Astros minor-leaguer and 2010 28th Round draft pick Jason Chowning took some time to answer a few questions for Astros County. And here we go...
AC: You were initially drafted by the Yankees in 2007, but elected to go to Oklahoma, instead. How were the two drafts and negotiations different for you - first with the Yankees, and then with the Astros in 2010?
JC: Getting drafted by the Yankees was kind of disappointing. Although it is every kid's dream to hear his name being called on that day. Being drafted that low was a little upsetting; we all have dreams of getting drafted by your favorite team and signing that big bonus. But since I was drafted so low I never really considered signing. That and knowing that I still had time left in college, in which I really enjoyed my college life, and the friends that came with it. Financially it wasn't worth it to sign with the Yankees. Being drafted my senior year, it was under their terms and their discretion, by the Astros, I was much more excited and ready to get out there, although I didn't have much of a choice: either play baseball or hang it up. At this point I'm not quite ready to hang it up just yet. Now it's my time to go out there and prove to everyone what I can do.
AC: Last season, you were with Tri-City when they won the NYPL Championship (and you also struck out three batters in 2IP in Game 1). What was the feeling throughout the clubhouse as the season progressed, ending up with the championship?
JC: I had gotten to the team a little later than everyone else (Note: Chowning signed on June 30). I was playing in the College World Series, so I came a few weeks late. As the season progressed and it got closer to the end of the year, none of us had really thought about playoffs, we weren't really in the hunt and were a few games back. During the last week or two of season, our coach had a meeting letting us know that we were only a game and a half back, and to continue working and keep motivated. That we did, it came down to the last game of the season to decide whether we made it or not. The other team we were competing against lost so we knew we were going to playoffs. Once we won that first game of the Championship we felt confident enough to go into Brooklyn and take one game from them. After two long days of rainouts we did just that. Great experience.
AC: Over the course of your two seasons with the organization, you've struck out almost a quarter of the batters faced (a shade over 24% in both seasons). For those of us Astros fans who haven't been able to make it to Tri-City or Lexington, how do you approach your games and opponents?
JC: I approach each game the same, never knowing when I'm coming in or in what situation, preferably bases empty (haha), but whatever situation I am put in, I tend to try and block everything out and focus on throwing strikes and getting outs. Playing the same teams over and over, you really need to learn to mix up the things you did the first time facing them. After facing them so many times, you really need to work on being able to throw strikes with the pitches that you used before to get them out, and be able to bury that one pitch every now and then. I would consider myself a strike out pitcher - over the years I have really focused on throwing my offspeed over for a strike and, that being done, it helps you as a pitcher because when that hitter sees that you can throw an offspeed for a strike, they are more likely to go chasing when it's time to bury it. I'm always working on things to get better, its the small things that make the biggest differences.
AC: In 2011, you made six appearances with Lexington (8.2IP) before allowing your first earned run. What adjustments did you make from 2010 to 2011 in preparation for a full season of baseball?
Practice practice practice. I worked on my fastball command, which is my biggest flaw at times. I work really hard and being able to locate my fastball better and working on a consistent delivery with all my pitches. I feel that I have always had the ability, but haven't always been able to prove myself. I know in college it's one of those things: if you fail one time then it will be a while if you throw again. Especially as a reliever role. I didn't have much of a role at Oklahoma my junior year, thus I worked hard and developed a new pitch, my slider cutter pitch. My Oklahoma coaches liked that pitch and so gave me more opportunities my senior year. A little too late, but it all works out in the end.
AC: What will you be doing this off-season to prepare for 2012?
This offseason, as of now, I am working for a gym, so I am able to workout pretty frequently and stay in shape. I've really been focusing on getting my shoulder strong due to the lack of strength late in the season in Lexington, which caused me to miss the last 3 weeks of the season. That is something that will not happen again and I'll do whatever I can to keep that from happening. I'm really going to work on long tossing as much as I can while the weather is good here. Building arm strength and hopefully put some more velo on my fastball and work on command.
AC: Okay, gotta ask. There was a little story that came out last summer about a gem of a coach (Garnet Keller) in Canada who dressed players that looked like you for the last three games of the season, while you were at OU, so you could pitch in the playoffs for the team. This earned him a nice little three-year coaching suspension. What the heck was Keller doing?
You know, this is a crazy story - and one of which I was never able to tell my side of the story. I was playing in the Cape (Cod League) that year as a temp player and once everyone was there, my time was up. So I figured I would go home and have a relaxing summer with my family. About 3 weeks later I got a call from Coach Garnet Keller asking if I wanted to play for his team (the Melville Millionaires) in Canada. I told him I didn't have a passport and would have to pass. Well, he continued to call and said that he could get my passport to me within the week. So I thought, "Ok, I'll try Canada for the summer."
As the season came to an end, Coach Keller had approached me and told me to give him my passport - not thinking anything about it, I did. He later asked me to come to his house because he had paper work for me. As I got there he said that I was unable to play in the playoffs for his team, due to the fact that I missed the deadline. So he had gone online and made false documentation saying that I was there prior to when I really got there, and then went back to the books and put that I had played in 3 games earlier in the season to make me eligible. He had printed off the airline tickets with my name on it with earlier dates in the summer.
My hands were really tied and I could not tell him that I am not going to go through with this. He had my passport and all my papers. As the playoffs started the commissioner came to one of our games and wanted to talk to me. Keller insisted that it was nothing and to just tell him that I had been there the whole time and to just not worry about it. So needless to say, I was put in a bad situation and had really no way of getting out of it. He was the bad guy and he made it seem that I was in on it the whole time, and had been lying about the whole situation. It was a bad deal, and something like that will not happen again. I'm staying in the US from here on out.
Big thanks to Jason Chowning for his time.