Prospect Q&A: Clayton Mortensen

Clayton Mortensen wasn’™t a MuckDog for long.  After just six games with the Cardinals’™ short-season affiliate in Batavia, the 6’™4″ righthander out of Gonzaga was promoted to low Class-A Quad Cities on Sunday after going 1-1, 1.77 in his first 21 professional innings.
The 36th-overall selection in last month’™s draft, Mortensen was a senior-sign who emerged as an early-round pick this spring after a lackluster junior season.  Featuring a sinking fastball that sits in the low 90s, the native of Rexburg, Idaho went 9-2, 3.92 for the Zags this year with 122 strikeouts in 199 innings.  Mortensen was originally drafted in the 25th round by Tampa Bay out of Treasure Valley (Ore.) Community College, in 2005.
Baseball America:  In ten words or less, describe Clayton Mortensen the baseball player.
Clayton Mortensen:  A confident, dependable pitcher that can get the job done.
BA:  In ten words or less, describe Clayton Mortensen the person.
CM:  A good person who is always fun to be around.
BA:  What were your expectations going into the draft?
CM:  I was thinking anywhere from the second to the third round.  The day before, my agent called and said it wouldn’™t be later than the third.  Then he called and said I won’™t last past the second.  I thought that was pretty awesome.  On the morning of the draft he told me the Cardinals were planning to take me with the 36rd pick, and the only way it wouldn’™t happen was if the Giants took me at 32.  My jaw kind of dropped when he told me that.
BA:  Had you been aware that those teams were interested?
CM:  I was.  The Giants had always been in the top mix, and I knew the Cardinals scout liked me quite a bit.  The Cardinals usually hang pretty low in the draft, though.  They stay pretty quiet about what they’™re looking to do, and then grab you if you’™re still on the board.
BA:  At the time you were drafted, what did you know about the Cardinals minor league system?
CM:  Not much!  Frankly, I didn’™t know where half of the teams were when I saw the list of affiliates.  For instance, I had no idea where Batavia was.     
BA:  Outside of where it is, what do you know about Batavia now that you didn’™t before?
CM:  Well, it’™s an interesting town.  Not in a bad way, although there’™s not much going on there.  Towns in the East are different from what I’™m used to in the West.  There are only about 22,000 people in the one I grew up in, but it’™s more modern than a lot of places out here.  When we played in Lowell, I swear that many of the buildings looked like they’™d been there forever.
BA:  Who was the first hitter you faced in pro ball, and what did you know about him when he stepped into the box?
CM:  He was hitting leadoff for Auburn, and he was a right-handed hitter, but outside of that I knew absolutely nothing (Editor’™s note: The hitter was Darin Mastroianni).  I jammed him with an inside fastball, and got him out, which was a cool feeling.  I had been thinking that this being pro ball, he’™d probably sit back and take a pitch or two, but he went after the first one.
BA:  You didn’™t have an opportunity to study their lineup?
CM:  Not really.  It was the first game of the season, and I was the first guy to throw for us, so I wasn’™t familiar with their hitters.  I took a look at their lineup to see if I knew any of them from college, but that was about it.  I just threw my game and made them try to hit my best stuff.
BA:  You were drafted by Tampa Bay, in the 25th round, two years ago but opted not to sign.  Why not?
CM:  I had a fairly decent sophomore year at Treasure Valley, but it wasn’™t as though I had done amazingly well, either.  Part of me wanted to sign, but I simply had a feeling inside of me that I wasn’™t ready for pro ball yet.  It was kind of a gut instinct that I should stay in college.  Their scout definitely wanted to sign me, but I was going to be transferring to a good school and knew I could improve my game a lot by going there.
BA:  You were planning to go to Brigham Young, but ended up at Gonzaga instead.  What happened?
CM:   I was signed to go to BYU, but then found out that I wasn’™t accepted there.  My grades were good enough, so I’™m not really sure what happened, to be honest.  They never told me what the reason was.  It worked out for the best, though, because I enjoyed my time at Gonzaga.
BA:  You had a disappointing junior season at Gonzaga, going only 6-8, 5.89.  Why do you feel you didn’™t perform better?
CM:  I’™m not 100 percent sure why I didn’™t do well.  I had good coaches, so it wasn’™t that.  Part of it might have been that I wasn’™t as mentally prepared as I should have been.  I saw names on jerseys like Arizona State, and Washington State, and maybe got a little intimidated because they were teams I had grown up watching.  I also wasn’™t used to pitching in front of big crowds with people heckling me.  That was a real learning experience, and it helped me a lot coming into this season.  So did pitching summer ball with the Wenatchee AppleSox.  I concentrated a lot on the mental side of the game and developed an attitude of simply going after guys.  I started attacking the strike zone more.
BA:  You were hit hard in your first game of the season, against the University of Arizona.
CM:  I was, but I actually felt pretty good about myself afterwards.  People ask me if it was a “here we go again” feeling coming off of my junior year, but do you know what?  No one would have beaten that team that weekend the way they were swinging the bat.  I was sitting between 91 and 93, and had a pretty good slider.  I threw one that was breaking into the lefthand batter’™s box, a pitch guys simply don’™t touch, and the guy hit it off the wall.  Not that I didn’™t make a few mistakes–I did–but they were hitting quality pitches, too.  Just the way my mechanics felt, the way the ball was coming out of my hand, my velocity ‘" it all felt good.  I obviously wasn’™t happy with the result, but I felt confident after that game.
BA:  Who was the best hitter you faced in college this year?
CM:  Boy, that’™s a tough one.  It might have been Brett Wallace of Arizona State.  He was difficult to pitch to.  For one thing, you don’™t expect a guy who’™s about 6’™2″ 240 to be hitting lead-off.  Another was the third baseman for the University of San Diego, Kevin Hansen.  That kid had my number this year.  I couldn’™t sneak anything past him.
BA:  You faced Beau Mills, of Lewis-Clark State, this season.  How did he look?
CM:  He went 1-for-3 against me, a line drive off the end of the bat.  I also walked him, but struck him out once and got him on a pop-up.  I remember that I threw him some pretty good pitches.  He’™s a good hitter though.  The kid can swing the bat.
BA:  Who were the best pitchers you saw?
CM:  We faced some top guys, so that’™s a tough question, too.  I’™d say that Barry Enright of Pepperdine was good.  So was Brian Matusz of San Diego.  Even though he had bad games against us, you can see how much talent he has.  He was a sophomore, and I bet he’™s going to go pretty high in the draft next year.
BA:  Tell us something most people don’™t know about you.
CM:   I’™m a video game nerd.  I play a variety of games, and I play them all the time.
BA:  Tell us something most people don’™t know about your home state of Idaho.
CM:  Some of the most beautiful scenery you’™ll ever see is in Idaho, especially if you get up in the mountains.  It’™s nice in the winter, too, especially if you like snowmobiling.  I think snowmobiling is a blast.
BA:  You mentioned playing summer ball last year for the Wenatchee AppleSox.  Where is Wenatchee, and what are AppleSox?
CM:  Wenatchee is an apple farming community in central Washington.  That’™s where the “Apple” comes from.  I’™m not sure about the “Sox” part, though.  Maybe it’™s just a cool sounding name?
BA:  Any final thoughts?
CM:  Just that I have to give a lot of credit to my parents.  They were there for every start I made this year, home or on the road, except for one game.  They’™ve been as supportive as possible.  Looking back, my dad used to force me to go out and play catch with him, and there were times I hated it because I wanted to do something else.  I wouldn’™t be where I am, playing pro ball, without everything they did for me.