T.R. Sullivan, texasrangers.com and mlb.com editorial writer, interviewed Rangers Minor Leaguers Justin Smoak, Andrew Laughter, and Marcus Lemon for the Rangers March Web Chat.
The following is a transcript version of the video. *Some content in this transcript may have been changed to provide constancy in the conversation.
TR: Hi, I'm T.R. Sullivan in Surprise, Arizona here with the latest version of the Rangers web chat and we're joined today with Rangers first round draft pick, Justin Smoak. Justin, welcome. How is the first camp going for you?
Justin: It's going great. It's a dream come true to be at your first Spring Training camp and your first big league camp. I've really enjoyed the time so far.
TR: Great, of course, we have questions from our fans and the first one:
Are you happy you're with the Texas Rangers, and how do feel about being their number 1 draft pick in 2008? Question submitted by: Kevin
Justin: I'm very excited to be with the Rangers. From day one, I've been here and they've brought me in well. They've taught me a lot of things and I've very excited to be with the Rangers.
TR: You know you get to work with Rudy Jaramillo, considered one of the best hitting coaches in baseball. How much has he worked with you so far and what have you focused on?
Justin: I work with him a lot. He's taught me a lot of things I didn't know about hitting. The biggest thing we've worked on is timing. That's the biggest thing with me being a young player. I've very excited to be here with him.
TR: Justin you are so cute and I was just wondering if you were single or has some girl already got the perfect catch? Question submitted by: Holly
Justin: Well, Holly, I'm sorry, I've had a girlfriend for a while now and hopefully she has the perfect catch.
TR: Would you say go to college or straight from high school to pro? Question submitted by: Trent
Justin: Being a college guy, I would have to say go to college. I had a chance to go out of high school and play professional baseball and buy going to college, I've matured more, not just as a player but as a person. I would definitely prefer going to college.
TR: Who drafted you out of high school?
Justin: Oakland A's
TR: So you could have been over with the Athletics this morning instead of with the Rangers?
TR: I guess we need to go back to question 1.
TR: What techniques have you worked on this spring as far as your play in the field? Question submitted by: Joanne
Justin: Everything defensively, that's one thing I've focused on since I've been out here. Dave Anderson and Ron Washington have brought me along defensively and I feel like I've gotten a lot better.
TR: Have you always been a first baseman? Have you ever played the outfield or any other position?
Justin: I've always played first.
TR: Have you ever pitched?
Justin: Pitched in high school and it didn't work out too well.
TR: How hard could you throw? I bet you could bring it at least.
Justin: No I couldn't. I was a soft toss. I'd top out at maybe 83 [mph].
TR: My son would like to know at what age did you start playing select ball and what team you played for? What kind of hitting drills did you do as younger player to develop your powerful swing? Question submitted by: Charlie
Justin: I started playing select ball, we call it AU in South Carolina, with the Diamond Devils and that was my freshman year of high school. I really enjoyed that time. As far as hitting drills, I've been working with Rudy on timing, when my foot lands, my hands are back. When those things happen, things stay on par. Just stuff that you work on everyday and hopefully you get better at.
TR: At what age did you start playing baseball in a uniform?
TR: Do you remember your first homerun?
Justin: I think I was 9 or 10.
TR: It took you 5 years to hit a homerun?
Justin: I was in t-ball and coach pitch before. I wasn't a big guy going into high school and I hit my growth spurt my sophomore year of high school.
TR: What about your first homerun last year, in professional baseball? Where were you and when did it happen?
Justin: I was in Clinton and I think it was my 3rd or 4th game there and hit it to right center field. It was a good feeling to get it out of the way. Everyone was saying 'you're a power hitter, you've gotta do this' and to finally get the first one out of the way, it was great.
TR: When are you going to hit your first homerun for the Rangers?
Justin: I couldn't tell you, whenever I get the chance. Right now, I'm just enjoying my time here and looking forward to the season.
TR: Justin, thank you very much. That's Justin Smoak with the Texas Rangers and we'll be back with more video web chats on texasrangers.com.
TR: We are joined with Texas Rangers Minor League pitcher, Andrew Laughter. Andrew, thank you for joining us.
Andrew: Thanks for having me.
TR: You're here in Spring Training; you're chasing a big league dream. It's got to be a special feeling for you to just be involved in all of this and going after that dream.
