I may as well get it out of the way: This is my farewell post with TwinkieTown. For those of you unaware, I’m taking a beat writing job over at 1500 ESPN to cover the local nine, and I couldn’t be happier about it. But sadly, for my sanity, it probably means I have to give this part of my life up.
And while I certainly haven’t had the long-lasting impact of a Jeff Sullivan -- who just handed over the keys to Lookout Landing -- it’s meant a lot to me to share this space with all of you. Thank you. Today’s departing post is a Q&A I did with Twins left-handed reliever Tyler Robertson. He has amazing facial hair, and is an even better pitcher.
Brandon Warne: Who is Tyler Robertson?
Tyler Robertson: It’s pretty self-explanatory. Left-handed pitcher, Minnesota Twins. There you go.
BW: You were born and raised in California. As far as your baseball upbringing, when did you start, and what were your roles?
TR: I played little league, and went into high school ball pitching and playing first base. Those are the only two positions I played.
BW: As a lefty I can relate. Did you live in California the entire time?
TR: Yes. We were in Northern California, a little bit north of Sacramento, in a city called Citrus Heights. I went to high school in the city bordering it, Fair Oaks.
BW: As a tall, athletic type did you play any other sports?
TR: I played basketball, football, and baseball for all four years of high school.
BW: Growing up in California with all the big league teams out there, did you have a special team that you liked to follow as a kid?
TR: I liked to follow the Cleveland Indians, because my dad is a scout and worked for them when I was a kid. So obviously, I rooted for them all the time.
BW: So you were rooting for those super stacked teams that had like Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez batting in the lower-half of the order?
TR: Yeah, exactly. Those were the teams I liked. We got to fly out, me and my brothers and sisters, when they were in the playoffs playing the Mariners in ‘95 or ‘96.
BW: Yeah, those teams were incredible, with multiple Hall of Famers on the roster. It was unbelievable how good they were.
TR: Oh no doubt, they were a lot of fun to watch. It was pretty neat that he just happened to be working for them, so I got to watch them a lot.
BW: When the time came to start thinking about college versus signing as a draft pick, how did that process sort of begin? What were your initial thoughts and feelings on the process?
TR: I always wanted to sign out of high school if I was taken early enough. I went through a process and did all that with the colleges, and signed a letter of intent with Cal State-Fullerton. Then I was drafted in a pretty good position, so I got to do what I wanted to do, which was sign and not go to school.
BW: Did you have a specific spot set where you were going to sign for sure versus going to school?
TR: Not necessarily. I think I was just going to feel it out and see what happened. Fortunately I was taken high enough by the Twins, a good organization. I wanted to sign and get my pro career started right away.
BW: Did you have a sense that you could go as high as you did with the pre-draft feelers being put out?
TR: I had a little bit more insight with my dad being a scout and doing what he did, you know just knowing how to feel out the draft and all that. It’s hard for the area scouts to truly know where you’ll be taken, but I heard from almost everybody that I was slotted between the second and fourth round. So I was feeling somewhere around there, and was taken in the third.
BW: What role has your dad played in your professional success?
TR: He obviously helped me with baseball pretty much my whole life. He played (the game). He’s the main person I learned from growing up and all that, baseball-wise. It was definitely a bit of an advantage having him having been on that side before, having been a scouting director with Cleveland. He knows that side of the game, so he was able to give me some insight on what to expect when I signed, and how to deal with the process of scouts coming into talk to you and all that stuff.
BW: As an original Twins draft pick, you’ve climbed up the rungs from bottom to top. What has been your experience in the Twins organization, and how has it changed in that time?
TR: You learn a lot. This was my sixth year as a pro player. I’ve spent a lot of time, and learned a lot. I’ve gotten to know a lot of coaches in this organization, and they’ve been a big part of it.
BW: You were a starter up until a few seasons ago. What necessitated or precipitated that change?
TR: They pretty much told me they were going to move me to the bullpen. I started the whole season in 2010 -- made like 28, 29 starts or something like that -- and then they pulled me aside and told me I was going to go out to the fall league and they were going to have me work out of the pen out there because it was something I’d never done before. Then they told me the following season that I’d stay in the bullpen, and I think it’s worked out pretty good so far.
BW: How does your repertoire and approach differ as a reliever from when you were a starter?
TR: It obviously has (changed considerably). When I started I had four pitches, and now I pretty much throw two. I mean, I do throw a changeup sometimes. But I stick with my two main pitches now, while I was trying to mix in four as a starter. I think it’s helped a little bit, just throwing two or three pitches. Eliminating one and focusing on executing the others -- I don’t want to say perfecting them necessarily -- has given me a chance to work on the other ones to get them as good as I can.
BW: Were you blindsided by the call-up, or were you sort of expecting it? What was the sequence of events there?
TR: We heard Capps was going on the DL from social media and everything, and so everybody knew a move was going to be made. I had been throwing the ball well down there, and we knew what day it was going to be announced that the club would make a move. They had to. Some guys were saying they thought it would be me. I thought there was a chance, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. After the game, Gene (Glynn) came in and told me. It worked out pretty good.
BW: You had a pretty great debut, running roughshod through that first inning with three strikeouts. Can you take us through that inning, and if/how nerves played a part?
TR: Obviously I was nervous a little bit, with the debut and everything. Basically, after I got the first guy out....you always believe you can do it, and pitch at this level. I always thought I could. After that outing, it was just nice to see that I could prove myself. You always believe it, but once you do it, you’ve shown yourself you can do it. It wasn’t pressure or anything. It’s just reassuring that your stuff can play at this level and work up here.
BW: You’ve fanned about a guy an inning since your call-up. How big of a part of your game is the strikeout, and getting opponents to swing and miss?
TR: I think there are times where you have to try to pitch for a strikeout. Luckily, there have been a few times where I’ve gotten them where I wasn’t necessarily pitching for one. But, coming from being a starter too, if I know I’m going to be facing more than a batter or be going the whole inning, it’s nice to get quick outs too. Get ground balls, that’s something I was always able to do as a starter. I’ve done OK with that up here, but I’d like to do it more. But it’s nice to be able to get a strikeout when you need one.
BW: Coming up in the system, you’ve certainly been exposed to Tom Kelly in some way, shape or form. Any good TK memories?
TR: I’ve always gotten along with TK pretty good. I think he’s great. We’ve sat and talked. When he used to come around the minor leagues, I was starting a lot, and days after starts we’d sit in the dugout whenever he’d be in town and chat a little bit. Obviously he’s got a lot of experience, and knows a lot about baseball. He’s always been fun to talk to. I did get him one year in spring training where I asked him how his offseason was, and he sat me down for about 20 minutes and explained it to me. Then he told me that I probably shouldn’t ask someone his age how his offseason was up in Minnesota where it’s so cold. I thought that was pretty funny. Now I pretty much just say hey to him in spring training and that’s it. *laughs*