Smalley was a Midwest League All-Star.
One of the best performances of any pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization this season has belonged to right-hander Kenneth Smalley, who has a 7-3 record and a 2.32 ERA for the Low-A Kane County Cougars. David Malamut caught-up with Smalley this weekend for a Q&A…
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Kenneth Smalley moved from starting the season in the bullpen to the rotation in May and has not looked back. He is currently 7-3 with a 2.32 ERA in 19 games for Kane County. In 77.2 innings, he has struck-out 74 batters and has held Midwest League batters to a .204 average.
Smalley has found a lot of success since being drafted by the A’s in the 24th round of the 2008 draft. In his first pro season, Smalley was 5-1 with a 3.07 ERA in 29.1 innings (all in relief) for the short-season Vancouver Canadians. Smalley’s success has continued into this season, and other coaches and teams have begun to notice. He recently was the starting pitcher in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
David Malamut spoke to Smalley, who grew up not far from the home of the Kane County Cougars, on Saturday about playing in front of friends and family, his goals for the season and more…
David Malamut: How did growing up in the Geneva area get you ready for playing ball in the early part of the year?
Kenneth Smalley: Better, it was more comfortable being at home. I’m pretty lucky and it is a great experience.
DM: What pitches do you throw?
KS: Fastball, change up, slider and curveball. Mostly fastball and change up.
DM: What do you want those pitches to ultimately do?
KS: I pitch off my fastball, but the change up usually gets people out in front, forcing contact. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s usually the goal of pitching.
DM: What is your out pitch?
KS: Change up.
DM: What is your mentality on the mound?
KS: Really just trying to battle, trying to give our team a chance to win. And put us in the best place to win.
DM: How has working with Jimmy Escalante (Cougars pitching coach) last year (in Vancouver) affected your performance this year?
KS: It’s good, somebody I was familiar with from last year. It’s cool that he got moved up here with me. We have a pretty good understanding of each other now being with each other for the second year.
DM: What did you learn from playing at Logan Community College (in Illinois)?
KS: The pitching coach there, Jerry Halsted, is good. He played pro ball and has been a scout for a lot of years. He really knows what he is talking about, so I really learned a lot from him, a lot about the mental side of the game.
DM: What did you learn at Delta State?
KS: There more the coaches really tried to refine us, tried to make us better pitchers. They wanted us to just throw more strikes. I learned a lot about battling and forcing contact, stuff like that.
DM: What did you learn from playing in Vancouver last year, and how has that helped you this year?
KS: Making the switch from college to pro ball, the switch from metal to wooden bats, learning to throw more strikes and really popping the ’zone because you are pitching to wood bats now. Really trying to force contact with the wood bats.
DM: When first from going from metal to wood, were you afraid of the contact?
KS: No, at first it helps you to force contact because you’re not afraid of the metal bat anymore. You learn to throw more strikes. You can’t walk people in pro ball. Mistakes get hurt easy.
DM: Has playing near home in your first pro season helped you pitching-wise?
KS: Anywhere I’d be, I’d still have the same mentality but obviously I’m more comfortable at home. It’s better here. I’ve got family and support to help me out.
DM: What is your pre-game routine?
KS: Usually get here around 4 o'clock watch TV, play a little cards. About 45 minutes before the game, I start going over the lineup and preparing myself for the game. At about 30 minutes before the game, I coming out [to the field] and do stretching, throwing and getting ready to go out on the mound.
DM: What goals did you want to achieve coming into this year?
KS: I wanted to have a good year. I wanted to impress some people in the organization. My goal is to go out there every day and give the team a chance to win. Hopefully I succeed by our team succeeding.
DM: What goals have you achieved so far this year?
KS: You never achieve goals. You just always try to get better. I set little goals like trying to keep the ERA down, or walks down or something like that. Always trying to get better.
DM: What was it like for you the first time you pitched at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva?
KS: A little nervous. I was happy my Grandpa was out here to see me, and a couple of friends were out here to see me, as well. I thought it was really cool. I was really glad and blessed with the experience.
DM: What did it mean to you to be a Midwest League All-Star?
KS: I think it was an appreciation of how hard I’ve been working and how good of a season I’ve had and an appreciation of our team, having seven All-Stars.
DM: What did it mean to be the starting pitcher in the All-Star game?
KS: I thought I was blessed for getting the appreciation for my hard work. It was motivation to keep working hard.
DM: What does it mean to have your Grandpa watch you at every game?
KS: It has been great. He has been with me since I was five years old playing baseball. He has been everywhere with me, traveled to college my first two years and watched me. He got sick my junior year, but that’s just a blessing that I got to be home for him to see me play pro ball. This is what he has always dreamed of me doing.
DM: What was draft day like?
KS: A little disappointing and a little bit pretty exciting. Disappointing in that I thought I might’ve gone higher but exciting in that I was going get an opportunity to play with the A's and get an opportunity to come back home.
DM: How do you think the season has gone so far from a team perspective?
KS: We’ve done great. We won the first half, our team chemistry is great in this clubhouse, and all the guys get along with each other. It has gone well.
DM: What are you working on?
KS: Developing more command of a slider or breaking pitch, that really is what my goal is. [A's minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson has me working a lot maybe on a cutter or slider and improving that every time out.
DM: What goals do you have for the future?
KS: Obviously to get out of here. It’s great playing in Kane County but it’s a goal to get out of here, and keep moving on with my career and keep impressing the guys in the organization and hopefully good things will come from that.
DM: Did you finish you college degree?
KS: No, I came out as a junior. I’m still two and a half semesters away from finishing, but I’ll finish it.
DM: What is in your iPod?
KS: Country, a lot of rock. Mostly country and rock. I’m a big AC/DC fan and also a big country fan. I’m more into the chiller music.
DM: What was it like to face Casey Crosby (West Michigan, HS in the Kane County area) as a professional?
KS: I thought it was cool. We haven’t squared off against each other since he was a freshman and I was a junior [in high school]. It was cool that we both got the opportunity to be here. It was a packed house, a lot of fun, just an extra little rivalry.
DM: If you were not playing pro ball what would you be doing?
KS: I’d probably be finishing my degree up and I am a tax accounting major so I’m sure I’d be doing something with numbers.
DM: I have a question from Larry Majkszak, a fan from the mailing list on my website: He asks how come you were at three different colleges in three years? Also why did you transfer [in high school] from Batavia to St. Charles?
KS: My freshman year I was signed with Clemson out of high school, and was drafted by the Reds out of high school as a shortstop. Then they really wanted me to do draft-and-follow, so they sent me down to junior college in Texas (Howard CC). Things didn’t go well down there with the draft-and-follow. The Reds scout ended up getting fired and stuff like that.
I thought it was better for me to move to another junior college. I hooked up with John Logan (Logan CC, IL). It is always a top notch D1 junior college, so I went there and had a good year there. After my two years of junior college, the assistant coach at Delta went to Logan too so he came and saw me and got me signed up that is how I ended up there.
My family moved from Batavia to St. Charles [in high school]. My senior year I played little league with all the guys from St. Charles North, so it was great to go back and see all my best friends, and play on the same team with them, too.