Baseball teams love pitchers with big arms. Anyone who can get their fastball into the upper 90′s or above, are going to get noticed. One team that seems to have inordinate success in annually drafting and cultivating hard throwing pitchers is the Tampa Bay Rays, and it looks like they may have done it once again. In the 2011 MLB draft they were able to nab Jeff Ames, who immediately became one of the hardest throwers in their system.
Ames, a lanky right-handed sophomore from Lower Columbia College in Washington, was drafted in the compensatory portion of the first round with the 42nd overall pick (as compensation for the Rays losing Rafael Soriano to the Yankees). He had been drafted twice before, but had declined to sign in order to continue developing his skills. His decision paid off, as last year he went 8-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 88 innings. His ability to consistently throw in the mid to upper 90′s, including hitting as high as 100 mph last year, made his draft stock skyrocket. He is now making his way towards the majors, toiling in the lower levels of the minor leagues for the Rays, and hoping to become the next in a long line of Tampa Bay pitching prospect success stories. He recently took a few moments after a practice to chat with me and discuss his experiences in baseball.
Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up?
Definitely the Mariners, being that they were in the closest town to me. Probably my favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey, Jr. because he was so good and it was fun watching him play.
Is there a pitcher who you identify with, either growing up or now?
Back then I didn’t really know any difference, but now I would say Nolan Ryan. Me and my dad would spend some time watching him. He really attacked hitters and I try to attack hitters the same way.
What was your draft experience like?:
My draft experience was pretty awesome. I wasn’t really quite sure when I was going to go, but was more expecting to maybe go second round. It was awesome that I got picked up when I did. The Rays were obviously pretty interested in me, so it really worked out.
How much do you think the reports of you hitting 100 MPH help you leading up to the draft?
Yeah, that was towards the beginning of my college season. I definitely got more attention after that happened, but it only happened once and it wasn’t like I was hitting that every time I went out. But that maybe had a little bit to do with it.
Did your brother Steve’s own previous draft experience with the Dodgers help you in any way?
I wouldn’t say it helped me because me signing this past year was my third time getting drafted. I was kind of familiar with it. As far as going through all of this, it was nice having him to call and talk to when I’ve had any questions.
Were their particular reasons why you chose not to sign when you were drafted by Philadelphia and Colorado?
Honestly I wasn’t ready. I just knew that if I was going to do this, I needed to be ready to do this. I didn’t feel like my abilities were quite where they needed to be.
Which pitches do you throw and which one are you trying to improve the most?
I throw a fastball, a slider, and a changeup. The fastball and slider are the pitches I am probably most comfortable with. I am really trying to work hard on my changeup so I can throw it in any count in a game to a lefty or a righty.
Be sure to check out Jeff Ames’ Baseball Cards