Draft Q&A: Eric Cressey, Part I

Eric Cressey is the president and co-founder of Cressey Performance, a Boston-based performance training facility that specializes in baseball. Eric works with athletes at all levels, from the youth and amateur ranks to pro athletes, as more than 100 of his clients have played pro baseball. He received his master’s degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science at the University of Connecticut, the top-ranked kinesiology program in the country. Eric has published more than 500 articles and has a dedicated landing spot for baseball content on his site. He has a number of clients who are, potentially, high draft picks for this year.  This is Part I of the interview. Part II will be posted on baseballamerica.com on Monday.

Eric, thanks for joining me for a Draft Q&A. Everyone that I have spoken with absolutely loves your work and has nothing but good things to say about you. And you also have some prominent members of this draft class as clients.

We have been down this road several times. The number of players drafted in each of the last few drafts has been in the double-digits and I believe it has been 40 over the last three years in total. I expect that this year will be even busier.

Eric Cressey

Eric Cressey

That is an impressive number of players drafted, for any part of the country.

It is a big deal being in Massachusetts. We were fortunate because 2011 was regarded as the best draft since 1986, I believe. (Nineteen players were drafted from the state that year; in contrast just four were drafted in 2013.) Mets lefthander Jack Leathersich is about to get the big leagues and was a fifth-rounder. (Righthander) Jordan Cote was a third-rounder out of New Hampshire for the Yankees. Tyler Beede was obviously a first-rounder. There were a lot of really good arms that year. (Lefthander) Andrew Chin was a fifth-rounder from Massachusetts as well. We had a really good 2011 class and what has been cool is those guys who were high school seniors then are college juniors now because a lot of them didn't sign. It is pretty exciting.

It is amazing to look back at that 2011 Northeast crop because you have all of those players you mentioned and can throw in Jeff Hoffman and Sean Newcomb, who will likely be first-rounders, and a potential top five pick in Hoffman’s case. The wealth of talent from that class is impressive.

I can’t remember if it was at Baseball America but I think it was, where prior to the Beede-Nola matchup they said that both of those arms were Blue Jays draft picks from 2011. They drafted Beede, Nola and Weaver. So they could have had like three of the top seven pitchers in the country this year. It is pretty wild to think what could have been, but college baseball has benefitted.

I think the Northeast is a fascinating baseball region because there is a large population base and a passion for baseball but such a short, condensed spring schedule, which is makes it tough for scouts to get the necessary looks compared to other parts of the country. The region produces a good amount of talent but in many cases it is after these players go to college, especially this year with Beede, Hoffman and Newcomb. I think the Northeast produces much more baseball talent than is commonly perceived. Do you think there is some truth to that?

I would definitely agree with that. That is something I would say is true for scouts as well. It is very difficult to evaluate the talent, because as you said it is a much shorter season. Take a guy like Rhett Wiseman, who is not one of our guys but I love because he is fun to watch and a good kid. He was difficult to scout because it is hard to project on a high school Northeast hitter because he very rarely sees anything over 84 or 85. As you go down south, Forrest Wall has seen 92 consistently throughout his high school career. It is obviously very difficult to project hitters but pitchers are different. Ninety-three is 93 whether you are in Florida or in Massachusetts, but those guys have accumulated the innings on their arms. So what that means is that they are probably a little more projectable. They have been athletes in a general sense and then they will develop later. I think if you look at a guy like Tim Corbin, who is a New Hampshire guy, he is recruiting and has a bunch of guys from Connecticut and Massachusetts on his roster. You look at Clemson, who gets up here quite a bit, and Coastal Carolina and Virginia Tech. Florida is getting some guys from up here. We had a kid at Kennesaw State. They are starting to pick up on it because there really is some good talent up here. Tulane has come up here a lot and LSU is starting to a little bit. I think people are starting to catch on when you see that there are some big-time guys from this region. Matt Harvey is a Connecticut guy and he has worked out pretty well.

When did you enter the performance training industry and what drove you to start your own business?

