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Q&A With Top Prospect Alex Cobb

It's likely no Rays prospect had a bigger impact on his stock during the 2010 season than the now 23-year-old right-hander Alex Cobb. Despite a late beginning to his season, Cobb finished the year with a 2.80 FIP and a 2.86 ERA for the Class AA Montgomery Biscuits over 22 starts, and he raised his strikeouts-per-nine to a career best 9.63. Recently added to the 40-man roster, Cobb figures to be a bright spot in the rotation for the Class AAA Durham Bulls in 2011. Alex agreed to spend some time answering questions from the inquiring minds in the Rays blogosphere. Thanks so much to Alex for putting in the time and providing us with valuable insight into the Rays' farm system philosophies and the mindset of an up-and-coming prospect.

DRB: A prominent statistical website rated you as the best pitcher in the 2010 Arizona Fall League. Did you go to Arizona with specific goals to work on in terms of pitch development? What are your takeaways from the experience?

Alex Cobb: Our pitching coordinator and I decided to try and work on developing a cutter for next season. I started to feel pretty comfortable throwing it towards the end. It was a great experience out there. I felt what it was like to face big league talent consistently throughout the line-up.

DRB: What's the best piece of advice you have received from a coach within the organization?

AC:  Slow the game down. When things start to go bad, I tend to work faster. Instead I should be taking my time and thinking about the situation. Also when I speed things up my mechanics are rushed, and I start working under the ball and my pitches are elevated.

DRB: The Tampa Bay roster and farm is loaded with pitching talent. What's it like sharing a staff with pitchers like Jake McGee and Alex Torres; was there any sense of competition?

AC:  Last year was a lot of fun. Every night I feel like we had a potential big leaguer on the mound. So, there wasn't really a competition with just those two. Every starter was trying to "one-up" the last starters outing. I think that's why so many guys had a successful year.

DRB: Founded in 2005. DRaysBay is home to "Progressive statistical analysis and reasoned argument." How much do you pay attention to your statistics from basic wins, losses and ERA to your lefty-right splits to defensive independent metrics like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)?  What kind of role do you think they should play in baseball?

AC: Honestly, I don't know what half those stats mean.   I look at my ERA, whip,  lefty vs righty avg, and K/BB ratio. I don't pay much attention to the rest. On the other hand, when it comes to scouting, it must serve some purpose or they wouldn't have so many.

DRB: Some feel it is a necessity for a minor league player to have success at all levels before being ready for the majors. That said, we've seen several cases where guys have flourished with little or no success past the Double-A level. Do you think each player should go through the normal progression level? Or should it be based on an individual's readiness/talent regardless of experience?

AC: For most players yes. I have learned something every year to make me a better and smarter pitcher. But there always those exceptions. A guy that is big league ready right out of the draft.

DRB: Your strikeouts per nine innings blossomed by nearly 2 full punchouts this year despite a jump in level. Was their a change in approach or pitch development that you can attribute this to?

AC: I think just having experience. Learning what I can get away with, how to expand the strike zone, and how to set hitters up.

DRB:  Can you point to any pitching philosophies or specific pitches that the organization uniformly preaches to all pitchers?

AC: Since the day I was drafted, they've preached fastballs down and away. I had some games in extended spring where all I was allowed to throw were fastballs.

DRB: The consensus says your best pitch is your changeup which immediately brings comparisons in the minds of Rays fans to James Shields. However its noted that your change up does not feature as large a velocity differential as Shields (8 MPH vs 6 MPH). Is this something you seek to improve on, or is it a different pitch entirely?

AC: I throw a split-change. For it to be effective, I rely on its action more than speed differential. If I run into problems with that, I'll learn to throw a more conventional one in the future.

DRB:  How often can overthinking or overthrowing present itself as a problem to a pitcher? Do you battle with nervous excitement each time you jump a level?

AC: Whenever you over-think or over-throw, you're going to have problems. One of the toughest things you have to learn at any level is to not let situations affect you.  I wouldn't say I'm nervous when I move up a level, but I am curious to see how the hitters are different.

DRB:  There has been much discussion over the past few seasons regarding the correlation between pitch counts and injuries. It's been noted that Nolan Ryan is a big believer in having pitchers long toss to help stretch out their arms and reduce the risk of injury. Do you personally long toss? Is this encouraged by the organization or up to the individual?

AC: I do like to long toss, more so in the off season when my arm is fresh. I think pitchers need to be able to know their own arm and what they need to do to keep it healthy and strong throughout an entire season.

DRB:  What specific developmental goals do you have this season in Durham? Is there one pitch you feel is missing or needing refining in your arsenal?

AC: I don't think that there is one particular pitch I need to focus entirely on.  More so just trying to consistently be able to throw every pitch I have in and out of the strike zone on command.

DRB:  How closely do you monitor organizational prospect lists? Do you follow publications like Baseball America, browse the blogosphere, or avoid them altogether?

AC: I don't follow them too closely, but they're fun to look at every once and a while to see how guys who I have played with in my/other organizations are doing.

DRB:  How does your approach vary versus left and right-handed batters?

AC: My approach doesn't vary too much in terms of lefty or righty as much as it does to the type of hitter I'm facing, such as a power guy vs. speed/contact.

Thanks again to Alex for taking the time to share with us!