Q&A with John Urick

Urick Just Sees Eric Duncan As Competition

PinstripesPlus sits down with Tampa first baseman John Urick for a Q&A session to talk about his 2005 season, how his injured foot is feeling now, how he feels about the possibility of Eric Duncan moving over to first base, what happened with his Tampa team that was expected to contend, which of his teammates impressed him the most, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: John, talk about your 2005 season. How do you think it went for you?

John Urick: Well, it was definitely a tough year for the Tampa Yankees. We just had a lot of players coming in and out of Tampa all year long, so it was hard for us to gel. I think I struggled with a couple of slumps this past year, but I think I proved I can play at that level and hopefully I proved I can play at the next level. I had the foot injury this past year too, the stress fracture to my right foot. It was first the time I was ever injured, or actually, it was the first time on the DL.

PinstripesPlus: How does the foot feel now and do you think the injury effected your play this past season?

Urick: The foot feels really good going through my workouts. I think I might have been favoring the foot before I went on the disabled list, so I think I was less aggressive at the plate. I was using my lower half more so it had an effect. But it was fine once it was healed.

PinstripesPlus: What are your goals heading into next season?

Urick: Really, just getting stronger. I mean, the guys up in AA and beyond are big strong guys, especially at first base. So my goal is just to get stronger and hit for more power. I think I've shown it, hitting for power. But I just want to increase it.

PinstripesPlus: Do you think you're ready for the AA level and do you think you'll be in Trenton to start the 2006 season?

Urick: I think so, I really do. Look, we all need to improve in a lot of areas, for sure. But taking how much I've learned, and how much I've improved from past seasons, I think I'm ready. Going to Trenton is my ultimate goal for next year. I've moved up a level every year I've played, but I think a lot of it has to do with what the Yankees decide. My goal is to be there Opening Day.

PinstripesPlus: There's a lot of talk about Eric Duncan moving over to first base and it seems that he'll be back in Trenton again in 2006. Does that weigh on your mind at all when you're fighting for the same job as him?

Urick: Yeah, that's something that I've thought about, but I really can't control that. The way I look at it is, he's just somebody to compete with. This past year, I needed to establish myself in Tampa. That was my main goal. Playing in Tampa, I was fortunate to show the organization and the coaches that I could play first base everyday. I'll do whatever I can do to win the first base job in Trenton next year. I can't control how he [Eric Duncan] plays. I just need to worry about me and play my game.

PinstripesPlus: Talk about the Tampa team. There was a lot of guys from the 2004 Battle Creek team that barely missed the playoffs and there were a lot of expectations for the Tampa squad this past season. What happened?

Urick: If you take away "JC" [Justin Christian] from our team, our team average this past year would have been something like .240. In the second half, he was a key element that allowed us to compete. I don't know what went wrong though. Everybody started off real slow and it just became contagious. Sometimes it was like we were waiting around for somebody to get us started. We weren't hitting many home runs and you'd like to blame it on the weather and the heat, but the weather was the same for the whole league. I just think it was the pitching in the Florida State League that gave us problems. We had a hard time adjusting to the breaking ball.

PinstripesPlus: You batted cleanup most of the year. Do you see yourself as a cleanup hitter?

Urick: I think it beared down on me more, batting fourth. They pitch you a little differently and you have to be willing to take a walk. I think I was a little over-aggressive and got myself out more than the pitchers did. I'm used to hitting in the middle of the order, but cleanup is something different.

PinstripesPlus: You touched on it, so let me ask you about Justin Christian. What are your impressions of him?

Urick: He's a great player. He got a lot better defensively, but offensively, he's one of the best I've ever seen, especially with the way he can run. He's one of the best base stealers I've every played with or against. I think he's about as ready for the big leagues as I've played with. He's just one of those guys you want to watch to see if he's going to steal or not. He's a guy that will fire up your team and you need guys like that. When he was on base, you'd be licking your chops to get that RBI.

PinstripesPlus: Which of the Tampa positional players from this past season do you think has the highest upside?

Urick: I was just so impressed with Ramiro Pena. He just made our whole team better. He has a really bright future ahead of him because he can really play defense. He had some big hits for us and he has some pop too. The kid is just so young. Once he matures, he's going to be great. If you're looking at just tools though, you have to look at Matt Carson. I think he'll have a great career. He's very focused. It takes a lot to get emotion out of him. Once he learns the mental part of the game, he'll take off.

PinstripesPlus: Which of the Tampa pitchers impresses you the most?

Urick: Tyler Clippard. I mean, he lead the league in strikeouts. He was just so excited to pitch in AAA. You just look at him with his build. He's lanky. It is hard to pick up the ball when he throws and I think he has the brightest future. I'm not counting Phil Hughes because he only had a few starts. I just think Clippard is very confident in his ability and he's eager to learn. I think you could put Abel Gomez up there too. He has three plus pitches. If he could just learn some control, he'd be awesome.

PinstripesPlus: Which of your Tampa teammates do you think are the "sleeper" prospects, the ones that don't get much attention but are ones you believe will have solid Major League careers?

Urick: I think Mike Gardner is somebody nobody ever talks about. He is just dirty. He throws a plus slider from three different angles. Among the positional players, I like Evan Tierce. I don't know what the Yankees' plans are for him, but he plays good defense, he can throw, run, and hit. He's a very good player.

PinstripesPlus: Which one Yankees' prospect, hitter or pitcher, do you think has the highest upside?

Urick: Matthew DeSalvo! Everywhere he goes, he succeeds. He's just incredible. Injury problems are the only things holding him back from being a force in the Majors. He's a lock to be in Columbus next year and he could be the first person [minor leaguer] to be with the Yankees next season. You just look at his build. He's really athletic and gets off the mound really well, which is a very underrated aspect for pitchers. The guy has got like six quality pitches too.

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