In the 6th Round of the 2018 MLB Draft, the New York Yankees selected North Carolina right-hander Rodney Hutchison Jr. It is the first time the team has drafted a pitcher out of UNC since 2009 (Adam Warren – 4th Round). Before the Tar Heels started their Super Regionals matchup against Stetson, we talked with Hutchison Jr. about his draft experience and much more:
Ricky: What was your draft day experience like? Where were you when you found out the Yankees were going to select you in the 6th round?
Rodney: The experience was awesome. It was kind of hectic. We had an early practice and we were just finishing up. I had my phone in the dugout and I started getting calls finding out about possibilities with teams. Then, I found out about 15-16 picks ahead that I was going to be a Yankee. I didn’t want to take the focus away from what was going on with the team but I was also very excited because I knew and I didn’t want to tell anyone yet.
Once I knew that I was a Yankee, it was the best feeling ever for it to officially come out on the draft tracker and for my agent to call me and say it was a done deal. I was with all my teammates in the locker room and they turned it on the speaker in the locker room. We all celebrated together. It was definitely one of the best moments of my life especially growing up a Yankees fan and idolizing them. My whole family is Yankees fans.
Ricky: Did you have a favorite player on the Yankees when you were growing up?
Rodney: Derek Jeter. He was the driving force behind me and my family’s love for the Yankees. I am from Cincinnati, but we were always Yankees fans. We liked the Reds, but we were always Yankees fans because of Jeter. Just how first class the Yankees are, they do things the right way, the history behind them. Jeter was the role model for me.
Ricky: As somebody getting drafted, how tough is it to balance one of the moments of your life while also having to keep the focus on the best-of-three series this weekend that could get your team into the College World Series?
Rodney: It wasn’t too difficult. It definitely weighs on your mind a little just with the uncertainty of where you are going to go and who is going to draft you and where.
Before draft day, there are so many unknowns that it really didn’t bother me. I just try to go out there and pitch the best I could and give my team a chance to win. When it came to draft day, that was the only time I had to focus on it a little. After the draft, finding out where I went, the Yankees, the round and everything, it’s a relief for it to be done and now I can fully focus on the Super Regionals and hopefully the ultimate goal of getting to Omaha. It was an enjoyable process but I’m definitely relieved that its over.
Ricky: How much communication did you have with the Yankees throughout the process?
Rodney: Not too much. The scouts check in and ask about signability and we have our early spring meetings with them. It wasn’t anything crazy. I remember my meeting with them in early spring went really well. I kind of was excited if it worked out with them. There wasn’t too much communication. It was more of them following up with me and seeing how I am doing. It all worked out in the end. I am a Yankee, so I’m happy.
Ricky: Who were some of your favorite pitchers to watch and which pitcher do you say in the majors is similar to how you pitch?
Rodney: When it comes to my delivery, my arm slot, I kind of see a little bit of Andrew Miller and Max Scherzer. I really like watching Scherzer compete and how he handles himself on the mound. He’s really competitive. You can tell he enjoys being out there and competing.
I also like watching Marcus Stroman because I like the guys who have a little competitive edge to them. I like to look at a lot of different pitchers and take different things from them. At the end of the day, I want to be me out there and try to be myself and different from the others.
Ricky: If you had to give a scouting report of yourself, how would you describe your pitch arsenal?
Rodney: I would say I am fastball heavy. I really like my two-seamer or sinker. I mix it in with a changeup, slider. I will mix with my slider grips and sometimes throw it a little harder, get a little less movement and more velocity on it, maneuver it into a cutter.
My go-to pitch this summer in the Cape and one I have been good at this year is attacking hitters with my two-seamer. Letting the movement work and ultimately just trying to get outs. Not getting them off easy with walks and pounding the zone and taking my chances with it.
Ricky: Throughout your time at North Carolina, you have been a starter and a reliever. How has that adjustment been for you to go to different roles?
Rodney: It’s definitely not been easy. There are two totally different mindsets. As a starter, it is a little more routine based, a little more long term. As a reliever, it is very kind of spontaneous. You don’t necessarily know when you are going in. The mindset is a little more short-stint. You kind of just go out there and let it rip. It’s two totally different approaches to it, but I’ve enjoyed both.
I don’t know what I will do with pro ball so whatever it is going to win me games here at North Carolina and in the Yankees organization, I am going to do. They are both very different but I have enjoyed them both and I think both of them have made me better.
Ricky: Last summer, you pitched in the Cape Cod League for the Chatham Anglers? What was that experience like and what did you take away from it going into this year?
Rodney: The Cape was awesome. It is definitely the cream of the crop when it comes to college baseball. I learned a lot up there. I feel like I really found myself up there as a reliever when it comes to routine and how to attack high-level hitters.
I really enjoyed the wood bats up there because I could really use my two-seam and find some knobs and caps and break some bats. It’s a little different approach with wood bats but it was easily the best summer of my life. I performed well. All in all, it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
Ricky: On March 13, you threw a complete game shutout against North Carolina A&T. Take us back to that start and talk about which pitches were working on that day?
Rodney: That was a breakthrough performance for me. I started the year really slow. That game, I got back to my two-seam fastball which like I said what worked for me up in the Cape and what has worked for me in the second half of this season. Before that, I was pitching backwards a lot instead of just going at hitters and doing what I do best, which is using my velocity and movement.
A&T was a very aggressive team and I just got ahead early and pounding the zone early helped me. Pitching to contact, which allowed me to go all nine innings and have that complete game. It was one of the breakthrough moments of the season.
Ricky: Did it help you going into regionals that you had pitched against that opponent earlier in the season?
Rodney: Yes, just knowing I had success against them early. Coming in as a reliever, I can really let it eat for an inning knowing I’m not going to be in there forever. It was kind of like a little bullpen, just getting some work in, trying to get better and stay sharp for the later days in that regional. It was good.
Ricky: How do you think pitching in the ACC will help you prepare for professional baseball?
Rodney: The ACC I think is arguably the best conference in college baseball. It’s the cream of the crop. I think it will definitely carry over to pro ball especially if I know I can be successful and get hitters out with metal bats. I’m very confident that I can do that consistently with wood bats. Coming from high school, it was a big jump, but I’ve learned a lot and I think it’s definitely prepared me for the next level.
Ricky: We know about the intensity of the UNC-Duke basketball rivalry. How intense is it from a baseball standpoint? (Note: Duke and UNC are the only two ACC teams left in the NCAA Tournament).
Rodney: It’s definitely intense. The triangle area outside of that with Wake Forest, Duke, NC State. It takes it to a different level when we are against the teams that are close by. There’s definitely a rivalry and especially with Duke, we are only 8-9 miles apart. It definitely goes up a notch when we play them, NC State, Wake Forest. I know basketball is known for the big rivalry, but I think it applies to baseball too.
Ricky: As your team heads into Super Regionals against Stetson, what is going to be the key for your team to advance to the College World Series?
Rodney: They have a couple of good arms and I think if our hitters can find ways to get runs, I am confident in our staff to hold them to minimal runs. I think if we just do what we have done all year and pound the zone, eliminate free bases. If the hitters make them work, I think we will be just fine.
Ricky: Being a Yankees fan, have you been to Yankee Stadium before?
Rodney: I have been to the old stadium. I was probably 7 or 8 and I went up there with my whole family. It was awesome and growing up a Yankees fan, idolizing Jeter, to walk into Yankee Stadium and see the history behind it and the pinstripes, it’s definitely something I will never forget. I fell in love with them then and I have been a huge Yankees fan ever since.