Baseball kind of came about by accident. I went to the University of Connecticut for my grad degree and when I was there I actually helped out more with basketball and soccer. My mom jokes that I was always destined for baseball because I taught myself to read by using baseball cards. Long story short, when I moved to Boston in 2006 it just so happened that some of my first clients were baseball guys. I had a big interest in it because I have a history of shoulder problems. Some of those first guys had good results. One of them won state player of the year and a state championship. So my phone started ringing off the hook. Basically what happened was that high school guys became college guys and college guys became pro guys who had teammates and agents. We just got a lot of referrals and we focused on delivering a good product. We have grown dramatically since then. We started with a 3,330-square foot space in 2007 and then it became 6,000 in 2008, then 7,600 in 2009, then in 2012 we jumped to a 15,000-square foot facility and we are talking about expanding to another part of the country. It has really snowballed and a big part of it is baseball population is dramatically underserved with respect to strength and conditioning. There has been the classic template of giving the guys a football program. Then at the other end of the spectrum is the rehab program where you don't really accomplish a whole lot. We have found a good place in the middle where we have shown that guys can work very hard as long as you take into account the unique demands of the sport and their injury history.

What do the next five years look like for Cressey Performance?

I think the most fun aspect for me is how cool it is to see high school guys who have been high school guys with us and then become pro guys, like (outfielder) Kevin Brown, who was drafted by the Cubs last year and played at Bryant. He was a freshman All-American. The guys whom you have had since they were freshman or sophomores in high school who are moving on to pro ball. So it is not just a guy you got and then the next year he was drafted and gone. Two examples are Tyler Beede and Adam Ravenelle, who are both at Vanderbilt. Adam started with me in eighth grade and Tyler started with me at the beginning of his sophomore year of high school. Both of those guys have been with us for at least five or six years, and it has been amazing to see how far players can develop not just physically but physiologically, maturity wise and how they learn their bodies and what works for them, as opposed to what doesn't. It has been cool to see that we could make a difference by really educating kids. The next five years I am excited to continue to see that, guys who have done well and moved on to pro ball. I want to see them in the big leagues and living the dream. We are just going to keep our nose to the grindstone and deliver a good product, as well as listening to guys and what really works for them.

With Tyler Beede starting to work out with you as a sophomore did I read correctly that the draft party for his family and friends in 2011 was at your house?

Tyler Beede

Tyler Beede (Photo by Danny Parker)

Yes, Tyler’s parents are divorced but are still on absolutely great terms. But logistically it was easiest to do the draft party somewhere else. Tyler is like another son to me and I would do anything for him. There were no questions asked when we brought up the idea. I think it was a Monday night on June 6 and we were planning on like 60 people. So we had catered everything and you can see everything on YouTube. The video is still up there from when he was selected. We ended up having 120 people show up. His school brought in the whole football team. All the food we had was instantly gone. Far and away one of the coolest nights ever. It was a really entertaining night. It will be much more low-key this year when it happens, because he will be off playing somewhere and I will be sitting quietly with my wife and my dog. One-hundred and twenty people were certainly entertaining. The Worcester television station was there and reporters, you name it.

That sounds like a lot of fun. Since you two have been working together for so long I’m sure the specifics of what you two have worked on has changed. But since he has gotten to college and he has started to gain more "man strength," what has he worked on improving?

It is interesting because one of the things that we see over the course of time with a young kid like him, who came in at 15, is that you have to be an athlete in a general sense, first and foremost. That speaks to training in general. You don't know who is going to become a big time college prospect or be a first-rounder, so you have to look for general athleticism at a young age, which is a function of what we do in the weight room. But is also a function of nurturing that multisport athlete. If you talk to most of our pro guys there were mostly point guards on the basketball team, captains of the football team and were baseball players as well. I am a big believer in nurturing that. We want to give them a rich environment where they can have exposure to all of these different sporting disciplines. That was something for Tyler that was a big deal. People didn't realize that he was a three-sport athlete. He was a football-baseball guy as a sophomore. Then junior year he decided to really focus on baseball and he really missed football. His senior year he went back to the football team and was a long snapper. He is a guy who was a multi-sport athlete. Adam Ravenelle was the same thing as a basketball player with golf too. So those guys had different stimuli besides just being in baseball. Early on we really nurtured that, so later on was the time to specialize. What you see is that coincides with the type of career as guys start to get more innings on their arm. You start to see more the adaptions that we encounter with more of our college and pro guys. You go from having to manage them in a general athletic sense in consideration to baseball to a having to understand them in a very baseball-specific context as they move further along in their careers.

Who are some other players from the college side that you have in this draft class?

We have Andrew Chin, who was a fifth-rounder and is at Boston College. John Gorman was also drafted out of high school. He is another weekend starter for Boston College. Spencer Turnbull, the Friday night guy for Alabama, worked with us when he was playing on the Cape this summer. Johnny Magliozzi was one of our guys who was a sophomore-eligible player and was drafted by the Mets out of Florida last year. It is a pretty good herd of guys who have come in here. You try to keep track of them all as best you can. We have some junior college guys who moved up from Alabama last year that are draft eligible this year as well. We will see how it all unfolds.