Andrew: Its fun, coming out here and seeing the big league game start, seeing the guys up there hitting live pitching, it's really exciting and where you want to be. It's the ultimate goal.
TR: Andrew is a reliever for the Rangers, one of their top relief prospects. How do you feel about relieving? I know a lot of guys want to be starters, want to be Roger Clements. How do you feel about working in relief?
Andrew: I like coming in late in the game with the adrenalin rush. I'm not really a long distance kind of pitcher; I'm more of a sprint guy. Go in and throw one or two innings and go full boar.
TR: Being that you were all conference in football and baseball, what influenced your decision to go pro in baseball? Question submitted by: Meredith
Andrew: I just wasn't as big as I am now in high school (about 200 pounds, 6'4"). I just wanted to play college baseball instead. If I had been around 230 [pound], it would have been a different story, I might have played college football. Baseball just seemed to be in the cards more.
TR: Where did you go to high school?
Andrew: Lake Brantley High School
TR: And that is where? Andrew: It's in Altamonte Springs, Florida, north of Orland.
TR: And you ended up playing baseball at Louisiana-Lafayette, what kind of experience was it like playing down there?
Andrew: Awesome, I love those people in that part of the country. I'm a big fan of the state of Louisiana.
TR: Mel Didier, Rangers Scout, used to coach at Louisiana-Lafayette many, many years ago.
My son is a junior in high school and he loves baseball. He has such passion and how do you keep them up when coaches are riding them all the time? Thank you for your time. Big time Ranger fan Question submitted by: Cheryl
Andrew: Make sure you're having fun. I say the biggest key as a kid is to make sure you keep the game fun. It's really easy these days to let that slip away because the parents have such an influence in wanting the kids to be this perfect baseball player. And the kids just stop having fun and get burned out. I think as long as you're having fun that's all that matters. They'll get better on their own and if it's meant to be, it's meant to be.
TR: What were the best things about pitching in Frisco? Question submitted by: Kelly
Andrew: The ballpark is nice. The fan, we get good fan attendance there. The whole city of Frisco is a great place to be, especially after playing in the smaller cities with A ball. Then you get to Frisco, and it's this large scale, nice city, great people there. That's what I like most about Frisco.
TR: Interesting thing about Frisco, everyone knows it's only 45 minutes from Arlington and it's a northern suburb of Dallas. The thing that most intrigues me is that most of the time, the double A team will be half way across the country but this one is only 45 minutes away. What kind of feeling is that knowing that you're just 45 minutes from that ballpark and you could tell the coaches that you could be there in 45 minutes if you need me?
Andrew: It's awesome. Especially because you see a couple of guys get that call up and they're driving there. They are there that night at the hotel. Not only that, but on an off day you can go over there and check out a game.
TR: What did you do at the pitchers' minicamp and what was it like to work with Mike Maddux? Question submitted by: Dave
Andrew: I enjoy working with Mike a lot. He's a very personable guy, always joking around, but he's really smart. He's taught me a lot with the mental stuff. I've learned a lot from him.
TR: Why did you decide to become a pitcher instead of playing another position? Good luck in 2009. Question submitted by: Missi
Andrew: I could throw harder than I could hit. I wasn't as good a hitter as I was a pitcher.
TR: When you look at relief pitchers, is there a certain pitcher that you watch out there and say "that could be me" or "that's the kind of guy I want to be"?
Andrew: I like watching [Jonathan] Papelbon pitch. I like how intense he is. Brad Penny, [Brad] Lidge, a lot of the late inning guys that come in and throw hard with a lot of adrenaline stuff.
TR: You have to have nerves of steel pitching in that 9th inning. That one run lead there in Arlington, place is packed, what do you think? Can you handle it?
Andrew: Yeah, I like it.
TR: That's Rangers Minor League Relief Pitcher, Andrew Laughter. Great prospect and we're looking forward to seeing you in Arlington.
TR: We're joined today by the outstanding young infield prospect for the Texas Rangers, Marcus Lemon. I noticed that Spring Training is big for everybody, especially young minor leaguers who want to make an impression on the front office, minor league personnel, and everyone else in the organization.
Marcus: Yes, sir.
TR: How do you approach Spring Training?
Marcus: I approach it by being prepare, being ready to go. Getting ready for the next season, but coming somewhat in shape so they have something to work with.
