Striking up a conversation with Jess Todd

By | May 2, 2008 1:04 PM ET


Pitching for the University of Arkansas in the 2007 SEC tournament against nationally ranked #9 University of South Carolina, Jess Todd struck out 17 batters in eight innings of work, setting both school and SEC tournament records. He struck out the first nine batters of the game, all of them swinging. On April 24th, pitching for the Palm Beach Cardinals, he struck out nine Vero Beach Devil Rays' batters in five innings of work, including seven in a row.

When asked to compare the two feats, the humble right-handed throwing 22-year old replied "It's never easy at this level. In college, you could blow by the hitters at times. Now, it's all about hitting your spots." Palm Beach Pitching Coach Dennis Martinez has helped to instill this philosophy into many of the young Cardinals pitchers, who have the second lowest team ERA in the Florida State League. The former starter Martinez, who had a 23-year career in the majors, has taught the team's pitchers how to visualize their opponents and what they want to pitch. Todd mentally prepares for each batter by "picturing every batter in the box, and visualizing what I'm going to throw."

This game plan, in addition to his repertoire which features a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, a hard slider, and a circle change, has helped Todd become the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April. In the month of April, Todd had a record of 3-0 in six appearances, which included three starts. He amassed 31 strikeouts, while only walking five batters. Opponents hit an abysmal .174 off of him, while surrendering only 3 extra-base hits and no homeruns in 24.1 innings of work. He has also made three bullpen appearances, managing to record a save in his lone opportunity.

Todd has been paired with Kyle Sadlowski in the Cardinals eight-man pitching rotation, which features two starters pitching every game in a four-day cycle. Heading into May, the first-place Palm Beach Cardinals are 6-0 on days the duo of Todd and Sadlowski pitch. When asked how this unusual rotation has affected him, Todd remarked, "It hasn't affected me as much as some of the other guys, because I've pitched out of the bullpen before." Last season for the Batavia Muckdogs (A), he started seven games and appeared in nine others as a reliever. Some analysts predict Todd has a future in the majors as a relief pitcher, despite his dominating performances as a starter.

Growing up in Texas, Todd idolized seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens. While at 5'11" 210 pounds, Todd may not share the same physical presence or unique set of pitches Clemens possesses, one could compare the two via their similar aggressive approach on the mound. Todd has an explosive windup, where his legs and throwing arm seemingly jump at the batter in one swift motion. Like Clemens, Todd is not afraid to pitch to batters, throwing strikes early and often, while limiting walks. Last season at Batavia, Todd had a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and this season his ratio is over 6:1.

Despite his aggressive demeanor on the pitcher's mound, Todd describes himself as a "laid-back guy," whose activities off the field include golfing, hunting and fishing. However, his baseball talent apparently does not translate well to golf for him. "I'm not very good," Todd jokingly remarked about his golfing ability, "My best round is probably somewhere in the high 90's." Golf is one of the ways he relaxes and is able to get his mind off of baseball. Another method of relaxation for him is fishing. "Fishing is just great to kick back and relax." The Texan is also a big hunter, who is typically into hunting for waterfowl, including ducks and geese.

Todd is not superstitious when it comes to pre-game routines, as many other baseball players are. Before a game he will simply just focus on his game plan, and prepare accordingly, not doing any ritualistic action. During a rain delay, he likes to listen to music, with his favorite genre being country music. One of his favorite artists is fellow Texas native Pat Green. The funniest thing he has ever seen at Minor League Baseball games are the hoards of children wanting the baseball after a foul ball. One time before a game, a fan came up to Todd and asked him to sign a ball. The only problem was, it was a ping-pong ball! "It was unbelievably hard to sign," he recalled, referring to the small size of the ping-pong ball in relation to a baseball.

One of the greatest influences on the young pitcher's career was his Junior College coach Skip Johnson, who is now the pitching coach at Texas University. If Todd were not a baseball player, he says he can easily see himself as a pitching coach at the college level. Much of this has to do with Johnson's influence on him, as well as Todd's love for pitching and baseball.

Todd looks to repeat his dominating performance that made him the St. Louis Cardinals Organizational Pitcher of the Month for April. His first start of May is currently slated for Saturday, May 3 at Roger Dean Stadium against the Sarasota Reds. The game time is scheduled for 6:05 PM. On Saturday, The first-place Cardinals begin an eight-game home stand, where they are 11-3 on the season.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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