|Connor Hinchliffe, photo- GoExplorers.com
The La Salle University product debuted with the Phillies' Gulf Coast League West team in late June and notched a 1-1 record, a save, a 1.82 ERA, a .163 batting average against as well as a 1.26 WHIP in 16 appearances (one start).
The six-foot-two 195-pounder began college as a position player, but later switched strictly to working on the mound. Recently, I talked with the 23-year-old Hinchliffe about that change, not getting drafted, his background playing in Phils affiliate facilities, his time in the GCL and plenty more. Read ahead for that interview.
-What can you share about the process of signing with the Phillies? Had they been in touch
ahead of the draft?
Yes, the Phillies had been in touch before the draft. I was seen by the scout from my area, Connor Betbeze, and he invited me to a pre-draft workout a week or so before the draft in Philadelphia. After I threw at the workout, I got to talk to some of the scouting directors and other personnel that attended but still didn’t really know where they stood. I knew they were somewhat interested but wasn’t sure exactly how much.
-Was there any disappointment with not being drafted or was there enough promise of getting a free agent deal that it wasn’t too big of a deal to you?
Every player who has aspirations of professional baseball dreams of getting that call on draft day and seeing your name pop up on the draft tracker, so when that didn’t happen of course there was some disappointment. When the draft came and went I knew there was some promise of a free agent deal with some teams but wasn’t exactly sure how promising that would be. Luckily enough I didn’t have to wait too long when the Phillies called me a day or so after the draft offering me a contract.
-I saw an item in your bio that said you started college as an outfielder. How did the transition to pitching go (was it necessity, was it suggested by a coach) and what was your background on the mound (did you pitch in high school or anything) before the switch?
I actually started out in college as a catcher, then moved to the outfield at the tail end of my freshman year. Sophomore year played primarily outfield with a handful of starts at first base. Junior year primarily outfield again, but actually ended up pitching a little bit that year too but outfield was still my first priority. Then senior year was my first year as a pitcher only, or “PO,” so I was bouncing around all over the field in my career.
The transition to the mound was pretty easy as first actually, because it wasn’t my primary position so not to say that I didn’t care what happened, but I had more of a “here goes nothing” type of attitude.
Then senior year, when I was a PO, was when I got more serious about it since it was my position now and that was what the team needed me to do. It was my coach, Dave Miller, who told me I was going to be a PO and at the time I wasn’t particularly happy about it. He brought me in at the end of my junior year and kept telling me I had a good cutter and could play professionally if I got my velocity up a bit. I remember sitting there thinking “yeah right, coach.” Then I came out in the fall and fully embraced pitching and had a good year so turns out he wasn’t lying. I’m still very close with Coach Miller and can’t thank him enough for seeing that in me and making the switch. My experience pitching before college was little league and I remember I had one varsity start in high school as a freshman and that was it, so not much at all.
-How did competing in college ball prepare you for the minors and pro ball?
College in general prepared me a lot for professional baseball. On the field, balancing a biology major and playing baseball was a hefty commitment so it taught me how to properly manage my time. On the field, learning how to become a catcher at a highly competitive level helped me tremendously on the mound. This probably isn’t the first thing you’d think of and certainly it would be hard to find another pitcher with that answer. I think something I am very good at is putting myself in the mind of the hitter when I’m pitching and knowing what pitches he’s looking for in certain counts. Being a former hitter and catcher, I have years and years of experience being in their shoes facing pitchers so I usually have a good idea of what they’re looking for because I ask myself, “What would I be looking for?” This obviously changes sometimes with different hitters but that’s where I can make an adjustment. Also, I was lucky enough to call my own pitches as a catcher in high school and college, so that was invaluable experience learning hitters, how to sequence them, and reading swings for instant feedback. A lot of pitchers haven’t swung a bat in years so they don’t know what it’s like to be on the other side of the ball and that’s where I think college helped me. I also think college taught me to embrace adversity and be flexible. I think that’s a mindset I can carry with me not only in my baseball career but life as well.
-Did you have friends or any former teammates already signed with the Phillies and did you get any lessons on the organization or its culture ahead of arriving in Clearwater or when you got there?
No, I didn’t have any friends or former teammates that were already with the Phillies. A good friend from back home Travis Blankenhorn was drafted out of high school by the Twins and has been playing in the minors for about 4 years now. He’s given me a good idea of how life in the minors goes. As for the Phillies specifically, I was reporting to Clearwater with no real idea of what to expect in terms of the organization or culture.
-Which coaches or teammates stood out to you as guys you picked up a lot from after joining the Phillies?
