I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2010 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.
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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are your height and weight still 6’2”, 180 lbs?
Brian Ragira: I’ve been doing a lot of working out in the offseason trying to get toned up and work on my core some, so I’m probably around 190-192 lbs right now. I might have grown a half an inch or so, but I’m still around 6’2”.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you play other sports besides baseball?
Brian Ragira: Well, there’s always a good pick-up game of basketball once in a while, I played some football in middle school, and played basketball my freshman and sophomore year, but when I was younger I was in the US development program for soccer. When it came down to it I chose baseball because that’s what I love to play most.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How long were you in the soccer program?
Brian Ragira: I was in it from when I was 12 until I was 14. My dad then sat me down and asked me if I wanted to really get serious about soccer or baseball, and I thought about it a little bit and said that baseball was the path I wanted to take.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How tough is it not playing football in a state like Texas?
Brian Ragira: [laughs] Well, I didn’t really get into it at the high school level, but the fans were just die-hard even in middle school. But yeah, football is really big down here – we’ll go to football games on Friday nights and it will be packed, but I never really got into the heat of the whole Texas high school football scene.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Just getting into your background a little, I’ve read that you are a first generation American, and that your parents both emigrated from Kenya. Can you give us a little background on that?
Brian Ragira: Yeah, my parents came over here in ’79 to go to school – my dad went to the University of North Texas to study economics and my mom went to Texas Women’s and studied accounting. Most of our family is back in Africa, but the only way to get out of there is to be intelligent, and my parents are both highly intelligent people so they were able to come over here for their education. Once you get over here there’s a better future for your kids and better opportunities, so they decided to settle down and have me and my sister, and here we are now.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Why did they choose Texas?
Brian Ragira: They flew into New York, but when my dad was back home he had sent in a bunch of applications to colleges over here, so when he heard back and settled on North Texas, that was pretty much when he decided to come over. He came here and settled down in Arlington, and liked it enough to stay.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What was it like for you growing up with a father that had a non-American background when it came to sports?
Brian Ragira: My dad is pretty fun, he picks up on things a lot, and once he realized that I had a passion for the game and it was something I really enjoyed he invested a lot in it for me. I’ve had some success up to this point, and I can account most of it to him. He’s been around the game with me, he’s been to all my games, hasn’t missed a practice, and he’s pretty observant, so the more he sees, the more he picks up – [laughs] he knows my swing probably better than anybody else.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Stanford has just about the best reputation of all the big-time baseball programs.. What is it specifically that drew you to them?
Brian Ragira: I guess everything goes back to my parents, their education, and I’ve worked hard on my education. When it came down to it I wanted to go to a school that could challenge me on the highest level, both academically and athletically, and for me the final two choices were Stanford and Rice. I took trips to try and get a feel for both places, and Stanford was the one I chose.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you plan on studying?
Brian Ragira: I’m just in high school at this point, so I might get there and change my mind, but as of right now I’m thinking of public policy or political science, maybe mix in some music and see what else I run into.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What aspect of musical study?
Brian Ragira: I’ve been doing vocals for a while and, although I’ve stopped a bit, I play the piano and have been picking it up this year again – I’ve had a little more free time with my schedule – and I’m hoping to do some acoustics in college, too; trying to broaden my horizons and see what I can do with it all.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What kind of vocals do you do?
Brian Ragira: I try to do some of the bands I like - Bloc Party, Phoenix – but at the same time, I’ve done choir quite a bit and I had to stop that to take Latin because of a scheduling conflict. So all of the choir stuff, some of the classical stuff, but I try to stick to some more modern stuff, the bands I enjoy.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much of a role has the impending draft process played in your life lately?
Brian Ragira: It’s a good experience – I don’t think it’s something to stress about because it’s a win-win situation for me. If it comes down to it and the draft is not the way I want to go I’ve got that Stanford education to go to, and if the draft seems like a better option to me then I can go into pro ball and start a career that I hope to stay in for a good part of my life. So either way it’s win-win, and I'm not really stressing it too much.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your dream when you think about playing professionally?
Brian Ragira: Oh gosh, you always dream about being in the big leagues, under the big lights, and having everybody watching, but for me it’s more about playing the game itself, the competition day in and day out, against the best in the world. Showing what you can do, being in a position to have an influence on people, and exercising that ability the best that you can. Coming in everyday, having fun…it’s nice to be able to dream about the stadium and just a new life.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from?
Brian Ragira: Somewhere in the mid-twenties.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Any contact from the Yankees?
Brian Ragira: Yeah, I see quite a bit of the Yankees local guy, he’s in the ballpark and a good guy, and I’ve had contact with the Yankees quite a bit.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?
Brian Ragira: I’m just a guy who tries to keep it simple and let the ball get deep because a lot of my power is up the middle and to rightcenter, so I let it get in on me and get a little backspin on it to the gaps. I’m a patient guy – aggressive but under control. In high school I need to be pretty picky because they’re going to be nibbling on me, throwing everything away, curveballs, changeups. Early in the count I’ll pick out a spot and a pitch that I’m looking for and try to get on it, and then later in the count I’ll widen out the zone a little bit, but I’ll just say that I’m a patient hitter that relaxes, waits for his pitch, and just tries to let it flow.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is speed a part of your game?
