Garrett Richards was selected 42nd overall in the 2009 Draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as compensation for losing All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez to the New York Mets.
In two seasons with the organization, the Riverside, Calif., native has impressed coaches with his growth on the mound and relentless work ethic.
The 22-year-old right-hander went 12-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 26 starts for Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga Quakes last year, and he hopes to climb higher in the farm system in 2011.
Richards spoke to MiLB.com about pitching in the Cal League Championship Series, Spring Training hijinx and his little-known passion for grilling meat.
MiLB.com: Scouts have noted that you have good raw stuff, but there are a lot of moving parts to your pitching mechanics. Where did your motion come from?
Garrett Richards: I've worked with a few people in the past, and my motion is just a combination of working with my pitching coach at [the University of] Oklahoma and a few people here in the offseason.
I'm working with Mike Butcher and some of the pitching coaches here in the organization to try and iron things out to make sure than my delivery is smooth and that my direction is good.
Sometimes I have a tendency to be too quick to the plate, so for me it's all about taking my whole body to the catcher and keeping my direction straight.
MiLB.com: You throw a fastball, slider, curve and change. How would you rate each pitch right now, and which has gotten the most work in Spring Training?
Richards: My fastball is good, that's probably my main pitch. My slider is my strikeout pitch, and my changeup is what I use to mix speeds and keep hitters off-balance.
My curveball is another two-strike pitch or something that I'll use early in the count to change a hitter's eye level with something they haven't seen yet. I'm probably working most on my curveball right now. I'm trying to get a good arm slot with it and get good momentum going forward. I want to make it more consistent this year.
MiLB.com: You majored in Human Relations at Oklahoma. What would you be doing if you weren't playing professional baseball?
Richards: I like to cook and I was really interested in the culinary arts. That was something that I would have liked to pursue if baseball had not have worked out.
Sometimes at night I still get to make dinner, but during the day I'm at the field and they usually bring things in. I like to grill and marinate meat and things like that.
MiLB.com: You went 12-5 with a 3.52 ERA across two levels in 2010. What did you learn from your first full season in the Minors?
Richards: I felt I had a great year last year and I learned a lot. I learned more about how to pitch and what to look for in a hitter's swing.
I learned the philosophy of trying to get hitters out in three or less pitches, and that is something the Angels preach. I really bought into that because it gives you a chance to stay in the game longer if you can get people out quicker.
I also continued to learn to try and command all of my pitches and throw the ball low in the zone.
MiLB.com: You seemed to really settle down at the start of the summer. You had a 10-strikeout complete game against Wisconsin, then struck out 11 over six shutout innings in your next start. How much confidence did those outings give you?
Richards: You have games like that, and it's a big confidence booster. I try to stay pretty levelheaded and even-keeled about everything, whether it's a bad game or a good game. But you're only as good as your last start.
The work really begins the day after your start. There's a lot of work that goes on in between starts, even if the day you get to pitch is the most fun. I just try to concentrate on getting better every day, learning something new and trying to make each start better than the last one.
MiLB.com: Your last start was pretty impressive, too, wasn't it? One run on two hits with eight strikeouts in Game 2 of the Cal League Finals.
Richards: That was a big game, and I felt really good on the mound. The bigger the situation and the more pressure I have and the more important the game is, I seem to do well.
That goes all the way back to my college days. When there's pressure on the game, I always seem to be able to rise to the occasion.
MiLB.com: Aside from the playoffs, you gave up only three earned runs over your last four starts with Rancho Cucamonga. How happy were you with the way you finished the season?
Richards: I knew that, when I moved from low-A to high-A, it was a hitters' league and that obviously everybody gets better. I got with Rica [Daniel Ricabal], our pitching coach in Rancho, and learned some new things, and I really concentrated on throwing the ball low in the zone, considering the Cal League is such a hitters' league.
I just really concentrated on keeping hitters off-balance, mixing all of my pitches in for strikes, drawing contact and getting outs early in the count. It was a great environment to play in.
MiLB.com: There are a lot of veteran pitchers with the team in Spring Training. What have you learned from some of the more established pitchers? Have you been working with anybody in particular?
Richards: They go about their business, and you watch how they throw their bullpens and things like that.
They made a point that the game is the same no matter what level you play at. You are still throwing the ball 60 feet, six inches, and hitters still have to hit your best stuff. They have done a real good job letting us know that the game is still the same. When I throw my bullpens, I usually work with Mike [Butcher], but then I've also been working with Kernan [Ronan] a little bit.
MiLB.com: How realistic is it to think you could make the 25-man roster out of camp as a fifth starter or long reliever?
Richards: Obviously, I want to pitch well, and I'd like to make it to the big leagues. I'll probably start at Double-A Arkansas, but I want to go out and have a strong start to the season.
Hopefully, I can make some headway to ending up at Anaheim. I have no idea where they would use me, but from what you guys are saying they see me as a starter. But that can always change. It would have to depend on how the starting rotation is and how the bullpen is doing.
I don't have a problem doing either or. It's all about what they want me to do.
MiLB.com: Mike Scioscia is known for his Spring Training pranks. Did he get around to you yet?
Richards: I was actually the first guy who had to do anything this year. I had to look up all the players who made it to the Major Leagues from Riverside, Calif., and I had to do the same with guys from the University of Oklahoma.
I had to stand up in front of the whole team and present it to everyone. Some of the other guys who had been to big league camp before had told me that I'd have to do a project, so I was prepared for it.
There's a great group of guys there, and everyone keeps it laid back in the clubhouse. It's a nice, loose atmosphere, and luckily it went well. It could have been worse -- he could have sent me to the zoo.