Top Prospect Alert Interview:
Jeremy Slayden -- Philadelphia Phillies
By Ben Lipson
A former Georgia Tech standout and Tennessee High School Player of the Year, Jeremy Slayden completed his first full season of pro baseball in 2006. The 24 year old Slayden was one of the best hitters in the South Atlantic League batting .310 (second in the league), with 10 homeruns, 81 rbi's, and was tied for the Sally League lead with a Lakewood club record 44 doubles on the year.
Top Prospect Alert is pleased to bring you an interview with Philadelphia Phillies outfield prospect Jeremy Slayden.
TPA: When did you first realize you were a pretty good baseball player?
JS: I first realized I had a bit of a 'special talent' when I was 13. I was skinny as a rail and I was facing one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the league, Jason Sharber (who played in the Pirates organization for awhile), and no one could hit him. I don't remember the count or anything but I remember he threw me an inside fastball and I hit it right on the screws but pulled it way foul. It was just the way that I turned on him when nobody else could that let me know I had good eyes and quick hands. I actually remember that moment well.
TPA: What was your little league / youth league experience like?
JS: My little league experience was fun because I loved baseball, but I really wasn't one of the best players in the league. I would barely slip onto the all-star teams and bat late in the order. I wore glasses and I was sort-of chubby for awhile. You wouldn't have picked me to be a great player then. The best thing about my little league experience was that Murfreesboro loves baseball and we had a ton of talent. The same players that won the little league TN state championship were also the ones who helped lead Oakland High to back to back state championships in '99 and 2000.
TPA: Was there a time when you had to decide that you were a baseball player first and scale back participation in other sports as a kid?
JS: I enjoyed golf a lot and actually played on the TN Junior Tour for awhile. When I got to high school I absolutely had to scale back other sports. I wasn't the kind of guy who had the natural body to play all sports and excel in all of them. I had to pick one and put everything into it.
TPA: How influential was your father during your prep days?
JS: My dad was a huge influence. He played college ball at PCC (Paducah Community College) and Murray State. He was actually really good and loves to tell me how powerful he was at the plate...haha. He does hold the single season homerun record at PCC. While at Murray State he had a shoulder injury that put him out of baseball. He has a natural gift for teaching and he really does know a lot about baseball and golf swings. I have to give him most of the credit for my high school success. He pushed me hard and we worked all the time. During high school he was really my only hitting coach.
TPA: What was it like chasing Todd Helton's state prep home run record while in high school?
JS: I had no idea about Todd Helton's record at the time. I probably didn't even find out I hit one less than him until the media people at Georgia Tech went back and did some homework on it.
TPA: What was it like to win back to back state championships at Oakland?
JS: Amazing. Especially that first championship. It was the first time Oakland had ever won a state championship and I had never been on a team like that. We were really awesome. The championship game of '99 will probably forever be my most cherished baseball memory. Not only did I get to be a part of something like that with all my friends - but I also broke the single season HR record at Oakland in my last at-bat. That season was a big turning point for me because I'd worked my butt off just to start and the first half of the season I didn't play very well. The second half I came alive and basically doubled my numbers. It made me believe in the value of my hard work. The second championship my junior year was just icing on the cake.
TPA: Why did you decide to choose to go to Georgia Tech out of high school rather than going directly to pro ball?
JS: My shoulder was killing me and I'd just had surgery. I had also fallen to the 20th round. I wasn't ready for pro ball, and the money wasn't there either. I needed college.
TPA: What role if any did high school teammate Brennan King's experience with the Pro/College issue back in 1999 have on your decision making in 2001?
JS: You know, having Brennan on my team was great for a lot of reasons, although it didnít really have an impact on my choice between college and pro ball. He made the decision that was right for him, and I made the one that was right for me. He had a lot more reason to sign pro than I did with him being a second rounder. What I did learn from being around him was seeing how to handle the scouts and all the hype. He never got big-headed and he continued to lead by hard work and example. He also seemed to stay relaxed and not try to do too much in big situations with a lot of scouts there. I wish I had been a little more that way.