From the high school side, I talked to (The Benjamin School lefthander) Bennett Sousa at the Area Code Games and he spoke very highly of you. I have also heard that (Salisbury High righhander) Austin DeCarr, who is off to a great start this year, is a client. Are there any other high school players from this draft class?

Those two are big ones. Forrest Wall out of Orangewood Christian is another. Love him and his family. He will come up and spend a week with us every three or four months and I will watch over him from afar. Joe Gatto from New Jersey is another as a big righthander pitcher who is headed to North Carolina. Those are the big four. We see quite a few guys like Scott Manea, who is a catcher on the Yankees’ Area Code roster. He is headed to North Carolina State. I am not sure if he is a draft candidate for this year but he very well could be. Will Toffey is another one and he is Austin’s teammate at Salisbury, who is headed to Vanderbilt. Liam Sabino has been up here and is a Vanderbilt commit. We have a lot of guys who will come in just spend a day or two and will try to do a crash course. They will learn what it is that is unique about their body and what they need to do on the training side of things. We will talk nutrition and whatever it takes to really learn about where they are at. (Righthander) Brendan Spagnuolo is another good one in New York and a Vanderbilt commit. I just saw a video of him with about 15 scouts behind the plate with him throwing. We have a couple good ones for 2015 so we will have to do this a year from now.

That's a lot of guys who could factor into the top few rounds. Austin DeCarr I saw for the first time at East Coast Pro. He was already a strong-bodied, physical guy then but I have talked to a few scouts who have seen him this spring. They said that he has really added even more strength and is a pretty explosive pitcher on the mound. Can you describe the type of athlete we are talking about with Austin DeCarr?

What a lot of people don't know about Austin is that he was a Division I-caliber quarterback. He can throw a football like you wouldn't believe. His dad was actually a quarterback and pitcher in college. Austin is a unique player because he was actually a shortstop and third baseman mostly throughout high school and he has taken up pitching late going into his senior year of high school. He only had about 80 innings on the mound since Little League. So he really hasn't done a lot from that context. He is a little raw and his senior year, his arm speed was good, but it was always a matter of trying to figure out the mechanics and stuff like that. He was a little bit of a late-bloomer. That is why the Perfect Game era has been so spectacular for him. He has gotten a great summer of work in. He is now over 220 pounds and lean. He is a very strong kid. I never would have imagined that he would have filled out the way he did. I knew something was up about a month (ago) when he hit 93 mph indoors on a Stalker on a turf mound with nobody in the box. I love Tyler Beede but I never saw him do that in high school. I don't think I ever saw him above 91. I knew something was up and sure enough, first time out he was 93-95 and I think touched 96. He is year older than Tyler was at that time but Clemson or some professional team is going to get a great one with him because he doesn't have a ton of mileage on his arm. It is a quick arm and pretty special.

Another special arm is Joe Gatto. That is a great frame to build with and he is gaining muscle and starting to fill out that frame. But he still has more to go. I have gotten a chance to meet Mr. Gatto, Joey’s father, and he is a specimen and a big guy who looks like he could still throw around some weight in the gym. How has Gatto developed physically in your time together?

Joe Gatto (Photo by Mike Janes).

Joe Gatto (Photo by Mike Janes).

He has done really well. He came up in the fall. What is great is that our pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, got a lot of video from all the guys at the Area Code Games. So when he came up in the fall in addition to doing the whole physical assessment and getting started on the strength and conditioning side of things, he has had a chance to review some video footage with Matt. When he came back to check up with us later on they had a chance to throw together, and he put a lot of those things into action. Joe’s uncle is actually a pitching coach as well. What has been good is that we are watching over him from afar. We text and email back and forth quite a bit. He is in a good spot with his uncle watching over him and he has his dad, who is great on the nutrition side of things and with training. It makes our life very easy when we are not competing against parents. They are fully on board.

Matt Blake in recent years has helped out with the Area Code Games. Have you been at that event in recent years?

I am a baseball consultant for New Balance Baseball, so they have flown me out for it the last three years. What an unbelievable opportunity for those guys. It is so cool on so many fronts. I am fortunate to go along. I enjoy it not just as a coach but as a fan. It is pretty neat. (In 2012) I was stretching out Kohl Stewart, who was the fourth overall pick (in 2013). It is cool to see the high school guys who become superstars. It is about the kids and it is a great opportunity for them to do their thing.

