s the clubhouse prankster?
LMJ:“I wouldn’t say prankster. But definitely Brett Phillips, he’s not a prankster, he’s not a clown. He just brings a good atmosphere, brings really good vibes. He keeps everybody’s head up in the clubhouse. He’s a guy that you can tell really wants to play baseball. I wouldn’t say clubhouse prankster, he’s a guy who brings the best energy that I’ve had so far in the minor leagues.”
CTH: How important has your dad’s influence been on your pitching?
LMJ: “I’m the spitting image of my dad in certain ways. I’ve carried a lot of him on the mound with me. He’s always been there, always going to be there. Someone I can constantly talk to about pitching, about baseball. I’ve learned a lot from him. Not only on from how to approach hitters or how to use my pitches in certain counts — that kind of thing. Also he’s someone who has played at the highest level and now it’s my turn. I know how much he loved the game and still does.”
CTH: “I’ve seen that you fish — do you hunt at all?”
LMJ: “One of my uncles is a huge hunter. Big bow hunter, he’s killed the big five in Africa, that kind of stuff. He hunts all over. I go hunt with him, I love fishing, my little brothers love to fish, my dad likes fishing. I grew up with hobbies to spend time with family there would be a way. I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.
CTH: Who was your favorite players growing up?
LMJ: “My favorite player growing up… To be honest, Mariano Rivera is a long-time favorite. But for a short time in the early 2000s I was a huge Barry Bonds fan. I was also a lefty hitter growing up. I don’t think any kid in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s was a left handed hitter wanting to play major leagues idolized but Barry Bonds. I really loved Derek Jeter as well.
CTH: What team did you root for growing up?
LMJ: “I pull for the home town Rays of course. I grew up going to Yankees Spring Training games because it was right here in Tampa. I was fortunate enough to go to hundreds of spring training games in my life. I would always pull for the Bronx Bombers. But I’m a huge fan of sports in general. So I never had a die-hard team or anything like that. ”
CTH: What Major League Baseball park are you most looking forward to pitching in?
LMJ: “Well I’ve been to fortunate to pitch in Tropicana Field, Petco, and Wrigley. Wrigley is definitely on the bucket list. Personally I’m most excited to pitch in Minute Maid. But other than that, historically speaking, it’s gotta be Fenway.”
I would like to personally thank Lance McCullers for his time answering some questions. Climbing Tal’s Hill wishes the best of luck as he progresses his journey to the show. Also, please be sure to follow Lance on Twitter (@LMcCullers_41).