TPA: In what ways did playing on such a dominating team in high school help prepare you for D-I ball?
JS: Being on such a great team in high school helped me to become the kind of athlete/personality who expected to win. I didnít care who the competition was. If they were on the field with my team I always believed we would win even if we were behind because thatís what I was used to. I also was around great athletes in high school (from my own team) so going to college and being around great athletes there was no big change.
TPA: Looking back what do you think would have been different had you decided to turn pro out of high school?
JS: I try not to worry about the past that much. But, if I would have gone pro, I donít think I would have been ready. College allows you some freedom, but there are also some guidelines and rules to live by. I donít think I would have lost my head or anything like thatÖI just had some more growing up to do and GA Tech helped me do that.
TPA: Who was most influential to you during your collegiate career and why?
JS: There were a ton of influences. Iíd have to give a ton of credit to Josh Holiday who took over as the hitting/assistant coach in 2005. I had a great freshman year and I actually played against him while he was coaching at NC State so he knew of me. My next two years were the toughest of my life. In í03 I had a season long slump and fought injuries the whole summer at the Cape Cod League. In í04 I was so determined to make it right again but I ended up herniating a disc in the weight room and having shoulder surgery which limited my 2004 season to nine games. It was an extremely difficult time for me both physically and mentally. At one point I thought it was all over.
When I came back to Tech in í05 Coach Holiday had just been hired and he never put any pressure on me. He taught me how to just relax and enjoy the game every day, and to stop worrying about the numbers at all. We talked about mentally relaxing almost as much as we talked about swing mechanics and things of that nature, and his words have become a major influence in the way I think about the game today. He said "Iíll take a guy with a relaxed carefree attitude, but maybe a couple swing flaws over a guy with a perfect practice swing, but he takes himself and the game way too seriously too have any fun". I used to be the second guy Ė but youíd never think so to watch me play now. I love it more than ever.
TPA: What was draft day like for you? How did you find out you had been picked?
JS: Now youíre gonna think Iím crazy. Honestly, after the events of the last two years I was completely at peace with whatever happened on draft day. I was definitely going to sign no matter what. I felt that spending another year in college would only put me farther away from my dream of the big leagues because of my age. So I didnít follow the draft at all. I went to the theater to see Cinderella Man and I took my cell phone with me and waited for a call. Now I was a little nervous because of course I wanted to get drafted as high as possible, but I knew that sitting at a computer worrying about it wouldnít help me get picked any sooner. Besides, it would be the third time for me to be drafted.
I was about halfway through the movie when I got a call from the Phillies scout letting me know I had been taken in the 8th round. Now there had been times in my career when I was projected higher than that, but after all I had gone through I figured that the 8th round was fair enough and I felt good about it. It would provide enough of a bonus so that my back wasnít against the wall during my time in the minors, but also not enough of a cushion for me to feel complacent. The greatest thing about that period in my life was that it just felt so awesome to be playing baseball healthy again.
TPA: What's been the biggest difference between college and pro ball and what adjustments have you had to make to deal with those changes?
JS: Pro ball is easier because life is all about baseball and you donít have to worry about class and everything else. The travel doesnít really bother meÖI have a great time on road trips. So all in all there really hasnít been a difficult adjustment period or anything.
TPA: What was your first spring training like in 2006?
JS: It was a blast. I showed up to spring training in the best shape of my life. I worked my butt off in the off-season. My speed had improved, my arm was surprisingly better, and my swing felt really quick. I think I had surprised a lot of coaches and coordinators who had labeled me as not athletic or slow. I didnít even mention that when I was drafted in í05 I had missed the last month of the season at Tech (aside form the last 5 games) due to a piece of glass in my foot which had gotten infected. So I really wasnít running well in short-season Batavia because of that. The month that I missed also really affected my last seasonís numbers at Tech, and I think it was the straw that broke the camelís back as far as pro teams not believing I could be healthy and writing me off the draft boards. I had a lot to prove this last year as far as athleticism goes.
TPA: What path do you see 2007 taking, after having put up outstanding numbers in Low-A last year, but having done so being about two years older than the average collegiate player, playing their first season in the Sally League.
