In a lot of ways, Cole De Vries epitomizes what so many of us growing up in Minnesota would have dreamed to achieve. De Vries has truly lived the all-American dream of starring for the local high school, college, and major league team, and he's done so by keeping it simple.
Incidentally, De Vries sat down for this interview on the day he was ruled out for the rest of the season, allowing him some added time to provide added insight which most interviews don't allow due to the time constraints that go with being a major league pitcher
Brandon Warne: A lot of Twins fans obviously know you were raised in Eden Prairie, but I don’t think people truly realize how great the baseball program is there since it’s overshadowed by football. Can you tells us a bit more about the Eden Prairie program, and how it set you on your way to where you are today?
Cole De Vries: The EP program is a great one. Our football team is so good that, being as a big of a sport that it is, baseball gets a bit overshadowed. But, when I was in high school there we had a great team, and had good records every year. Mike Halloran did a great job of putting together a good squad. I know that in two or three of the four years after I was done with Legion ball, we were in the top three every year in the Legion World Series. So, it’s a great program. A lot of people don’t realize it because the football team is so good, but they’ve put together some good teams.
BW: Did you grow up a Twins fan?
CDV: Definitely. I remember watching Kirby and Kent Hrbek and all those guys play. I remember pitching to my dad in the backyard in our ‘simulated games’ and I’d always pitch against the Twins. So for sure, I was a Twins fan.
BW: Who was your number one guy, no questions asked, as a Twins fan?
CDV: I think for me growing it was Kirby. I was a huge fan of his. He was definitely my guy.
BW: You were Minnesota high school player of the year, all-state, and had pretty much all the accolades a player could have in this state. Were you surprised to not be drafted out of high school?
CDV: Well, yes and no. I kinda was just a little bit, but I also knew as a northern kid who didn’t have a ton of southern exposure -- like perfect game and all those programs -- I knew it was going to be fairly difficult. But I still thought there might be a chance I might get a late-round, obligatory kinda thing by the Twins or something. But, at the same point I also wasn’t surprised. I guess for the most part I didn’t really care because I knew that I had something worked out with my parents where we decided it was going to have to be a fairly substantial amount of money to keep me from going to college. I think that was kind of a deterring factor for a lot of teams also.
BW: You ended up at the University of Minnesota and again managed some pretty solid Big Ten accolades, such as second team 'all Big Ten', and a nice accomplished career. Again, you went undrafted. Was that a bit more surprising?
CDV: Yeah, that was a definite punch in the stomach for myself. Looking back on it, I talked to a few people about why things didn’t happen, I guess, and a few words were put out that I was looking for more money than what I actually was. So, I kind of got tainted a little bit in that aspect, since it wasn’t true at all. But you know, in retrospect I’m kind of glad that it did happen. It did allow me to go out and experience the Cape Cod league. I had a great summer out there, and pitched really well. I think it almost kind of put me in a bit better of a situation to negotiate from, since a couple teams were interested. I was able to pick who I wanted to go with.
BW: Did your time at the U intersect with Glen Perkins at all?
CDV: Yes. I think I was a freshman when Glen was a junior, and he was drafted as a junior.
BW: Did you guys have any kind of rapport, or was he sort of an upperclassman while you were low on the ladder?
CDV: There’s always that kind of upperclassman/lowerclassman dynamic, but we were both on the same team and traveled to all the same spots. It wasn’t like he just blew me off all the time or anything like that. Not at all.
BW: Obviously Coach Anderson (John Anderson, head coach at U of M) would have been a big part in your development; what part did he play in your ‘coming of age’ as a ballplayer?
CDV: Just kind of teaching me how to be a more developed player. His big thing there was preaching that players act professionally at the collegiate level. Act like you belong there, and that this is something you’ve done before. I think one of the biggest things he opened up to me was the mental side. You know, using a sports psychologist and getting familiar with the guy I’ve used the past few years, who is now the Twins guy.
BW: Rick Aberman?
CDV: Yeah. So, I think that was one of the biggest things he opened up to me, so I can have better mental awareness and more mental toughness.
BW: So your Cape Cod stint is over and you’re weighing offers before deciding to sign. What tipped the scales in the Twins favor?
CDV: Well, obviously being a Minnesota guy was the biggest one, but the Twins were really kind of the only ones that really stepped up to the plate. We were talking to a couple other teams, but they never really went forward.
