March 8, 2010 at 7:30 AM
This year's Q&A schedule kicks off with Drake Britton, presently the 28th-ranked prospect in the organization by SoxProspects.com. Britton was selected by the Red Sox in the 23rd round of the 2007 draft out of Tomball High School in Texas. He signed late in 2007, ultimately making his pro debut with Lowell in June 2008 at the age of 19. But Britton pitched in only eight games for the Spinners that season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound in late 2009, putting up a 0.77 ERA and striking out 19 batters in 11.2 innings for the GCL Red Sox and Lowell Spinners. Look for the 20-year-old to break camp with Greenville this season. Special thanks to Drake for taking time out of his spring training schedule to answer some of my questions.
Mike Andrews: What was your experience like being drafted and signed by the Red Sox as a well-regarded "tough sign" prep player? Do you think you slipped to the 23rd round because of your commitment to Texas A&M?
Drake Britton: It was a very good experience. I have never been involved with anything like that before, but it was very exciting. I think that my commitment to A&M could have definitely been a good reason why I fell so far in the draft.
MA: You seemed to have had a bit of an adjustment period in your first full pro season. What did you take away from your time in Fort Myers and with the Spinners in 2008?
DB: It took me awhile to get used to professional ball - as you know it's a bit different from high school baseball. I got a lot of good things out of the 2008 season - I was taught different techniques to allow me to better my game by the coaching staff down in Florida, as well as when I got to Lowell. I think the main thing I got out of the 2008 season was just how to learn the game, and how to be able to soak in as much information as I could to get adjusted.
MA: How did your injury come about that season?
DB: I've always had aches and pains in my arm before - it's just part of being a pitcher. But the big pop in my elbow happened on September 23, 2008. I was in the second inning. I threw a changeup and felt a pain like I have never felt before. The pain went away after a few minutes, and I returned to the mound for the third inning and I continued to throw until the fifth inning with relatively no pain at all. I wasn't very concerned at first, but than the next day i could not even grip a baseball and then I knew it was a big problem. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later I was told that I needed Tommy John surgery.
MA: You returned to game action faster than most players do from Tommy John surgery. What was the rehab process like for you? What was the timetable for the milestones on your way back to the mound like starting physical therapy, throwing, and pitching off the mound? How long did it take to get a feel back for your pitches, your velocity, and your control?
DB: The rehab process was not easy at all - at times it felt like I was never going get better. But [Minor League Physical Therapist] Chip Simpson was in charge of my rehab process, and he got me back to better than I was before I had the surgery. The timetable was very strict, I immediately started doing things a couple of days after I had the surgery, nothing big of course, but rehab started for me as soon as I returned to Fort Myers. After about four months I started my throwing program and everything felt great. Then after about two months of the throwing program I got back on the mound with limited throwing. A little after that, I started getting in regular bullpen sessions. I pitched in my first game down in Fort Myers about 10 months after surgery. My velocity was way above what it was before I had Tommy John, but it took me much longer to get a feel back for my command and my pitches.
MA: We clocked your fastball at 95 mph last year in Lowell, and even heard that you were hitting 97 mph here and there. Were you ever hitting those velocities before your surgery? If not, any explanation for the increase?
DB: I got up to 94 mph one time in the 2008 season, but it took a lot of effort to run it up that high. Other than that this is the hardest I have thrown in my entire life. As I returned to the mound, the ball felt like it was exploding out of my hand and there's no doubt in my mind that my velocity is higher because of my hard work in the training room and Chip Simpson's hard work helping me there.
MA: Aside from the injury, can you generally compare your experiences in game action between 2008 and 2009? What worked better for you in 2009? Did your mentality change at all?
DB: In the 2008 season I was unsure of my ability to compete at that level at a young age. I was nervous and didn't trust my stuff. That did not help me at all. In the 2009 season my mentality was very different. I felt confident on the mound and I wasn't afraid to attack hitters. That mentality worked for me, so I will continue to be aggressive on the mound.
MA: How is your spring going so far? Do you feel like you are truly all the way back from your surgery, or are things still coming back to you?
DB: Spring training is going very well right now. I am getting my full control back, but other than that I absolutely feel that I am 100% back from surgery.
MA: What are your goals for 2010? What areas of your game are you focusing on improving this year?
DB: I'm working on being more consistent, being able to repeat my delivery over and over again, and being able to throw my secondary pitches for strikes (as well as I throw my fastball for strikes).
MA: Last year we noted that you were throwing a fastball, a curveball, and a few changeups in Lowell. Do you throw any other pitches? How is your changeup coming along?
DB: Those are the only three pitches that I throw. I'm finally starting to get a feel for my changeup, and I'm just becoming more comfortable being able to throw it for strikes.
MA: What one teammate has impressed you the most since you joined the organization?
DB: I want to mention two former teammates, both of whom were traded last year - Nick Hagadone and Hunter Strickland. These guys are extremely hard workers and really good friends of mine. Just watching them helped me tremendously to have the work ethic and the passion for the game that I have today.