Brian Ragira: Yeah, I like to think so. If I get on base I look to be aggressive and make things happen. If I’m making contact I know that my speed will help me get on base – my speed helps my average, helps put pressure on the defense, and maybe helps get some things going for the team.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Where do you hit in the lineup?
Brian Ragira: In high school I hit four-hole freshman through junior year,
and now I’m hitting three-hole. I think I see myself as more of a three-hole hitter than a four-hole hitter.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you going to be pitching this year?
Brian Ragira: I guess it sort of depends on how our other pitchers are doing, we have some good D-1 pitchers - Tony Rizzotti is one of the top pitchers in the country in my opinion, and he’s the anchor of our staff. I’m going to be closing and just coming in to throw a couple of innings, a spot start here and there, but mainly at the back of the bullpen.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your personality on the field?
Brian Ragira: I’d say I’m more of the quiet guy that prepares for the game by trying to gather as much information as can to help me when I get out there. I see myself more as that calming presence in the dugout and the clubhouse, but at the same time, being on the team for four years I need to be a leader, I know the ropes, and I will try to teach the other guys some stuff. I’ll keep everyone calm, keep everyone on their toes, and if something is going on I’ll speak up for the team, but I’m definitely more of a calm guy in the dugout.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal any skill from any player in your draft class, whose would it be and why?
Brian Ragira: I’m going to go with another Stanford guy, Austin Wilson. Obviously his arm strength would be something nice to have, and this isn’t really a tool, but Austin’s a guy that’s got a lot of rhythm, he’s really smooth at the game, so if I could take any one thing from anybody I’d probably take be Austin’s…how should I say this…his swagger [laughs]. He really goes about the game nice and is a guy I like to watch play.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest pitcher you’ve faced?
Brian Ragira: There’s a lot of good guys…hmmm…let see, I’m trying to go through all the ABs…I’m going to go out on a limb and give you a guy that people maybe aren’t too familiar with. At USA trials I faced Griffin Murphy, a lefthander who I think is from California, and he really spotted me up pretty well that day. A big curveball and a low 90s fastball, so he’s probably one of the toughest guys I faced last summer.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What was it like playing in both the Aflac and UA games?
Brian Ragira: The circumstances of the situations, the ballpark, the great hotel, they’re great, but for me playing with all of those really good high school players – the Harpers, the Taillons - and seeing how they approach the game was great. Just being around them and seeing what they do, maybe incorporate some of it into your routine, toy with it a little bit, it’s just always good when you’re playing against good guys seeing 95 MPH fastballs and the raw big league stuff.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is it safe to say you grew up a Rangers fan?
Brian Ragira: I’d like to say I’m more of just a baseball fan. With the Rangers right here in Arlington I go and watch them a lot, but I just love the game and going out there and seeing good ballplayers day in and day out. Heck, I’m just a fan of the league.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who are the players that you look up to in terms of their skills or the way they play?
Brian Ragira: I like Jeter, I’m sure a bunch of guys have said that, but that’s a testament to the way he plays the game. Everyone can look at Jeter and find something they love in him. The young guys like James Loney, the Upton brothers, Hanley Ramirez, Dexter Fowler, are exciting guys that I like to watch a bunch.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you gotten any comparisons from scouts?
Brian Ragira: Yeah, I got a guy from back in the day a little bit, George Foster. I’ve gotten a few comparisons to him, he was a guy that could knock in some runs and move a little bit. He’s the comparison I get quite a bit.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Wow, Foster had some really legit power at the big league level – where does that tool stand for you?
Brian Ragira: I like to think I have some power now, but a lot of scouts tell me that I have a pretty good body to fill out into and hopefully have some more power as I get older.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you like to do off the field?
Brian Ragira: I’ll go to a concert, hang out with friends, I’m in clubs at school like Young Americans for Political Awareness. Basically I like hanging out with friends, music is a big part of my life, and church is a big part also.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: The fans always want to know if a Stanford commit is realistically even considering signing out of high school. If the terms are right, is that something you would entertain?
Brian Ragira: Well, they’re both good opportunities, and I’m keeping my options open. I hear from some scouts that the word is my parents and I are big on school, that education is the way to go. Education is very important, but at the same time people need to still examine their options and take the best choice. I’m definitely still looking at pro ball and if the time comes and it feels right to me and it’s what I want to do at this point in my life, then pro ball is the way I’ll go. If not, Stanford’s not exactly something to look down on [laughs].
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Finally, what’s this whole process like for you?
Brian Ragira: You know, I’m fortunate and it’s great to have all these opportunities, but I don’t think I’m half as far as I want to be. I’m going to enjoy this last semester, hanging out with my friends and everything, but at the same time be aware of everything I have going for me, try to stay on top of things, try to get better, wait for the draft to come, and see how it unfolds. It’s a great opportunity, but at the same time I need to stay focused on what I want to do and what I need to do, and that’s what I’ll be doing.