On Day 3 of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the New York Yankees selected Louisiana-Monroe right-handed reliever Keegan Curtis in the 22nd Round. Last week, I had the chance to talk to Curtis before he began his professional career. In the interview below, you will read about his full-time transition to the bullpen, which current Yankee is his favorite pitcher, and much more:
Ricky: You were selected by the Yankees in the 22nd Round. What was your draft day experience like and how did you find out that you were selected?
Keegan: I was actually babysitting my niece and nephew for my sister while she was at work. I was outside in the front yard with them playing wiffle ball and I came back inside to make everybody a drink…. I look down at my phone and saw my school manager calling me. I thought to myself what does Moose want? I answered the phone call and he immediately started blurting out congratulations.
I had no idea what he was talking about. He told me that I got drafted by the Yankees in the 22nd Round. He eventually convinced me, I thought he might have been messing with me because me and him always mess with each other. I hung up the phone, looked up and I had two missed calls from the Yankees. I immediately called them back and that’s how I found out.
R: You mentioned the good relationship you had with your coach. How was he a big impact on your development as a pitcher?
K: Coach Federico really prepared me for adversity. He would put you in situations with your back against the wall to see how you would respond to it. Are you going to back down and shrivel up or are you going to move off the ropes and keep swinging? I feel like that’s one of the bigger things he helped me with. He helped me with the mental side of the game and learning how to handle adversity. That taught me how to take my game to the next level.
R: Were the Yankees your favorite team growing up?
K: They were not actually. The Dodgers were because my dad grew up a Dodgers fan. I always told myself if my dad is a Dodgers fan, then I am a Dodgers fan.
R: Who were your favorite players?
K: My favorite players were not Dodgers. I would have to say growing up my favorite player was Chipper Jones. As I got older and started pitching and paying more attention to the game of baseball, my favorite player was Sonny Gray because he is a smaller body type guy like myself. He probably has a good 15 pounds on me, but that is something anybody can put on I feel like. That always just gave me hope to see him going up there and carving and dealing with the Athletics. Now that he’s with the Yankees, I just think that’s awesome.
R: If you had to give a scouting report on yourself, how would you describe your pitch arsenal?
K: Fastball (low to mid 90’s), a slider that can be thrown in any count and any kind of situation, a curveball that has good late depth to it, very hard spin, and I would definitely say that I am an athletic pitcher. I can pop off the mound pretty well when it comes to handling the bunt game and small ball situations.
R: You mentioned that one of your favorite pitchers to watch is Sonny Gray. When you look at the way he pitches, is that a guy you try to model your style after?
K: Not necessarily. Maybe his mentality and his mound presence is something I try to mimic because I feel like that whenever he’s on the mound that he’s the most feared player on the field at that moment.
R: This past season, you were exclusively in the bullpen. How was it making the adjustment to being solely a reliever even though you had pitched out of the bullpen before?
K: It was actually awesome. That’s where I belong. I truly believe that. I can come out of the bullpen and be my high energetic, uptempo self. I don’t necessarily have to pace myself like you would have to as a starter for 6,7,8 innings. I can come in and be energetic and high-tempo for six outs and that’s what I enjoyed. I love being able to play more than once or twice a week. I like being out there for 2-3 times a series depending on the situation and things like that.
R: What was the biggest improvement that you think you made from last season to this past season?
K: I would definitely say my mental aspect of the game would be my biggest improvement. Also, my fastball location and command. I felt like I was very good at commanding my fastball all season to both sides of the plate. Then, I would say my best improvement would be my new slider. I got taught a different slider grip in the fall from my coach and he showed me some videos of Clayton Kershaw on how he would throw his curveball compared to his slider. I would always think of that in my head whenever I threw my slider and it eventually became my out pitch. It’s got good depth and it moves late.
R: You played your home games at Warhawk Field while you were at Louisiana-Monroe. Can you tell us something about the atmosphere of those games?
K: Down the right field line, we have a bunch of grills. Around the third or fourth inning, you would start to see the smoke of those grills out towards left field. That was one of the coolest things for me especially when it was a night game seeing the smoke making its way across the field. Our stadium is built up and its an older stadium so it kind of feels like you are playing underground almost. Another thing is the city of Monroe, whenever you are winning and they see the program is doing well, fans are going to have your back and support you in everything.
R: What are your expectations as you head into your first professional season?
K: My expectations would be to stay in the back end of the bullpen, to put on a few more pounds, to try to gain a little bit more velocity on my fastball. I’d like to work a little more on my curveball command. My curveball is good, but sometimes I do struggle with landing it for a strike occasionally.