I had a chance to talk to Daniel Garner, a catching prospect eligible for the 2012 MLB Draft who currently attends Sparkman High School in Madison, Alabama. I talked with Daniel about how he started playing baseball, how he plays the game, how he has improved over the years and especially in the past few months, and how he feels heading into the 2012 MLB Draft.
Robbie Knopf: Hi Daniel. This is Robbie.
Daniel Garner: Hey. How’s it going?
RK: It’s been going really well. How has your holiday been?
DG: It’s been great. How about yours?
RK: Mine has been going really well also. Do you want to just get straight down to business?
DG: Oh. Yes sir.
RK: OK, here we go. So let’s start from the very beginning. Daniel, at what age did you start playing baseball and when did you realize you had a chance to be a major league baseball player?
DG: I started playing around age 5 and playing in the major leagues has always been the goal since then. I started to realize I had a future in this game really when I first started to be recruited by SEC schools. I got my first offer in fall of my junior year.
RK: How did you end up playing the catching position? When you were young, did you always think of yourself as a catcher or was it a gradual process?
DG: I’ve always been told that catching was the fastest way to the major leagues so when I was eight years old I just put on the gear and I’ve just been catching ever since then.
RK: When you first stepped behind the plate as a young player, did it feel natural to you or has it been a really struggle to get comfortable and get as smooth at the position as you are now?
DG: Well, catching is the hardest position on the field by far. I’ve always loved to catch because you’re in the game and you’re in on really every play and you see the whole field and you’re directing traffic out there. It’s always been natural to me just like any other part of being on the field, but it’s been a tough position to play and I just have to keep working.
RK: When you’re behind the plate at catcher and you see the runner on first leading and then the pitcher delivers and he’s going, what’s running through your mind?
DG: Well it’s just about being smooth and getting a good transfer and just getting the ball there to second base as quickly as possible and trying to make as good a throw that I can.
RK: Lately you’ve been working with Rays catching coordinator Jamie Nelson, who lucky for you, happens to live close by to you. What have you been working on with him and how much has your defense improved since you began to work with him?
DG: We’ve just been going over the fundamentals of catching and just been improving everything about my game defensively. He really knows what he’s talking about. It’s not very often that you get to work with a professional catching coordinator so I feel very grateful to be able to work with him
RK: Let’s transition from Mr. Nelson, who is a catching coordinator you have worked with to a coach that you have really established a connection with. How did your connection to Coach John Cohen start? You’ve been attending his camps for a long time. How important were his camps to your development as a baseball player?
DG: I’ve been going to his camps since back in 5th grade when he was the coach at the University of Kentucky and I’ve always really loved the way he taught hitting and how he treated his players and then when he came to Mississippi State with their first-class facilities and their tradition and their whole catching staff, and then when he made an offer to me, I’ve always wanted to play over there and play for him in the SEC, so I just went ahead and committed.
RK: After you committed, Coach Cohen talked about you really worked hard to transform your body and get it into tip-top shape. At what point did it hit you that becoming a baseball player wasn’t going to be that easy and that you had to step up your work ethic?
DG: Well I’ve always worked really hard, and I’ve always liked to watch SEC players and players who got drafted around here, and I’ve went to these SEC games when I was little and saw how big those guys were and how physical they were so I realized that that was what I was going to have to be. It made me work hard all the way through.
RK: Daniel, you’ve had a really impressive high school career, but you didn’t start as a freshman. Did that really disappoint you? How did you react when you weren’t the starting catcher as a freshman at Sparkman High School?
DG: Well I would always start the second game of a doubleheader so I got a little bit of playing time, they say that high school baseball is really top notch and Alabama is really second to none so I wasn’t really too really too worried about it. I lettered and everything so I did get enough playing time. But then my sophomore year, I started playing every game.
RK: Did it take any time for you to get comfortable against the Alabama high school pitching which we know is truly tremendous?
DG: No, not really. I’ve always had confidence in my hitting ability to really hit against anybody in the country. Just from my travel ball team where we’d play East Cobb and everybody, so we’d play top notch pitching. I’ve played against top notch pitching my whole life, so really high school wasn’t much of a change.
RK: Speaking of top notch competition, how much pressure have you felt playing at some of the top prospect showcases the past four years?
DG: Really, none at all. I try not to put pressure on myself. I just go and do the best I can, and if people like me, and if they don’t, they don’t, but I just try to focus on what I can control and not what I can’t.
RK: Have you ever caught yourself comparing yourself with the other top talents at these events?
DG: Not really. I just try to like I said, control what I can control and make myself into the best player I can be. No matter what my competition is, I just have to focus on trying to be the best I can be.
RK: All of that being said, how much has your confidence risen considering how well you have done well at these events including winning a home run derby?
DG: Listen, it’s really good. It makes you feel great, competing and succeeding against the top players in the country.
RK: Let’s talk about your batting stance. You start in the back of the batter’s box before striding into an open stance. When did you start hitting from that stance?
DG: Really my 10th grade year.
RK: Especially since I’m a Rays writer, I have to notice that your stance is very similar to Evan Longoria‘s and you also happen to wear the number 3. Does that have anything to do with it at all?
