It’s often hard to predict which pitching prospects will make it to the majors as relievers. Many prospects who end up as relievers in the majors pitch most of their minor league careers as starters. Right-handed pitcher Taylor Grover stands out as an exception to this, as he not only pitched in college as a reliever, but has been used solely as a reliever in the Red Sox system. Recently promoted to High A Salem, the Red Sox selected Grover in the 10th round of the 2013 draft out of the University of South Carolina-Aiken. He’s thrived since his promotion, striking out 19 batters in 12 innings pitched with a 1.46 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. I caught up with Grover before a Salem game to ask him about life in the Red Sox system.
How was the draft experience for you?
It was fun. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had a few calls kind of early, right after the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds, and then didn’t hear back until the 10th from Boston and they went ahead and took me. I had some family over and it was fun.
When did you start hearing that scouts were interested?
I actually started hearing right when we started practicing my junior year. They were coming to practices that whole year, and that was the first time our school had seen anything like that. The rest of that year they were there during all of my games.
What was the adjustment like starting out as a professional player?
Really the routine, just changing my routine. I had always made my own routine because I like to work a lot. The professional routine is better, more precise. So putting that together with my routine was an adjustment. It was just like college, at first I was just getting comfortable with the system. Now, I feel like I’m comfortable and it’s really nice.
Were you a starter in college?
I went to college as a starter my first year, but I started throwing a lot harder so they moved me to reliever and then I closed for the last two years.
So you’re used to that role and that routine?
Oh yeah. I wouldn’t change that for anything. I love that adrenaline rush that I get coming into games.
You were recently promoted from Greenville to Salem. How did you find out about that?
It was after a game one night, and I was driving home, and our manager called me and let me know that I was moving up the next day. I was pretty excited.
What was that feeling like, hearing from the manager?
Honestly we have a lot of guys who like to mess around on the team, so at first I thought it was one of them calling and messing with me, but I realized it was the coach’s number. It was really cool, it wasn’t that I wasn’t expecting to go up, I had pitched well, but my numbers didn’t reflect that. It was a great feeling because I felt like I had worked hard and earned it.
What has the adjustment been like here in Salem? You’ve had really good numbers since being called up.
Honestly I haven’t changed much. It’s always pitching at every level. You have to know how to pitch. My job as a reliever is to come and shut things down, and that’s the mindset I always try to keep. One thing I’ve really learned since coming into the organization is how to be a pitcher and not just a thrower. In college I was just out there throwing hard. Here it’s getting dialed in to strengths and weaknesses and staying focused.
If you had to give a starting report on yourself what would you say?
Don’t let me get ahead. That’s pretty much it. I’ve got a good fastball and good offspeed stuff, and I can throw all of my pitches for strikes in any count. So I don’t have a primary pitch, I feel like I have three primary pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup). I threw a slider most of my career, but now I’ve moved to a really hard curveball, and it’s been very effective.
What have the coaches asked you to work on as far as development?
This year they’ve started to have me pitch multiple innings. The only adjustment they’ve asked me to make is pitching more innings in each outing. It’s nice to see that my hard work has paid off in terms of my endurance.
Do you feel like stretching you out has helped your arm strength?
I do. I worked a lot harder this offseason in case I had to pitch more innings. It’s worked out great, I’m actually throwing a little harder now then I was at the beginning of the year. I’m enjoying going deeper into games, it’s been fun working like that.
How do you deal with the grind of being a minor league player?
The long bus rides are the toughest part. People say it’s hard to eat and things like that, but honestly if you work hard on checking your nutrition you can manage it really well.
How do you manage the nutrition?
I’ve been big into that since I was in college, and there are always places around where you can pick up healthy things. What’s spending a few more dollars when it keeps you healthy you know? I feel like if I had a poor diet and was eating bad I think I would have gotten injured this year.
Do you have any personal goals for the rest of the season?
I hope to go the rest of the season just the way I am now. I’d love to go to the playoffs too, that would be awesome.
Have you been in the playoffs before in the minors?
No. Last year in Lowell we were really close but just missed out, so it would be really cool to make it this year.
(This interview happened before the end of the season. Salem made the playoffs and are currently tied 1-1 with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in a best of three playoff series).