BW: You mean they wanted you on like a ‘prove it’ kind of deal?
CDV: Well, it was sort of more that they were trying to gauge what was going on, and what the Twins were doing. I think it was one of those things where the teams saw the Twins stepping up, and they stepped back because they probably had a pretty good idea that unless the Twins completely low-balled me, I was going to go with them.
BW: If we flash back to that time, I’m sure your major league prospects are...well I wouldn’t say dim, but you probably also aren’t entirely envisioning yourself making it to the bigs in the way you did. That’s obviously a credit to you for working hard enough to get here. Help us understand what the Twins system as someone who entirely ascended through the ranks from the bottom to the top, and how have you changed as a player in that time?
CDV: I think the biggest thing that’s happened personally for myself is just fine tuning everything. Outside of a slider right now, I have all the same pitches. But it’s more of fine tuning those; getting your location in the correct spots, and learning how and when to throw to those specific locations. Also, kind of learning the more mental side of it -- how to watch batters and kind of figure out what they’re doing and look for little nuances with their swing and stuff like that. I really feel like, for me that’s the biggest part that the Twins staff has helped me with throughout the system is kind of helping me recognize those things, and to know when to pitch and throw certain pitches in different counts or situations.
BW: For a period -- actually, a somewhat extended period -- you worked as a reliever rather than a starter. What precipitated that move, and the subsequent move back to the rotation?
CDV: I really think what happened that led me to get moved to the pen was that I had about a half-season where...the first half of the season I pitched really well, and the second half I just didn’t have it. So I think they moved me to the pen kinda seeing that it may be the better route. And so, I succeeded there after a year that wasn’t very good. Coming back into the starting rotation, I think the two things that led to that were that Terry has always told me he’s liked me as a starter. So I think that’s one of the big things, but also that I had a really good showing in the fall league where I was a starter out there. I think those two things kind of compounded each other and led to me being pushed back into the rotation.
BW: You obviously piggybacked that strong fall league season into improved production at Rochester, and eventually earned a call-up. Take us through the time around your call-up. Was it a surprise, or were you expecting it? Is there a ‘call-up’ story?
CDV: I kind of was expecting it; I could kind of see what was going on. I really thought I was going to get called up when P.J. (Walters) actually did the first time. But, you know how the rotation worked out. He was pitching really well also, and I had just pitched. They needed a guy in two days or something like that, so that can’t really happen. When the next sort of situation arose, I kind of had a feeling but I had no idea. How I actually was told was Gene (Glynn) and Bobby (Cuellar) pulled me into Gene’s office and I thought they were going to get mad at me or something that I did, you know maybe a game or two ago. So they called me in and Gene was like, "We gotta talk about a few things here" and I’m thinking "Oh man, now what?"
BW: You seem like a real troublemaker.
CDV: Right? So he talked about one or two real minor things that weren’t even issues -- I can’t even remember what they were -- but it was really nothing. I was thinking it was kind of weird that he pulled me in for this, and then he was like, "The final thing is we’re calling you up to the big leagues." And so I was sitting there....
BW: Did your eyes pop out of your head?
CDV: I honestly didn’t even know what to do because it was such a shock. And this was probably about 3 o’clock, and he said, "We haven’t done a press release or anything, so you can’t tell anyone. You can’t tell anyone on the team." And I was sitting there, practically hyperventilating and wondering how I can’t tell any of my teammates or any of my real good friends on the team. I said, "Please tell me I can at least tell my family." He was like, "Yeah, that’s fine just make sure they don’t tell anyone else." So, after that I had to walk out of there with a stone face on for the rest of the day, and had to sneak away to a corner where I knew no one would come so I could call my parents and tell them. That was probably one of the better moments of my life, calling and telling them that. It was really special.
BW: Was it really difficult to keep it under wraps for a while?
CDV: Yeah, because I was walking around thinking I had this funny look on my face trying not to be obvious. Guys are saying stuff, you know, "I heard you’re getting called up." Or they’d try get under my skin and say, "Oh, I hear this other guy got called up today."
BW: Typical guy ribbing and that kind of stuff?
CDV: Oh yeah, exactly. It was very difficult to keep it under wraps.
BW: You draw the first assignment -- the White Sox in Chicago -- and you’re warming in the pen. What’s on your mind?
