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A second-round draft pick from 2005, Cubs lefthander Donnie Veal has begun to blossom into one of the top southpaws in the minors. Last season, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder led all minor league starting pitchers with a .175 batting average against, while putting together an 11-5, 2.16 record. Resting his arm before his winter workouts, Veal told us about his aspirations to become a doctor, his interactions with Mike Fetters and why he has been labeled as a guy who throws two different kinds of curveballs.
Baseball America: You took an unorthodox route to professional baseball, starting at the University of Arizona and then transferring to Pima Community College (Ariz.) after you tore your labrum your freshman year with the Wildcats. How difficult was it to leave Arizona?
Donnie Veal: It was really hard. But just knowing that I wasn’t going to play that much really made it that much easier to go somewhere else . . . knowing that I’d be able to play somewhere else–wherever I went.
BA: Is it true that teams were worried about how signable you were coming out of high school because word was that you wanted to become a doctor?
DV: Not really. I mean . . . it threw a few teams off, but I knew there’s 30 teams. So it might defer a few, but if someone really wanted me, they could take a chance on me.
BA: Do you have still interest in a medical career?
DV: Yeah. It’s hard right now because the minor league season gets done in September. So, I have to put it off, but I still want to do it if at all possible.
BA: How many guys who are taken at the top of the draft consider pursuing medical careers even after they are drafted?
DV: (Laughs) From the people that I’ve met, I’m guessing that it’s pretty rare.
BA: One of the things you worked on this year was slowing down your whole approach in terms of focusing on not walking batters. How did you go about doing that?
DV: Well, number one was trusting my stuff. Some of my pitching coaches used to say, “Just trust your stuff and don’t try to overdo ’cause you’ve got plenty. You don’t need to do more than you’re capable of.”
And then number two is just slowing myself down. Sometimes I rush to the plate . . . if I get a couple of quick outs, I’ll start rushing to get that last out real fast–getting ahead of myself. Then, once I start rushing, everything gets out of whack from the very beginning.
BA: Have you thought about talking to Mike Fetters to see if he could help you out?
DV: (Laughs) Actually, he was doing therapy in Phoenix when I was rehabbing there. I talked to him a little bit . . . colorful guy–I really liked him. He’s a really good, outgoing, hilarious guy.
BA: What part of your game do you feel the most confident in?
DV: Right now, location of my fastball . . . that and my changeup. My curveball is probably the thing that I’m least confident in. I’m working on getting more consistent with it. When I was hurt, I didn’t really throw it . . . didn’t want to do too much and hurt my elbow or back. So, it just got rusty and I just have to get the feel of it back again.
That’s what I worked on most of the year. It started to come around toward the end of the year, but I still got a lot of work to do on it.
BA: Word on the street is that you throw two different kinds curveballs, a slow one that you have good control of and a hard one that you’ve struggled with a little bit before.
DV: People have said that. At the beginning of the year we decided to just throw it for a strike and it was working as a slow curveball. Then, the coaches wanted me to speed it up a little bit, so that’s where the whole slow/fast came from. I was adjusting . . . trying to figure out how to speed it up/slow it down.
Sometimes I’d throw it slower–not on purpose–when I was trying to throw it for a strike, it would be slower. And then other times it would come out fast. But right now, it’s more of just trying to get the feel of one down.
BA: It seems like you had a lot of success with the preparation that you did for the 2006 season. What did you do?
DV: There was a trainer that I worked out with my senior year in high school, and then after I got hurt.
I just talked to him after the 2005 season and let him know, “This is when we got done, so when should I work out?” And he said, “Give it a month.” So, we started working out hard and heavy a month after the season ended.
BA: What kind of pregame preparation do you do?
DV: At first I just come in and I take a little nap until right before I have to be out there. Then, I change (laughs) real fast, get out and start stretching.
BA: What about from a mental standpoint?
DV: When I’m taking a nap I’m supposed to visualize. That’s what I usually do if I don’t fall asleep, I just visualize . . . just see yourself being successful, see yourself executing pitches, see yourself striking a guy out, see yourself getting a ground ball, see yourself with the bases loaded getting out of it with a double play ground ball.
In high school we practiced visualization and it worked pretty good. It has worked for me and that’s usually what I do mentally.