TR: How will playing different positions in the infield be good for your chances of making the Major Leagues? Question submitted by: Maddie
Marcus: I think it will help, well, a good example from last year is, I came to Spring Training and there were a couple of big league games where they asked some of the minor leaguers to come up and that day, they needed a second baseman. I had never played second [base] before and when I came up, they were like 'we don't want to take a chance to risk injury being in a spot you've never been.' So it helped me by giving me more opportunities to be in other places and back up other guys.
TR: You were drafted as a shortstop, but now you're playing second, short, how much third are you playing?
Marcus: Haven't touched 3rd yet. But they told me, most of the time if you can play shortstop, a main position, you're pretty versatile to play either one.
TR: A lot of great infielders with the Rangers, of course the Rangers have a tradition over the past 5-1o years of having some outstanding infielders. And Emily wants to know: Will you enjoy working with all-stars such Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, and Michael Young? Question submitted by: Emily
Marcus: I would be honored. The little bit of time that I spent with them last year, they are great guys, and they welcome you. It's just and honor to be with guys that have played in the big leagues and have had success. I'm ready to learn from them.
TR: One of the things Marcus is talking about was playing in the Major League Spring Training game. He is not on the Major League Spring Training roster but all minor leaguers can be brought over to the major league camp to play late in games during the exhibition season to give other guys a rest.
You've done that a couple of times. Is that fun for you to get out there in the major league game?
Andrew: It's awesome and pretty fun. At first, I didn't know what to expect going over there last year. The guys are real nice, they welcome you with open arms, and it's a great feeling and you don't want to leave when you go over there.
TR: Marcus is the son of former Major League Center Fielder, Chet Lemon, an outstanding Outfielder for the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, outstanding defensively. How did you become an infielder if your dad was an outfielder?
Marcus: I'm not sure if too many people know this, but my dad was actually drafted as a shortstop. He started as a shortstop and he had a good story to tell - when he was brought up, they moved him to third [base], and the way he tells the story, a ground ball was hit up the middle, he cut in front of the shortstop and the second baseman to throw the ball and his head coach said you in the outfield will take a 1,000 fly balls and won't come back into the infield.
TR: How did growing up with a dad who played baseball affect your love for the game? Question submitted by: Stanley
Andrew: Honestly, I don't think it changed the way I feel about baseball. Honestly, my dad was really easy going with it and never forced me into it. My dad was also my coach and we had our debates every now and then, but said if I don't love it or don't want to do it, he would support me in anything I wanted to do. If I wanted to be a police officer or fireman or go to school, he would support it. It was real easy for me to develop my own love for the game.
TR: Your father retired when you were about 4 years old. Have you been able to go to back and look at old videos or tapes of your dad playing and see how good he was?
Andrew: Yes, sir. I've been able to go back and watch some film. I actually enjoy watching because I never had the opportunity to go to games and experience it. There is one film I absolutely love where he did a commercial. It was actually a clip that was taken from the game - he was running back and he had the flip glasses and flipped it down and he said "I bet you think this ball is going out of here" and he said "I don't think so" and he runs back, jumps the fence and robs the homerun and as he's running in he says "that's what they pay me for." I love it. It's really cool to see that my dad was a professional athlete and it brings me the realization that we have a celebrity in the house.
TR: Some of us are a little older and we do remember Chet Lemon. He definitely could play the game and he could definitely go get the baseball.
When you were drafted, you had the option to go to college or sign with the Rangers. Why did you pick the Rangers? Question submitted by: Alan
Marcus: The opportunity to fulfill my dream at an earlier age and everything lined up pretty well. They made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. My dad and my family discussed it and my mom was a student, never played any sports, she went to the University of Michigan. From her stand point, she said you can always go back to school; you're young right now, while you're young, go for your dream. If it doesn't work out you can always go back.
TR: What goals do you have for the 2009 season? Question submitted by: Mia
Marcus: Wherever I am, wherever they put me, my first goal is to help my team win any possible way I can. Hopefully over all, just to keep making improvements to better myself and continue moving forward.
TR: Where did you play last year?
Marcus: Bakersfield, high A.
TR: I'm sure you're hoping for double A Frisco.
Marcus: That would be nice.
TR: We'll look forward to seeing you up there in Frisco then and then eventually up here in the Major Leagues.
That's Marcus Lemon, Rangers outstanding minor league infield prospect.
Submit your questions for Rangers president Nolan Ryan before April 8 at midnight CT and tune in to texasrangers.com on April 22 at 2 p.m. to watch or read President's Q&A.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.