You would be hard-pressed to find any young professional baseball players who’d say their path to the major leagues is easy. However, the road can be a lot bumpier for some players than others, and Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Josh Poytress had to overcome a major obstacle to even get to the point where he could be drafted.
Poytress was a well-regarded left-handed pitcher coming out of high school in Fowler, California in 2008. The Houston Astros selected him in the 16th round of that year’s draft, but feeling that college would do him good, he passed on signing to attend Cal State Fresno.
While playing in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2009, Poytress experienced discomfort and numbness in his arm, which ended up being diagnosed as a life threatening blood clot.
After grueling medical procedures and rehab, Poytress was able to beat the clot. He even successfully returned to school at Fresno, highlighted by his junior season, when he went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA.
In 2011 the Pirates chose Poytress in the 18th round of the draft. Upon signing, he was sent to the minors to work exclusively as a reliever. He’s pitched well in his first two professional seasons, but especially shone this past year. He appeared in a combined 26 games between three different levels, and went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA. More information about his statistics is available at BaseballReference.
Prior to the 2012 season I was able to exchange emails with the southpaw prospect. Check out what this future Buc had to say about himself and his time in baseball.
Josh Poytress Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Boston Red Sox, and my favorite player was Nomar Garciaparra. I really liked the history of the Red Sox and the Curse and all that, and I really liked how Nomar played and how great of an athlete he was. Since I played shortstop when I was seven I wanted to be like him, until I found out left-handed people don’t do anything but pitch and play outfield.
Can you run through what your draft experience was like?: I was really excited to get drafted because I felt that my college career was done and I felt ready to go pro. Coming up to the draft I got really anxious to see where I would go, and sat down with my parents to watch the draft on tv, and prepare for the next day- when I figured I’d get drafted. I was told I was going to go sooner than I did, so when I didn’t get any phone calls deeper into the draft, I got really antsy and decided to go for a drive to the store to get something to drink. That’s when I got the call, so I pulled over and answered the phone and was excited to hear that the Pirates were going to take me. It was a much different experience from getting taken out of high school.
How did you determine that you wouldn’t sign with the Astros after being drafted by them in 2008?: Coming out of my senior year and into the draft I had some complications with my arm that sat me out for most of the season. So when they drafted me and told me they wanted to do a draft and follow over the summer, I felt I had time to show what I was worth. I did well, but not like I had the previous year before, and didn’t get offered what I wanted to skip college. So I decided that I had three years to get back to where I was and possibly go higher and see who would take a chance on me.
Can you talk a little bit about how challenging it was to come back from the blood clot in 2009?: After all the surgeries, I was finally cleared to come home in August, but I still had a lot of time before they said I could start activity. I wasn’t supposed to start anything until October, but I felt healthy enough to start running and working on cardio and try to get into some sort of shape in early September. After one more check-up I was cleared to throw, and I had to learn how to throw again. I had lost over 25 pounds from the hospitalization and my muscles shrunk on my left arm immensely. So I kept rehabbing and throwing and running, hoping to be ready for the season in February.
I started playing catch in early December, and by January I threw my first bullpen. It was definitely bad, since it had been basically a new experience with how my body was set up now. I was a lot more tired from everything and I knew that I had to get better to be ready for college hitters. I ended up coming out of the pen Opening Day and starting that Sunday, but I still wasn’t even close to 100%. I was maybe 60% back and I could feel it every day. I didn’t ever really get fully recovered that season, and it took a toll on my arm towards the end of the season. I got to take the summer off after the season, and that’s when I finally felt I was as close to normal as I could get.
What pitches do you throw, and which one is your strongest and which one needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam fastball, circle change, and slurve. If you asked me in college what my best pitch was, I would have said fastball, but recently my changeup has been hands down my best pitch. It went from my worst to my best in about two weeks of pro ball. Now I would say that I need to work more on my curveball. I wasn’t allowed to throw it at Fresno State, but I brought it back instead of a cutter because it is a lot more effective; I just have to get it back into form.
After you signed, what is something you did or bought for yourself or your family/friends to celebrate?: After I signed we all went out to eat at a teppanyaki restaurant to celebrate. I had to wait until September for my bonus to come in, and I used most of it to buy the first car I’ve ever owned, a 2011 Toyota Tacoma.
What are the most important things you think you took away from your first professional season?: The most important thing I took away was how everyone was really on an even playing field. That no one person was miles ahead of anyone else. I had to learn how to pitch even better then I did in college because all the hitters are good and I can’t sneak balls by people. I don’t throw as hard as a lot of guys, so I used a lot of speed changes to be more effective. Basically I just learned how to be a better overall pitcher and how to attack hitters in a way I couldn’t in college.
Do you have any interest in baseball history, and if so, what is the extent of your knowledge?: I have an interest per se, but I have never taken the time to really look a lot of stuff up. I’ll listen to someone talk about stuff like that, but I don’t really look it up for myself. I don’t know very much history, which is something I’m a little ashamed of.