CDV: You know, I was actually fairly calm warming up in the pen. Obviously, you’re in US Cellular Park, and it’s the White Sox. That's basically our biggest rival. I was trying not to think about that as much as possible. Really, when it kind of hit me was when I stepped out on the mound and I got done with my warmup pitches, and then De Aza was announced as the leadoff hitter. I was kinda like, "Wow. I guess I’m actually here." That’s when the emotions really started getting up there. I was doing my best to control them the best I could.
BW: When did they subside?
CDV: They subsided a little bit after I struck out De Aza in that first at bat. And then, whoever was batting second that day.....
BW: Alexei Ramirez, maybe? (Note: It was Gordon Beckham.)
CDV: Yeah, might have been. The next two pitches were balls and the emotions went right back up. It was just a roller coaster out there that whole day.
BW: Did it feel kind of like a dream to don the uniform of the team you watched growing up? I mean, you hear about Pat Neshek, and to a lesser extent Perkins or Joe Mauer, talk about it being like living a dream to play for a hometown team. Did you feel something like that, or was it more just like a regular day of work as a baseball player?
CDV: For me it was kind of both. Obviously, it was a culmination of a dream coming true. Then at the same point, I also realized I had a job to do. If I was going to do my best to stay up here, I had to do a productive job. So yeah, I really tried to forget about all the peripherals as much as possible, and concentrate on the task at hand.
BW: So it would have been meaningful for you to debut for the Brewers or the Yankees as well?
CDV: Oh yeah, definitely. Obviously it would have been awesome to do that, but to do it for the team I grew up watching, and being the hometown kid playing for the hometown team. That just made it that much more special.
BW: So it did take you a couple weeks to pick up the first big league win -- early June -- and when you think about what Liam’s going through trying to pick up his first, what was it like to get it out of the way?
CDV: It’s one of those things that can definitely be a daunting task at times. I really think that sometimes all the extra pressure that the media puts on it can kind of add to it. It was a lot of fun getting that out of the way, not just to get it out of the way, but to get your first victory. I mean, that’s really cool.
BW: For those unfamiliar with your repertoire, what’s in your toolbox? Similarly, what’s your mentality when you attack hitters, and how does that evolve over the course of a game?
CDV: I have a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, as well as a curveball, changeup, and slider. So, my mentality is to try stay calm as possible. I know when I get amped up or jacked up out there, I start trying to do too much. I know that I’m not a pitcher than can go out there and do too much. I try to stay in my game plan, which is locate my pitches and keep hitters off balance. I try mix things up to keep hitters off my fastball, or if they start sitting on my breaking pitches, I try to keep them guessing.
BW: As a FanGraphs guy, I like to ask if you’re an advanced stats guy or a scouting reports guy. In terms of your preparation, what’s the big thing for you?
CDV: When I first got called up, I tried to not even look at any of that stuff. You have so much stuff going on, and you can’t even digest it. Now that I’ve gotten a bit more comfortable, I’ll glance over our advance scouting reports. I just kind of look for real basic things, because I know that when I’m sitting there pregame or a few days ahead, when you’re reading something like that, there’s really only so much that you can take in and utilize when you’re in a stressful situation. So, I kind of really only look for maybe about three to five real key things on maybe specific batters. I just try to remember that, but outside of that, I just try to pitch my game and make adjustments out there.
BW: As someone who’s not only just been in the Twins system, but been in the system for quite a while...we just saw Tom Kelly come in and raise a bit of a ruckus in (the clubhouse here). Do you have any good TK stories?
CDV: I think my favorite one is one I’ve told to the media a few times already, actually. My first spring training, we’re over there doing PFPs on whatever field it was. All the sudden, out of nowhere, you hear Tom Kelly yell ‘HOLD ON! HOLD ON A SECOND!' He comes slowly walking over from another field, and he sits there and literally takes 15 minutes to explain to the first baseman how he’s not stepping on first base correctly, or receiving the balls, or whatnot. There’s a couple of guys from California or wherever, and you know even myself, I was pretty young when he was manager. Anyway, these guys are sitting there going, "Who is this guy? What’s he doing over here?" There were a couple of us who knew who he was and we were like, "Uh, that’s Tom Kelly. He’s got two World Series rings, and however many wins, and whatnot." And they were like, "Oh. OK. I’ll shut up now" kinda thing. That was definitely pretty funny, coming from a Minnesota kid who obviously knows who Tom Kelly is and got to tell those other guys.