One of the aspects of national showcase events that bring regional teams is that you see tendencies and trends from region to region when they are compared to one another. Did anything stand out to you about the team from the Northeast? There was a good concentration of big, strong bodies on that team that probably only could have been rivaled by the team from Texas.

Those Texas guys were big boys. You have a little more population to work with down there. But they are always some monsters on that roster. But I think you are right. We kind of joke up here that you have to be a better athlete if you can’t be a better baseball player. It is true in a lot of ways for these guys because you can’t go outside and throw in the middle of January. You have to do a lot more stuff indoors and have to really take care of the strength and conditioning side of things. Some of those kids are football or hockey guys. So they bloom a little bit later on the baseball front. But if you can be physical and take care of your body you can hang with anybody.

This is a draft Q&A and one of your clients was overlooked in the draft process but has gone on to be a good big leaguer. When did you start working with (Royals lefthander) Tim Collins and can you first describe the athlete he was when you first saw him?

Tim was an interesting one. I was originally introduced to Tim by the kid who supposed to be his roommate at the community college in Rhode Island. He connected us and that was in August or September of 2007. Sure enough, he was on a big league roster in 2011. He couldn’t have made the big leagues at 20, but could have made it at 21. He got zero Division I offers. He had a prominent Division II school up here that he really wanted to play at tell him that he wasn't good enough and couldn't play here. Sure enough, next year he went out and was Baseball America’s Low-A reliever of the year. He just climbed through the ranks. It is a big deal for a first-round pick to make it to the big leagues in three years out of high school, but Timmy did it as an undrafted free agent who plowed his way through it with numbers that couldn't be ignored. What is kind of cool about our facility is that there quite a few stories like that. People don't realize that Steve Cishek threw 81 mph out of high school and had to go to Carson Newman, which is a Division II school in Tennessee. Then three years later he was throwing 96 and was a fourth-round pick. We had Trystan Magnuson make it to the big leagues. He was at Louisville but didn't even get recruited. Corey Gearrin went to community college as a second baseman before they tried to convert him as a drop-down righty. Sure enough, a few years later he was in the big leagues with the Braves. Kevin Youkilis had one Division I offer. There are a lot of those guys that just get missed, and it is not uncommon for them to be from Northern climates because there is always projectability and it is hard to evaluate.

I read that Collins gained 40 pounds of muscle when you two started working together. Can you describe what training helped allow him to improve from an undrafted free agent to an explosive athlete that competes at the game’s highest level? He really has a quick arm and is explosive with a lot of strength through his trunk, hips and core.  

Tim Collins (Photo by Tomasso DeRosa).

Tim Collins (Photo by Tomasso DeRosa).

He was 5-foot-5, 130 pounds when he first started working with us. Now he is 5-foot-7 and around 170 pounds, depending upon the time of the year. He is up 40 pounds. It is interesting because his velocity has correlated entirely with his body weight. As he has put more muscle mass on and gotten stronger, his velocity has gone up. That is even independent of any kind of throwing program or anything like that. He is an example of a guy who just tacked on some general athleticism and kept healthy. Those things allowed him to be successful. A big part of his success is because he has never gone on the disabled list. He has had continuity and a chance to develop. He has been a good position to make it to the big leagues and become financially secure. And there are a lot of kids who look up to him.

A word we have both said many times is athleticism. How do you measure athleticism?

It is interesting because we talk about how a lot of the traditional measures of athleticism aren't really that useful in the baseball population. There is actually research that shows that vertical jump and broad jump don't really correlate to pitching velocity at all. There are guys with 15-inch vertical jumps that throw 95. It kind of makes you scratch your head. There are a lot of guys who are successful because of traits; they have long fingers or can throw good changeups or a good splitter. Or they have good vision so they can hit better and they have a little more joint hypermobility so they can get the body into different positions on the mound. A lot of times guys are successful in spite of what they do, not because of what they do. But we can take care of the athleticism side. My feeling is that guys who do well long-term have a lot of single-leg stability, a lot of core control and a lot of scapular control. Above all else, they have good rotational power and the ability to control their body in those planes of motion. When you see guys that get hurt it is usually because guys are deficient in one of those areas. The problem is that a lot of sports are very straight ahead. Baseball is entirely different because the main acts in the game, throwing and hitting, are entirely rotational and there are different planes of motion.