JS: You never know about the path. Iíd like to hit more homeruns this year and truly become a name that cannot be overlooked, but last year I had a pretty damn good season and they didnít move me anywhere. Iím not mad about it though, I had a blast and we won it all. I will control what I can control, the Phillies are the ones who make the promotion calls.
TPA: Being one of the older players on the Lakewood roster last season? What type of leadership role did you take on with younger players?
JS: I just wanted them to have a lot of fun with it. I mean, some young guys just take it so serious and the game isnít a game anymore. Itís one of the best things in the world to go out and play ball every day Ė I donít care what level youíre at. I believe that this relaxed attitude was one reason we won the championship. Occasionally Iíd help a guy with his swing or something if he wanted it.
TPA: What's been your best memory so far as a pro, both from something on the field, as well as something crazy you have had happen while in the minor leagues.
JS: Well, the championship at Lakewood and being a big part of that was a big deal. The fans were so into it as well and that just made it sweeter. Iíve been lucky to be on several championship teams but this actually topped any of my good feelings at Tech because we actually won it all. You may not know this, but I didnít even join the team (Lakewood) until a month of the season had passed. I felt I had a great spring training and showed major improvements in the outfield, but I was kept in Extended Spring Training for the first month. It was really difficult to swallow but I made the most of it. Ultimately, I think my hard work and positive attitude through the time carried over into my efforts at Lakewood and made the season more enjoyable. So yeah, going from extended spring training (baseball purgatory) to winning at all at Lakewood was definitely the best.
Off the field? Oh Lord this is a tough one. I love to have a good time off the field and there are tons of stories I could think of. One off day Greg Golson and I rode the tallest roller coaster in the world at six flags. He would hate for me to admit this but we were both pretty scared and almost didnít ride it because it kept breaking down and they had to keep running Ďtestsí. We waited in line for four hours and finally got on. The roller coaster is simple. You are thrusted at 125 mph straight forward, then straight up where you hang at the top (like 500 ft.) for a few seconds. Then you go straight, and I mean straight back down. The whole ride lasts 28 seconds. When we thrust forward at first he started screaming and laughing like a little girl (sorry Greg) and when we got to the top he had tears in his eyes! I looked at him and shouted, ďwe made it!Ē He screamed back, ďno we didnítĒ and then we began our freefall. We both about died. I love to ride rollercoasters, but that one shook me. I know it shook him Ė haha this story would be funnier if I had a recording of his screams.
TPA: What is the best advice someone has given you during your baseball career?
JS: ďStop taking yourself so seriously. In the big scheme of things, your just not that big of a deal.Ē Ė Coach Mo
TPA: What does a typical day in the offseason consist of for you.
JS: Wake up at 9:30. Eat Oatmeal, take phosphagen, go run. Eat lunch. Do something I want to do for a little while and then go workout with my buddy Jake. Our workouts are dead serious and I go in there to get better! I try to eat five smaller meals a day to keep my metabolism churning. At night I usually have some hitting lessons to give to local kids. My biggest hobby is probably doing audio-visual work on my computer and Iím currently becoming pretty good at video editing. Iíve always loved technology and computers.
TPA: Did you collect baseball cards as a kid?
JS: Yes. I have a ton of cards. I actually used to try to sell them and considered it my business when I was about 12. My most prized cards are a Reggie Jackson rookie and a Ken Griffey Jr. 1994 Upper Deck Electric Diamond card. Its listed around 400.00 in Beckett.
TPA: What is your opinion on signing autographs for fans. What is your feeling on the growing number of autograph collectors who camp out at stadiums and ask for dozens of items to be signed?
JS: If you donít take the time to sign autographs for kids then there is something wrong with you. Honestly, the game and all that goes with it could be taken away from you in a second so you better cherish the time that people actually want your autograph. Now, about the autograph collectors. That can be a little much. Somebody should get about two or three items signed at the most. We want to give you an autograph because you love the game or love us. Not to help you run a card business on ebay. Aside from those guys, I love to sign.