As part of the trade for Steven Souza, the Arizona Diamondbacks also picked up starting pitcher Taylor Widener, who immediately became our #4 prospect according to MLB.com, behind only Jon Duplantier among pitchers. The 23-year-old right-hander got to spend some time in the Diamondbacks’ spring training camp, before being re-assigned to minor-league camp over the weekend. We had the chance to chat to Taylor, and find out a bit more about the potential future member of the Arizona rotation.
This is your first time in a big-league spring training came. How are you finding the experience?
It has been a lot of fun. It’s nice getting to rub shoulders with some of the big-league guys, just try to learn their ways a little bit better - see their work ethic and everything.
I saw you got into one of the spring games: how was that after the off-season?
It was a good experience. It was nice just to get back out there, into the swing of things and start throwing again. I took a few weeks off, then I started working out again, but there wasn’t too much down time. I was really trying to get ready for this season.
How did you find out that you’d been traded to Arizona?
O was actually at a camp with the Yankees when I was told I’d been traded. So I packed up and flew out to Arizona. I was very excited, but it was a complete surprise. It’s a lot of fun out here. Everyone has been very nice and easy to talk to. They all seem very helpful.
You were drafted in 2016 and had a very solid first pro season, with an 0.47 ERA. Was the transition from college to pro ball as easy for you as that sounds?
[Laughs] I wouldn’t necessarily say that! Right at the the time that I got drafted, I’d kinda figured a little something out with my pitching, so I was pretty confident and throwing really good. Everything was going very well for me.
What are the best and worst things about life in the minors?
The best thing is definitely all the traveling I get to do. It’s a lot of fun, although one of the worst things is some of the long bus-rides!
In 2017, you moved from the bullpen to the rotation. How did that come about?
My first year (2016), I was a piggy-back starter, not in the starting rotation - my innings were very limited because of the innings I threw in college. So I always knew I was going to be a starter.
You worked in both roles in college, so what do you find to be the biggest difference between those two roles?
Starting is more about trying to pitch to contact, get early outs so you can last longer. You have to use more of your pitches, and try to stay ahead of guys. Out of the bullpen, you can go right at guys and try to get some strikeouts.
I believe you’ve been working on a change-up. Is that part of the process of becoming a better starter?
Yes, it is. I feel honestly that my change-up has turned into my second pitch now, and I need to start working on my curveball. I was so focused on the change-up last year, that I started using it more.
Last year, in Tampa, you were managed by Jay Bell, who’s a bit of a legend here in Arizona, for his role in 2001. How was he as a manager?
He’s honestly one of the best to be around. He has got so much knowledge of the game, and he’s such a nice guy - he wants to help you so much. He’s a great guy - that’s the only way to put it. He actually called me when I got traded and said, “If you ever need anything, let me know - my wife lives close to you.”
Over the years, you’ve had your share of injuries, including ulnar nerve transposition surgery. How difficult is it to deal with an extended enforced absence?
It was only two months until I started throwing again, so it wasn’t a very extended time. But looking back, it’s one of those things that might have been a blessing in disguise. It really helped me start building my arm strength back up. I don’t really ever think about them. It’s one of those things that happen: we throw a lot. It happened, and it’s done with now.
How would you describe the strengths and weaknesses in your pitching arsenal generally?
I would definitely say my strength is going right at people. My weakness is sometimes going out there, and needing consistency - just have to be consistent, with my off-speed and my fastball. I’m definitely going to try and cut down on the walks: I had way too many walks last year.
Do you know yet where you’ll be starting off 2018?
That’ll be decided later on, I don’t know where I’ll be yet.
You used to be an occasional position player. Now you’re in the National League, you might have to take some hacks as a pitcher - are you looking forward to that?
I played a little bit of right-field and first-base, but that’ll be funny. Somebody once told me it’s like riding a bike, but I was like, “I don’t know about that...” Let’s see what happens!
And finally, what’s your favorite baseball movie?
My favorite baseball movie that I used to watch growing up was The Rookie.