In advance of Thursday's draft, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Our last interviewee is Eric Lauer, a left-handed pitcher from Kent State who is widely expected to be a mid-to-high first-rounder. Lauer was one of the best pitchers in Division I this season, leading the nation with a ridiculous 0.69 mark in 104 innings. He is thought of as one of the safest pitching prospects in the entire draft class, and is praised for his ability to control four pitches and mix them well. For more on Lauer, check out Minor League Ball’s scouting report.
Lauer has risen up draft boards in the day before the draft, and is now projected by BA as the 8th overall pick to the Padres. Other outlets, like MLB.com, have Lauer later int he first round, in the 26-33 range. BA recently ranked Lauer as the 27th-best player in this year's class, and he spoke with MLBDD in advance of the draft:
When did you first get into baseball and start realizing you loved the game?
“Probably real early. I first started playing when I was 3. I instantly liked it, but didn’t really know I was going to go with it until I was a few years older. I played up an age group, and it always came a little easier to me. I understood baseball a little better. It was a little early.”
Growing up, who was your favorite team? Favorite player?
“Growing up, I liked watching the Indians. They were the local team. It was back when they had CC [Sabathia] and Cliff Lee, and I really enjoyed watching them pitch. Favorite player? Probably one of thost pitchers. I never really got into that kind of stuff.”
Looking back, what was the exact moment when you realized you could make the pros?
“When I was in high school. My senior year, my draft stock blew up really late. When there started to be 15 or 20 radar guns popping up behind the screen, I thought it was a real possibility. I just wanted to run with it. It was always a dream of mine, but that was when it hit me.”
You were a top prospect in high school, drafted in the 17th round by the Blue Jays before deciding on Kent State. How does that experience help you prepare for this year? What went into your decision to go to school at that point?
“It just made me a lot more comfortable overall, because I got to know all the local [scouts] early on. Seeing them over and over through the years, it’s made it a lot easier to talk to them. Going to college, it helped me grow up, learning to talk to people better than I did in high school. That helped a ton. The decision to go to Kent was pretty much made because I heard a lot of things about Coach [Associate Head Coach Mike] Birkbeck and how he develops pitchers. He’s the best in the country in a lot of people’s eyes. I thought of going to college as more a stepping stone to get to the pros, instead of being my last chance to play baseball. I wanted to go to college to develop with who would put me at the highest level to go to the pros.”
What specifically went into your decision to go to Kent State, and which other schools did you consider in high school?
“I was actually originally committed to Kentucky. I ended up turning that down because a lot of scouts had been talking, and I overheard them sometimes asking why I was going down there when I had the best pitching coach [Birkbeck] in the country in his backyard. That made a lot of sense to me. I think I got kind of clouded at first with the big draw of the SEC offers and all that, so I asked myself if I wanted to go to college for the experience or if I wanted to go to college to get to the pros. I decided that Coach Birkbeck was my best option to get where I wanted to go.”
You were a pretty good wide receiver in high school. How can skills from the football field transfer over to pitching?
“I played football more for fun, and happened to be pretty decent at it. I think it helps more from an overall athletic standpoint. It made me loose and it taught me how to use my body better. Coming off the mound quickly and stuff like that. It was more of an overall athleticism point, because they say ‘pitchers aren’t athletes’ and all that crap.”
You had a historic year for Kent State, posting a 0.69 ERA (details). What went into that success, were there adjustments before the season?
“It was more that I made the adjustments in the beginning of the year. My first few outings... the main one I always think of is Virginia, how I totally screwed that game. I wish I could have that one back, actually. Early in the year, I was in my own head thinking I had to throw harder and everything for the scouts. I was getting outside of myself and my mechanics. I was walking a lot of guys and throwing a lot of wild pitches. The change I ended up making was to basically simplify my mechanics and simplify everything I was doing. That really helped my command, and that’s pretty much what got me through the year so smoothly.”
Instead of relying on pure velocity like some prospects, you’re a guy who throws a little harder but is praised for command and mixing in four pitches. How important is it for you to be able to have strong control and keep hitters guessing with various pitches?
“I think it’s huge. In my eyes, it makes you more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. The thing I’ve been told since I was young is that you really need to work on your command. Command your fastball first and move onto your other pitches. Being able to command every pitch and throw it in any count not only keeps the hitter off-balance more, but separates guys that are in the minors for a long time and people who get to the league. People who get to the bigs are able to control everything, while guys who don’t have as much control and command of their pitches... it holds a lot of people back. I made that a point to really make on my command.”
What is your biggest strength as a pitcher?
“Probably just that. Being able to control and command fastballs, and then also having good feel and command for the off-speed stuff.”
And your biggest weakness? What do you want to improve upon the most at the next level?
“The thing I’d like to improve on more is the development of my changeup. I’d like to get that to be more of a devastating pitch where I can use it as an out pitch sometimes. That, and I’d like to get my off-speed stuff a little more sharp and to get it to bite a little bit harder.”
Here’s the comp question. Who’s the major-leaguer, current or former, who your game mirrors the most?
“That’s the one that I never know. I’ve heard a lot of people, and names thrown out... I stand like Jon Lester. [Birkbeck] always tells me my top half is like [Madison] Bumgarner. A while back, I used to always hear David Price. I never really looked at a pitcher and said ‘I want to throw just like him’. I take pieces from pitchers I like and I mold them to fit my body frame a little better. I kind of have a smorgasbord of a bunch of different pitchers within my motion and style.”
What’s your expectation heading into the draft on where you’ll be picked? Any specific teams that you’re hearing have the strongest interest?
“Honestly, anywhere in the first round is where I’ve heard. Really, anywhere, honestly. I’ve heard scouts are being really quiet this year being that the class is so close and that there are really no standouts or anything. I hope I don’t get out of the first, but it’s possible. I haven’t heard anything specifically with teams, or any slots either. I’ll hopefully know tomorrow, but it might be a surprise for me too.”