Q & A with Jays prospect John Stilson

John Stilson, the Toronto Blue Jays’ third-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Texas A&M University, was making steady progress in his first professional season until some tightness in his shoulder recently landed him on the seven-day DL.

The Blue Jays believe the issue is minor however, and insist they are just being cautious with the 22-year-old.

At the time he was shut down, Stilson was 2-3 with a 4.85 earned-run average in nine starts with double-A New Hampshire after going 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA in 13 starts for single-A Dunedin.

Even without the injury his workload was likely to be soon curtailed given how the Blue Jays tend to build their prospects’ arms, and extra caution is in order for him since his stock in the draft dropped because of a shoulder injury.

A starter for the moment, there are some who believe Stilson eventually ends up a reliever, although the extra innings he’s logged should allow him to better refine the use of his fastball, change, slider and curve.

“Basically what we’re trying to do is to get him to master his pitches, number one, and be able to repeat his delivery,” says Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano. “That’s really what it’s all about. He still gets a little bit inconsistent, gets his tempo too fast. He’s a very high-strung guy that likes to work really, really fast, so we’re trying to find that nice balance between working fast and executing his pitches.

“I hate to use the word pace yourself, but you really do have to pace yourself as a starter and just make sure the location is right. When you’re trying to execute a pitch, subtraction is more important than addition. He can throw the ball 97 miles an hour, you’ve got a plus-plus arm right there. The thing is he can still locate at 94 and then chase at 97, and he’s still learning the balance between those two.”

Sportsnet.ca recently sat down with Stilson:

Sportsnet.ca: Talk before the draft was that you had a shoulder injury that required surgery to repair, but you didn’t end up having the procedure. How are things with the shoulder now?

A: “I actually have a tear in my labrum. The first opinion we saw I guess misread the MRI, thought it was a lot worse than it actually was, and so they immediately told me I need to shut everything down, you need to have surgery on it and a year from now you should be good to go. When we got a second opinion with Dr. Andrews, he was like, I think you just need a throwing program, some rehab, take some time off, and you should be fine.

“That’s what we went with, didn’t have surgery, came back this spring training and everything felt great. I haven’t had any problems with it since then.”

Sportsnet.ca: How has the shift from reliever to starter affected the shoulder?

A: “The starting role is more of getting everything going in a routine, that way I don’t have to get as loose as fast as I can. I can take some time, get it built up, I have three or four days before my next start so I can give it some time to rest. I think that’s more the reason why I’m starting now, to get some work and get my innings in, and to see what I can do.”

Sportsnet.ca: Is it a big transition?

A: “I did it some in college, but it’s different than coming out of the bullpen, but I don’t care, I’ll do whatever they want me to do out there.”

Sportsnet.ca: You’re described as having an intense, go-right-at-guys mentality from your closing days in college. Have you adjusted that to work as a starter, knowing you’re going to run through the lineup multiple times?

A: “Not really. I work fast, I’m ready before you get in the box, ready to make a pitch. It doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t think it’s any different, I go out there and pitch and get guys out, closing or starting. It’s the same to me.”

Sportsnet.ca: You feature a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. Are you working on a specific pitch more than the other, have the Blue Jays given you any particular areas of focus?

A: “They haven’t told me anything like that, just go out there and throw strikes. I’ve been having a problem with that this year, walking too many people and I’ve been getting myself behind in counts where I haven’t been able to throw my off-speed pitches as much as I’d like to. That’s affecting me right now.”

Sportsnet.ca: In recent outings it seems it takes a while for you to settle in, but once you get through the early innings, you perform much better. Has it felt that way?

A: “Lately, yeah, I guess I’m too amped up when I get out there in the first inning, I get hit around a little bit, settle down and from then on I’m good. I don’t know why that is, it’s been going on and needs to be fixed.”

Sportsnet.ca: Are you always that amped up, or just on the diamond?

A: “If there’s anything athletic sports-wise, I’m high-strung, intense, trying to win everything because I hate to lose.”

Sportsnet.ca: Have you needed to work on containing that energy and emotion on the mound?

A: “Yes, the high-A pitching coach Darrell Knowles was big about slowing me down, take a step back, regain your focus, and get back up on the mound and pitch again. I’ve taken that up here and I’ve gotten a whole lot better at that. I’m slowing the game down when I’ve gotten in trouble, throwing some balls wild, but it’s still a work in progress. I’ve only pitched for three years so I’m still learning how to pitch, how to throw, what to throw here, what not to throw here. Sal’s big on what pitches I need to throw in certain situations.”

Sportsnet.ca: How did you make the transition from shortstop to pitching?

A: “I threw pretty hard across the infield so they asked me, ‘you want to try to throw today?’ I was like ‘yeah sure, I’ll pitch.’ It’s worked out to my benefit, I like it. I miss playing every day, I miss hitting the most, but I’m getting paid to pitch so that’s what I’m doing.”

Sportsnet.ca: How do you unwind away from the ballpark?

A: “Anything outdoors, hunting, fishing, riding ATVs, stuff like that. Just relax, get away. I’m from the country so I like getting out there, being by myself in the woods and everything. That’s really all I do, is hunt and fish in the off-season. That and work out.”

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