As for coaches, I worked every day with my pitching coach Bruce Billings who helped me, and our team, a lot by showing us how to break down film to analyze games. This was the first time in my career ever having video of games so it was awesome to have that resource to learn from. Eric Jagers is coordinator that I used as a valuable resource for weighted ball, slo mo video, and other information. Mike Tampellini is in player development and analytics and I would pick his brain almost every day regarding video and Rhapsodo information.
-Did you get exposure to or time on the field with any rehabbers while in the GCL? What was that like, if you did?
A couple guys that were rehabbing while I was down in Clearwater were David Robertson, Spencer Howard, and Connor Seabold. I’m a type of person that seeks information and experience every single way I can, so picking the brains of other players who are at the level I’m striving for or where I want to be at can only be advantageous.
David Robertson had just got done throwing live BP for the first time since being hurt and I went over to ask him about his cutter, because I throw a cutter. He was nice enough to share some pointers with me. Spencer and Connor are a few of the brightest pitching prospects in the Phillies organization right now so getting to talk to them about pitching, the minors, or anything in general was cool.
-What sort of experiences could you share from the GCL that fans might not expect?
Something fans would not expect from the GCL is the environment. I would assume they probably think even in the GCL we’re playing in stadiums with fans and whatnot. Coming from a small D1 school in Philadelphia, the stands were certainly not packed shoulder to shoulder at our games, especially early in the season when its sub 40 degrees. Looking back I realized that can be used as an advantage for me playing in the GCL because it’s on you to flip that switch into compete mode, the environment isn’t going to do it for you. It is way easier to find that switch when you have packed stands, stadium music, and whatever else but we didn’t have any of that in the GCL. It was on you to focus and, despite no crowd, to find that switch and get into compete mode, which I have been doing for years now coming from a smaller school. If I came from an SEC where every weekend is packed and it’s easier to get juiced up to play, it definitely would be weird playing with no one really there.
-You talked about the cutter. What else is in your pitch repertoire and was there anything added to that menu or anything updated grip or mechanics wise once you joined the Phils?
My pitch repertoire entering the Phillies was a 4s/2s fastball, cutter, curve ball, and change up. Nothing was necessarily added once I got there, but I certainly worked on a few of them, particularly the curve ball and change up. With the curve ball, towards the end of the season I was experimenting with a spiked grip where I had not used that before. This was to get it as more of a 12-6 curve ball than a slider-ish curve ball. I didn’t change the grip of my change up but it was more of becoming more comfortable with it during catch play and throwing it more in bullpens to refine it.
Mechanics wise I had a lot to work on, particularly using my entire body to produce the pitch rather than just using my arm. I am aiming to produce the most biomechanically efficient way to throw the ball, in a repeatable and consistent delivery. That is something I am still working on throughout the off-season.
-You grew up in the Philadelphia region. What early memories do you have of the Phillies and other Philly sports teams or athletes? Did you attend games as a kid?
I grew up about two hours away in Pottsville, PA, which is about 25 minutes from Reading, 35 minutes from Lehigh Valley, and an hour from Williamsport so I’m very familiar with the Phillies affiliates. I’ve been to a bunch of Reading Phillies games, one that sticks out was going to see Stephen Strasburg pitch when he was in AA. I won the district championship my senior year of high school in the IronPigs stadium, which still is one of my best baseball memories. My sophomore year of college I actually started a game in left field at Citizens Bank Park in a championship of a Philadelphia college tournament called the Liberty Bell Classic, which was an awesome experience. Obviously, the Charlie Manuel, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard era sticks out in my mind which was a special group to watch. I was lucky enough to sit next to Mr. Manuel at a GCL game this summer and talk baseball when he was watching our team play.
-Did it mean a lot to you and your family for you to sign with the Phillies?
Honestly, it meant a lot for me and my family to sign professionally with any team, and was very special that it was with the Phillies. I’ve spent the last four years of my life in Philadelphia at La Salle and my cousins go to Villanova, so Philadelphia is a big part of me and my family. Everyone from La Salle and back home are die hard Phillies fans so to play for a team that everyone I know supports is amazing.
-What plans do you have for the off-season? Are you working? Training? Traveling?
My plans for the off season are living in Philadelphia and training at Maplezone Sports Institute until January, then I’m heading out to Driveline in Seattle to do more pitching specific training right before spring training. As for work, I’m doing just about anything I can to make some money before I have to head back. I’m coaching an 11u baseball team, giving personal baseball lessons, landscaping, and a couple other odd jobs to support myself.