Travis Strong was the Orioles’ 39th round selection in the 2010 draft. At 6′ 6″, Strong is an imposing figure that has drawn comparisons to Matt Garza. He’s currently working his way through the system after a very successful 2011 season at Aberdeen.
You were selected in the 39th round. Is that about where you expected to be drafted?
Yeah, as far as what and everything. How they came about. I was told I was either going to be drafted or was going to be signed as a free agent by the Orioles. To be drafted was perfect.
Had the Orioles expressed interest in you prior to the draft?
The Orioles showed a lot of interest. I had spoken with Joe Jordan when he was the scouting director. He was the one telling me I was going to be drafted or signed as a free agent. They were really the only team that showed interest.
You were injured slightly before the draft. How much do you think injury affected your draft stock?
I don’t think the injury affected my draft stock a whole lot. Just my whole situation kind of affected where I was going, or if I was going to get drafted at all. I had almost no leverage. If they had given me a plane ticket, and nothing else, I still would have gone. I got very lucky that they wanted to take a chance on me.
Joe Jordan compared your frame to Matt Garza’s, which is obviously a very nice compliment. What does being 6’ 6” allow you to do on the mound?
Being 6’ 6” creates a lot of leverage for me. I have downward plane on my fastball and on all my pitches. I think I have a lot of room to develop. My mechanics are coming along and my legs, core, and back can get a lot stronger, too, which will obviously improve my pitching. Being 6’ 6” is definitely a gift for me being a pitcher. It’s much harder for hitters to square up on you when you’re 6’ 6” so it definitely helps out.
Pitchers in A-ball are often promoted to one A-ball team then demoted a few weeks later, which happened to you last year. Can you talk a little about the process of what goes on when a player goes back and forth like that?
I was pitching well in Aberdeen, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. I had put up some good numbers. They took a chance and threw me into A-ball. It’s kind of hard with my draft slot because there are a lot of guys they have invested more in. So if you are not doing your job there are guys they are going to give an opportunity. You just have to perform when you get the opportunity to move up. And, I didn’t do that. I got pushed back to short-season but finished the seasons strong there. Getting called up was still a good experience, even though I didn’t perform.
O’s outfield prospect Brenden Webb is also a Palomar alumnus. Did you know him when you came over to the Orioles?
Yeah, I played with him the year before he got drafted. We went to the super regionals and he was the center fielder there. That was around the time when I was throwing bullpens for the Orioles and kind of had an idea that they were looking at picking me up. I was talking to Brenden about everything and how the Orioles organization was and where I would like to go. He was almost like an insider. I was able to get information about the team without being there, which was nice. He was telling me he enjoyed Bluefield. When I got drafted I spoke to Brenden and he said he was headed to Bluefield, which was the same time I was heading there. It was a great experience to be there with a previous teammate that I already knew. He really helped me along and reminded me of Palomar when he’d be in center field backing me up. It was definitely a neat experience.
For those who haven’t seen you pitch, could you describe your arsenal and overall game?
I’m a guy that pitches to contact. I don’t try to strike everyone out. If I get a strikeout, that’s great. I just try to keep the ball down because I have a lot of contact pitches. I have a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and slider. I’m trying to develop a cutter, which we’re going to be working on it during spring training. I’m 6’ 6”, with good downhill plane on my fastball and slider. I’m low 90s with the fastball but I’m working on developing some more velocity. I’m a contact pitcher and I work to get ground balls and fast outs.
Aside from the addition of the cutter, has your arsenal evolved since beginning pro ball?
No, aside from the cutter I haven’t added much to my arsenal. The biggest changes I’ve made are mechanically, and I think that was one of the biggest reasons I was injured. I was always throwing and always pitching. Not having the right mechanics was the biggest issue right before I got drafted. I had a pitching coach named Dom Johnson who got me in front of an Orioles area scout who got me in front of Joe Jordan. I’d have to say he’s the reason I’m here today with the Orioles. Mechanically, I had to change my arm slot so I wouldn’t get hurt again.
Did those mechanical changes keep away injuries this past season?
I had a little hiccup in extended spring training for about two weeks; a little shoulder soreness. But after that I was healthy all the way through the season. I’m ready to get back out there next season.
I try to make grip adjustments. Usually the grip’s not working or just my eye sights to the catcher are a bit off. I usually go through a check list that’s one of three things: 1) My grip 2) where I’m sighting to the catcher or 3), whether or not I’m just not finishing out in front and getting through the pitch. That’s just my little checklist I use throughout the game. I mess around with the grip a little bit. I won’t make huge changes, but it’s going to be against the later hitters in the lineup in case the grip doesn’t work out. You just have to make adjustment as you go.
The results in your first season were obviously good. Would you call it a success?
I’d definitely call it a success. Aberdeen was great and the fans were very supportive. In Aberdeen, I was kind of trying to find out who I am as a pitcher. I think I was able to figure that out pretty fast. I don’t have swing and miss stuff and like to get quick outs. I think that was my biggest goal, just trying to find out who I am. And I think I did that. I’m still trying to improve further and add into my first year this off-season. I’m in the gym everyday. We start throwing January 1st and I hope to really shine this spring training and hopefully make Delmarva and maybe even Frederick.
On the topic of conditioning, is there anything specific you are working on?
I’m just making sure I’m staying healthy. I’m running and stuff like that. I don’t want to lose track of where I was during season. We have a conditioning program the Orioles give us and our workout program we follow. On Orioles Fitness they give us things to do. I talked to the Aberdeen strength and fitness coach to give him and idea of what I want to do and where I want to be when I come to spring training. So I’m just focusing on staying healthy and keeping my endurance up, keeping my legs strong and strengthening my core. I’m also working very hard on my back muscles and anything else I can do to make myself better as a pitcher.
Any specific goals for 2012?
I just want to have another strong season. I want to start strong, be healthy throughout the year and hopefully end up in Frederick. That’s why I am working hard now, so I can have that strong season. And I do think all of the hard work’s going to pay off.