DG: Not really. I’m a fan so I have watched film on him and how he does and he’s definitely one of top guys in the game, so he’s a great person to review his swing.
RK: How difficult has it been to get your timing right on your stride? It doesn’t seem to be an easy feat.
DG: Right. Sometimes I can get mess it up, but when I do time it up, the ball tends to go a long way.
RK: Yeah. That’s something I’ve seen from you. How have you matured as a hitter as the years have gone by?
DG: Just from the timing and being able to recognize to ball coming out of the hand of the pitcher and recognize the offspeed pitch and just swing at balls in my zone and not chase anything.
RK: People all around the country have seen your really nice power. Do you consider yourself a power hitter?
RG: Well, I mean, I guess so. I just consider myself a hitter. I just love to hit and hit for power and average. I just do whatever I can.
RK: So you’re stepping into the batter’s box. What are you thinking? Are you thinking about a home run or just thinking about hitting the ball hard somewhere?
DG: I swing as hard as I can every time, so I don’t get cheated when I’m hitting. I’m trying to look for a ball in my zone and I’m trying to drive it as hard as I can.
RK: People have noticed recently that you’re starting to hit to the opposite field a little bit more. Was that something that you made a conscious adjustment to do?
DG: Yes. I found that all good pitchers, they try to pitch low and away, so if that’s where the pitcher is going to throw it, you have to learn to make an adjustment and hit over there, to the opposite field. So I’ve been working on trying to stay through the middle of the field to get some hits.
RK: You have led your team in walks the past two years. How much of that is due to your eye at the plate and how much is just being more patient knowing that some of the pitchers are a little more careful with you?
DG: Well, it’s a little bit of both. I’m definitely just trying to hit my pitch, but you know that if they don’t pitch to me I can’t help that, and walks, they definitely help the team, so I try to get on anyway I can.
RK: The past few years, you have walked a lot more that you have struck out, but how does it feel to strike out? Do you get mad at yourself or do you see is as something that happens when you’re swinging so hard every time?
DG: It’s like you said. It bothers me, but I try to just focus on my next at-bat and try not get let what happened in the past affect my next at-bat. It’s going to happen because I try to swing hard, so I understand that that will happen. I don’t really get upset.
RK: Daniel, what part of your game do you take the most pride in and why?
DG: Well really, I’d say all the different parts of my game. I’d say hitting, driving in runs, and doing whatever I can to knock runs in, and on the defensive side, I just really do whatever I can to try to help the pitcher get better and helping him get outs.
RK: How are you approaching your senior season in high school? Do you feel pressure knowing that it’s your last chance to impress major league teams before the draft?
DG: No, not at all. I’m just going to go out there and play the best I can and I can’t control if they like me or not, so I’m just going to play as hard as I can, and the worst case scenario, I’m going to play in the SEC, the best conference in the country. I really can’t complain. It’s a win-win situation for me.
RK: So you’re excited as June and the MLB Draft approaches?
DG: Oh yeah, definitely. I can’t wait to see how things are going to work.
RK: How will you make your decision between signing with a major league organization or attending Mississippi State when the time comes?
DG: Well, I think really the scout and the organization will help make that decision for me based on how high I’m drafted, and I’m just going to sit down with my family and try to make whatever is the best decision for me.
RK: OK. Daniel, thanks so much. It was really a nice time talking with you and good luck as you look to finish your high school career and continue into the major leagues. Have a Happy Holidays.
DG: Thanks. You too.
It was a pleasant experience talking to Daniel and he’s a down-to-earth guy for a player with his talent. Here’s what I said about Garner in my series on the top catchers in the 2012 MLB Draft:
Daniel Garner (Sparkman High School, Alabama)
Info: 6-1, 195, 18 years old in January, committed to Mississippi State
Garner is a toolsy prospect who right now lacks the polish to be considered a top talent. Garner has very good bat speed with excellent raw power, and he accomplishes that with an Evan Longoria-esque stance where he starts in the back of the batter’s box and steps into an open stance as the pitcher enters his windup. But his long stride has occasionally messed up his timing, leading to swings and misses and weak contact, and he has shown holes in his swing that lead to concerns that he could strike out a lot as a pro. When everything is right in his swing, Garner looks like a great hitting prospect, but he’ll have to show more than just occasionally flashes of greatness to move up the draft boards.
Defensively, Garner has quick reflexes behind the plate and he gets rid of the ball very quickly on stolen base attempts. But his movements are often rushed, leading to some problems blocking balls in the dirt in addition to wildness on throws. Garner does possess a very good arm, so he needs trade a little of his pop time on stolen base attempts for some accuracy.
Evaluation: Garner has talent both offensively and defensively, but he has to get his mechanics right on both sides of the ball and display his talent consistently rather than in random intervals. Garner is a 6th to 8th round prospect right now, but he has the potential to rise with a steadier senior season. Especially since he swings like Longoria (just kidding), the Rays could look at Garner as a project worth undertaking. He has shown flashes of greatness, and if he can sustain that greatness he could be a nice prospect.
I really like Garner as a prospect, and I heard from him how he’s working hard to make the fine adjustments that he hopes will turn him from a good prospect into an exemplary baseball player. He’s among the many players to watch going into this spring as the 2012 MLB Draft slowly but surely approaches.