Since being selected in the 11th round of the 2008 draft out of UC Davis by his hometown San Francisco Giants, pitching prospect Justin Fitzgerald has climbed a level each season on the road to the big leagues. This year for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels, the 6’5″ right hander is 8-6 with a 3.38ERA in 114.1 innings covering 22 starts. We hope you enjoy our Q&A with Justin Fitzgerald.
TPA: Growing up an hour north of the Bay Area in Santa Rosa were you a Giants fan or an A’s fan when you were younger? How often did you get to games? What were some of your best memories?
Justin Fitzgerald Growing up I was a huge Giants fan, going to games as early as the Candlestick Park days and watching the likes of Will Clark, Bill Swift, Rod Beck and Barry Bonds. One of the best memories I have was when JT Snow hit his walk off Home Run against the Mets in the playoffs at AT&T park. The crowd was so electric and louder than you could ever imagine. The only other time I have heard a place that loud was for Bonds 700th HR.
TPA: Tell us about your draft day experience. Where were you when you got the call?
Justin Fitzgerald I was making breakfast and my roommate was watching the computer. He yelled hey Fitz you just got drafted. I said by who? And he yelled back the Giants in the 11th Round. A very humbling and honoring experience.
TPA: What was it like getting to play a couple of hours from home last year in San Jose?
Justin Fitzgerald Playing in San Jose was like a dream, being able to play so close to home. My dad saw 17 of my 27 starts. I had constant friends and family coming to games. My sister went to San Jose State so I was able to grab lunch with her at times before heading to the field. It was by far the most fun I have ever had playing baseball. I was surrounded by family, we won a championship, and it happened right in my back yard of Northern California.
TPA: You’ve figured out a way to get better at each level despite facing more advanced hitters each step of the way. What adjustments have you made from Low-A to High-A to Double-A to keep a step ahead of the hitters.
Justin Fitzgerald It isn’t that I have made drastic adjustments, I have just figured out how to pitch my game better. I have Improved what I do well. My conditioning, repeatable mechanics, and making quality pitches down in the zone. Double-A hitters do lay off more pitches and they do take that off speed pitch in the dirt more often. Getting better depth on a pitch that finishes at the ankles than in the dirt becomes a better quality pitch. Pitching inside is the biggest thing when you move up. You have to establish the inner part of the plate for your sake and for the relievers sake when they come into the game late.
TPA: Talk about your mental preparation for taking the mound. What routine do you go through and what pitch thoughts do you have on the mound? How has your mental preparation evolved throughout your career?
Justin Fitzgerald Mental Preparation starts taking place the night before when I look over the hitters online see who is hot, where guys are hitting, etc. I go through my normal routine of 20 mins on the bike, hot tub and a stretch followed by going over hitters with the catchers and our pitching coach. Then on to the pre game routine of catch and bullpen session. Pitch thoughts are so fast on the mound. I usually have the next pitch that I want to throw in my head before the pitch I just threw gets back to me from the catcher. I always tell myself to control what I can control and just have fun. Baseball is a game and lots of guys get lost in that. My mental preparation has taken leeps and bounds over my career, always was stubborn in my younger age in college. To be where I am at now I have come a long way and still can improve.
TPA: You had a chance to pitch against Bryce Harper when Harrisburg came to town a couple weeks ago. What did you think of the kid?
Justin Fitzgerald Harper is an impressive talent. He has a good eye at the plate and good pitch recognition skills. The most impressive thing you see out of him is his poise dealing with all the taunting from fans and the media scrutiny. I know at 18 I wouldn’t of been able to go through what he is going through at such a high level.
TPA: Who has been the most influential person to you thus far in the Giants organization? What’s been the best guidance or advice they have given you?
Justin Fitzgerald There are a lot of influential people in Giants organization. They are tremendous when it comes to bringing around players from the past and having them share their knowledge. You never forget Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Lon Simmons, Will Clark all sitting on a panel and just talking baseball. But, the most influential that stands out is Lee Smith by simply saying “someone is always watching you, whether it be the Giants personnel or another team” That really stuck with me because it made me want to go out every time on the mound and compete my tail off for my teammates, for my career, and for my advancement.
TPA: What’s been your best memory so far as a pro, both from something on the field, as well as something crazy you have had happen while in the minor leagues.
Justin Fitzgerald Best memory as a Pro was winning the California League Championship last year. The craziest thing that’s happened to me on the field was throwing ball 4 of an intentional BB halfway up the back screen when I was at Short-A Salem Keizer.
TPA: What led you to join the world of Twitter? What’s the experience been like so far? You can follow Justin on Twitter @JFitzgerald31.
Justin Fitzgerald Twitter gives me a wealth of knowledge from countless places at the touch of my iphone. It’s nice to not have to open up a newspaper to find out whats going on in the world. I have enjoyed my experience so far. It’s been cool to follow your buddies on here and interact with others.