Prospect Q&A: Blue Jays-turned-Astros RHP Kevin Comer On His Turbulent — Yet Encouraging — First Pro Year
A year and a half since the Blue Jays made him the 57th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, New Jersey high school product Kevin Comer (@KevComer) — now the Astros’ No. 9 prospect – has exactly a dozen pro appearances under his belt. Not a wealth of experience, no.
But to gauge Comer’s development by that number — or by any of his stats here – would be a mistake. Look instead at the 20-year-old right-hander’s handling of his first pro experience, his first pro trade and, perhaps, his first period of exhaustion. I spoke with the man himself this afternoon, and we hit on all three topics.
Me: What have you been up to this offseason?
Comer: So far, it’s been good. I took some down time in Houston [where my sister lives] right after the season and then I came up here to [New Jersey] to do my workouts, a place I’ve been going to a while in Voorhees. I’ve been lifting and I just started throwing again two or three weeks ago, right at the end of January. My lifting has been tough. I have been trying to get stronger in every aspect.
Me: Do you have specific workout goals?
Comer: This winter, I have been trying to gain weight. Last year, I didn’t have the weight I could have in terms of muscle. I have bulked up pretty good — I feel like I’ve gotten bigger in a good this offseason, and I’m pretty happy with where I am out.
Me: How is your throwing going?
Comer: The first couple times, my arm, I felt like I hadn’t thrown in a while, and now that I am getting back into it and coming around, everything is feeling good.
Me: Do you have a throwing partner?
Comer: Right now, just throwing at targets. Not too many people around right now. Where I go there are some young kids, but I can’t fire it into them. It wouldn’t go over well, I don’t think.
Me: How would you evaluate your 2012 season, a season of change for you?
Comer: I couldn’t have asked for a better season because I learned a lot. I took a lot away from what I learned this past season, going into pro ball for the first year. I definitely had my ups and downs and saw things I really had to work on and saw things I did really well, so it was a good first season.
Me: Let’s start with the positives. What things did you do really well?
Comer: I was really able to pound the zone this year. Most of my years in high school, especially in Jersey, I got away with high fastballs and things like that… This year, I learned how to spot up a lot better and how to work in on righties and inside to both sides of the plate. It was stuff I had to learn how to do.
Me: And what were the harder realities of this past season on the mound?
Comer: I hadn’t thrown as much in a while — I just had an instructional league, a six-week program, before Spring Training — and my velocity wasn’t where it’s always been*. It was necessarily bad, but I had to work with what I had. I definitely learned that pitchers get take advantage of a lot [more] here. If you make a bad pitcher, hitters are going to find it. So I have to learn how to minimize that mistakes, knowing how to pitch.
*Editor’s note: Comer threw 96 mph before the 2011 Draft, then threw mostly in the high 80-mph range in his first pro season.
Me: Were there particular coaches or teammates with the Blue Jays who helped you immensely?
Comer: The pitching coach I had at Bluefield before I got traded, he gave me a lot of instruction — his name is Antonio Caceres. He helped me in a lot aspects. Their pitching coordinator, Dane Johnson, he really knew what he was talking about, and those guys really helped me as far as pitching and give me the right picture of what I was doing. And another kid, Daniel Norris, I was real close to him. We were roommates at Bluefield, and he was one my better friends there. We went through a lot of stuff together, and were in the same boat coming out, signing late and going through our first year together. It was good to have him there with me. He really knows how to handle pressure.
Me: What was your reaction to the trade when it happened? You were the Player To Be Named Later, and it was a month after the deal was announced in mid-July that you found out on Aug. 16…
Comer: We had heard there was going to be a player to be named later when the trade happened initially. I didn’t even know what that meant necessarily. When I got the call — I got the call at 7:30 in the morning, I feel like, on our way to the game. Actually, the call came in at first and it was so early in the morning that I ignored it — I didn’t have [the Blue Jays'] number saved, so I clicked off it. The second time they called, I answered up, and when I heard the news I didn’t even know what to think ’cause it hit me pretty hard. Once I settled into it, they told me to come in and get my stuff. They didn’t do it in a rude way, but it was the business aspect of it. It was an eye-opening experience, that’s for sure. It was good to go through it. It was weird to go through it so early — I would have never expected it — but, at the same time, I am still happy with it. I can’t argue about it. Even if I did argue about it, it would do nothing. Being drafted and then one year later being gone, it definitely showed me the business aspect of sports.
Me: What was it like switching teams within the same league, especially going to your former home park and sitting in the visiting dugout? (This question comes from reader @AppyAstros.)
Comer: In a a sense, it almost helped because I was able to see them so soon. It was an easier goodbye because I knew I was going to see them in a bit. It was definitely weird. I got the field [the morning I found out], packed my car up and drove two hours down the road and I was there. Our last series actually was against the Blue Jays, so I got to go out and get dinner with them. It was nice, just weird looking across and seeing your old team in the dugout.
Me: What differences have you noticed so far being a part of the Astros’ system?
Comer: The Astros are a little more laid-back. They’re not on you 100 percent. It’s not necessarily in a bad way. They trust you to get your stuff done; the Blue Jays do the same thing. It’s a little more easygoing with the Astros where it’s not all this pressure on you in the moment. I can’t complain.
Me: Were the Astros one of the teams you spoke with before you were drafted in 2011?
Comer: They did. I remember having them in my house for meetings, and I thought it was a great fit when I was first talking to them. They were definitely showing interest then, and they’re still showing interest now — that’s what the trade showed me. It’s nice to know.
Me: Down the stretch, pitching in two games with the Astros, how do you think you fared?
Comer: The first game with them, I had jitters. I didn’t throw bad or anything, but I felt it. In the last game, really the last couple games, my arm was tired and I could feel it. I don’t want to give it as an excuse, but I was dead at the end of the season.
Me: You’ve made just 12 appearances in official Minor League games since being drafted in June ’11. Is it frustrating for that things haven’t moved along faster? Does being an East Coast guy hold you back?
Comer: You could make the argument that I should be further along, but [the team] is taking it at their pace, and I’m not going to take issue with it because I’ve figured they know what they’re doing. And I think they know what they’re doing. Even being from the northeast, my arm isn’t necessarily ready — I think that’s what they’re building me up to. Sometimes I think ‘I wish I could be there,’ but it’s just something you wish, not actually something that happens.
Me: Tell us about your repertoire and what you’re working on with your pitches? Plus fastball, potentially-plus curveball and a developing changeup, correct?
Comer: The past year, I worked on the changeup a lot to where I was using it really effectively and got a great feel for it, which is good because for a while, as my arm started to tire, my curveball didn’t break as much; it just wasn’t getting as much spin. That’s not an issue now. I also throw a no-seam, two-seam sinker almost — a pitch I didn’t use in high school because I never really needed it — and I got to throw that a lot last season with Bluefield and Greenville. That pitch really became effective for me. I was able to throw that really well, in on righties, got a lot of broken bats, jam shots. I throw mostly straight fastballs, but now that I know I have that pitch, it should be good.
Me: What are your goals for next season?
Comer: I want to be able to get stronger and make sure my arm is ready for what’s going to come in the season. As long as I’m not turning back and moving down in any way, I think I’ll be making progress. That’s my goal, just to keep moving.
Me: Last one: If you could pick the brain of any pitcher, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask him?
Comer: I think I’d like to sit down with [Roy] Halladay and figure out what it’s like to be… Him and Cliff Lee. The last couple years, they’re just so stone-cold on the mound that I don’t get it. Look at Cliff Lee and Halladay and nothing changes with them, no matter what’s going on. That’s something that if you can have that, that’s good too.