Thursday, August 21, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading's Cerebral Slugger Jake Fox

Jake Fox, image- Tug Haines
Since rejoining the Phillies organization in June, corner infielder Jake Fox has been the driving force of the Double-A Reading offense. The 32-year-old veteran of four big league seasons, having played with the Cubs, A's and Orioles, has dominated Eastern League pitching, posting a .322 average while mashing 20 home runs and driving in 65 runs in 66 games.

Two seasons ago, Fox played with Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, batting .230 with five homers in 26 total games as a late-season edition.

Prior to signing with the Phillies this year, Fox competed in Mexico, where he sported a .307/.397/.605 slash like in 57 games with Laguna.

Fox, who was originally drafted in the third round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Cubs, plays with an extremely cerebral approach.

Recently, I spoke with Jake about his intellectual focus toward the game, how he helps the teammates around him and more. Read ahead for that interview.

-I've talked to Zach Collier recently about how you've helped him improve his offensive approach and you're definitely a guy that takes pride in influencing and helping your younger teammates. What can you tell me about that?

I think one of the hardest things about this level is that you're stuck in between trying to win games and developing and I think a lot of times at this level you finally separate guys from other things other than their talent, because at this level everybody's talented, everybody can play the game. And one thing that I preach to these guys a lot is not relying on athletic ability, because we have some athletes in this locker room. But, as you move up, it's an intelligent sport and it's about more than your athleticism. So, this is the first time that they have to think about the game, more than just an athletic sport. And, so, a lot of times when you talk to young guys like Zach Collier and Aaron Altherr, who are young guys that always relied on just their athletic ability, they've never had to create an identity as a hitter.

The most important thing you have to do at this level is create your own identity, about what I want to be and what am I going to do to become that type of hitter. Because a lot of times a lot of hitting coaches will preach to guys about being a complete hitter instead of playing to what you're good at. Okay, so having said that, nobody's Miguel Cabrera. Nobody's going to go out there and hit .340 and 60 homers and 140 RBI's every year. But, you can still be effective and get to the big leagues by playing to your strengths.

You know, it's a lot about getting these hitters to understand what kind of hitter they want to be and then how are we going to work to get to that? And in Zach's case, we've talked about what his strengths are and his strength is he's got really good hands and he is very good at elevating the ball to right field. So, I'm going to play to that. I'm going to make that pitcher throw me a pitch that's into his zone, so I can elevate a ball to right field. And especially in this park. And once you get them thinking about this is my plan, I'm going to be in my plan and I'm going to be in a position where I'm going to force that pitcher to be in my plan.

And that development starts happening with that mental aspect of the game and that's another reason I've started introducing intelligent games into the club house because it makes you formulate a plan for an entire game. Instead of having just one at bat at a time. I have a chess board here in my locker. We started playing games like Hearts and Spades and we've started playing games that make you think three, four, five steps ahead rather than just one at bat at a time. And I think when you talk about young guys at this level, one thing that that's difficult to teach, unless you have somebody showing them, is that mental aspect, that mental approach to hitting or to pitching and I think that's one of the things, when I first got here- I always say when I was in the big leagues, I was over-matched.

I'm a short, fat white guy. I'm slow and I was always over-matched. But, I come to this level and you got guys like this and they see me having success and they look at me and they say, "How are you doing this?" Okay, what just happened? Let's go through my game tonight. Guy threw me a first pitch fastball and I hit it off the jumbotron. Right? What do you think he's going to throw me? Right? So, we get to my next at bat and there's two thought processes. You can think, okay, now that he hit that, he's looking for a slider, so I'll throw him a fastball, which I swung at a fastball and I looked stupid on a slider. Now, I know what I'm getting the rest of the at bat because I looked like an idiot on a slider and then I wound up hitting a slider for a double. Okay and we explain that to these kids and now you get a plan together even if you have to give up a pitch or even an at bat to get one later. I think that's where you start putting together a game plan about, "How am I going to approach this game? When I come up to bat in the 9th inning, with the game on the line, how am I going to make sure I get a pitch to hit?" I can't control the result of that pitch, but I can control getting a pitch to hit and hitting it hard.

-With the production you've had since joining the Fightins this year, I think there are fans and media members alike that would be disappointed if you weren't promoted to the big leagues as a September call up. Would you share that opinion if that didn't happen?

Everybody wants to be in the big leagues. If I said no, I'd be lying to you. I understand what my role is. I also understand it depends on how the team's doing. If the team's not in the race, then they'll be calling up the prospects to give them that experience in the big leagues. It's not my first rodeo. I've been around this. I would love to think that the work that I've done would get me that call up, and I would love go up there and be a part of that team and help them any way I can. Obviously, that's a great resume' builder and would help with getting me back to where I want to be, but that being said, I've been around the game long enough to know that the organization has a plan and they want to see some guys get that experience and get their feet wet, so to speak, at the big league level. I don't really know what to expect and I've found, in my career, that if you keep worrying about that, it's going to drive you insane. All I can control is what I do and I'm going to come out here and have fun and play everyday and whatever happens happens. They're going to make their decision no matter how I do or how I feel about it.

-There are several prospect names on this team that casual Phillies fans would be familiar with. Aaron Nola's the top draft pick, Jesse Biddle's been a highly regarded prospect, Aaron Altherr has had a couple cups of coffee with the big club this year. Are there any players on this team that might be underrated in your opinion?

I tell you what, the one thing that I've been impressed with since I've been here is the amount of ability that's on this club. I didn't know what to expect coming here. I looked at the roster before I came and I saw the age of some of these guys and, you know, I had a feeling that my role here was going to be different than when I was here in 2012. In 2012, my job was to produce so that we could get to the postseason and win the playoffs. This year, it's a little bit different.

To answer your question, I look around this clubhouse and it's amazing to me the development I've seen since I've been here. 'Cause these guys, when I got here, these guys were very raw, very athletic and now they've been working so hard and you can see the development happening. A guy that really stick out in my mind is Carlos Alonso. He comes out and- what I look for in a player is different than what most guys look for in a player. I need a guy that's going to go out and give his 100 percent every day. Come out and play hard and play the game right every single day because, to me, in the end when you play 160 games when you get to the big leagues, you want to know what you're going to get out of a player. You want to know who's going to put everything on the line every day and that's a guy that, to me, comes out there every day and gives everything he has. You know, and obviously, we have some guys that are talented, but I wouldn't call them underrated. There's nobody here that's underrated, because when you get to Double-A, they're all talented. To me, you've just got to find those little things, and I talk to them all the time...What's going to separate you from those other guys that they have? What is it? Is it going to be the way you approach your every day? Is it going to be how you handle the bat? Steal bases? Is it the way you play defense? What's going to separate you?

In this organization- let's talk about this team...we have really good infielders. I mean, let's just talk middle infielders. We have (Edgar Duran), (K.C. Serna), we have Alonso, we have (Albert Cartwright), we have really good infielders just on this team, so what's going to separate them and get that organization to choose them over somebody else? And unfortunately, this business pits a competition within the same team, but you have to learn how to win at the same time. So, it's kind of a fine line where you have to separate yourself but still help the team win. So, and that's where one of the things I look for is how does he go about his business? Is he a professional? And can you count on him every day to bring the same product to the field? One of the things I'm looking at, at this level, is there's a lot of inconsistency.

But, you see the way they approach it and that's one guys that's impressed me with the way he handles his business is Alonso.

-We mentioned how you're tearing up the Eastern League. You did tremendous in Mexico this year as well, before returning to the Phillies. Is it tough to find a challenge out here each day with all the success you're having?

(Laughs) Man, that's a tough question, because I'm a competitor at heart and I've always been a competitor at heart and I love succeeding. And I don't- sometimes it's great to be challenged, but sometimes it's great to come out here and put up numbers too. At the same time, I love to be challenged and one of the things about this season was I had two places that I challenged myself as a hitter. 'Cause I had two different styles of pitching that I was facing and I was able to adjust to both. So, to me, in itself that's a challenge for me. But at the same time, I take pride in coming out and competing and winning battles and winning games.

And one of the things that was tough on me when I got here was we had a long losing streak. That was tough. That's one of the reasons I introduced these games is because I love competing. Whether it's cards or chess or baseball, take your pick.

I grew up with an older brother and we were always competing. And that's one of the things I love about my job is every day I come out and compete. You know, my brother tells me, "I miss that! I don't have that in my life." So, yes, I find the challenge every day, coming out here winning games and competing and there's some certain satisfaction in having some success because you know that you're winning that competition, you're winning that challenge. That's one thing that drives me every day to come out here is that competition, that challenge of winning the battle every single day. I guess when you talk about this level of play, you know, baseball's baseball. And I've always said, "If you can play and you can make adjustments, it doesn't matter where you play." You go out and make adjustments to the league...and you play. And that's one thing that I've struggled with in my career. I feel like I've shown that I adjust to where ever I'm at. Major leagues, Double-A, Triple-A, Mexico, Dominican Republic, everywhere they've put me, independent ball. I feel like I've come out and competed and found a way to succeed and I feel like I wish that at some point in my career somebody would have given me the chance to compete at the big league level, because, you know, (during my time there) I came off the bench or was a role player, granted I took that challenge head on, but you're fighting an uphill battle, so to speak. I just wish that somebody would have given me that opportunity to have that daily challenge, that daily competition.

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