Hirsh stands tall in blockbuster trade

Hirsh stands tall in blockbuster trade

DENVER -- Much of the shock over seeing the Rockies trade right-handed pitcher Jason Jennings to the Astros on Tuesday is understandable. Fans knew Jennings, and they don't know the three players that came in return -- pitchers Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz, and center fielder Willy Taveras.

Media reports paint Hirsh as being the key player in the deal, so it make sense to get to know him.

Anyone with a computer can see that he's had outstanding Minor League numbers. He has the honors to match -- Pitcher of the Year in the Texas League (2005) and Pacific Coast League (2006) and the MiLB.com Triple-A Starting Pitcher of the Year (2006).

Hirsh also went 3-4 with a 6.04 ERA in his first nine Major League starts last season with the Astros, but those are well-documented.

But how did Hirsh go from being barely recruited out of St. Francis High School of La Cañada, Calif., to the Astros' top pick (second round) in 2003, then become one of the brightest prospects in baseball? Also, not everyone knows he is also a computer whiz as well as a writer, as was evidenced by the journal he kept on MiLB.com last season.

We'll let Jason Hirsh speak his mind.

On a whirlwind week that included a trade to the White Sox that never materialized, followed by the deal to the Rockies:

"I had no idea about the Chicago trade until someone called me and said, 'Hey, I saw in the paper there was this deal with the White Sox.' I kind of blew it off. But I kept hearing it, so I called my agent and he said at the Winter Meetings a lot of talk goes on, and somebody just decided to run with it.

"Then the Rockies jumped in there.

"I was pretty shocked. For about an hour and a half, I was just sitting there. I couldn't believe [the Astros] would trade me away without giving me an opportunity to show myself in Houston. But after the shock wore off, [Rockies manager] Clint Hurdle called, and the pitching coach, Bob Apodaca, and the GM, Dan O'Dowd, all called to wish me luck. The GM said that when people come to the Rockies, it feels like family. It eased my worries and I felt real good about the trade."

On being prepared for the expectations that come with being the major cog in the deal in which the Rockies gave up their top starting pitcher:

"I understand they gave away a prized possession in Jason Jennings, and they really are looking to fill his shoes. But I also see it from the standpoint that it's a chance to make my name somewhere else, rather than sit behind Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte in Houston.

"And I definitely know what it's all about now. I went through the whole pennant race thing in Houston. I had guys I played with that were able to add to my knowledge of the game. Plus, at the end of the season, I sat down and wondered if we or if I had won this game or that game, we'd be that much closer. And I've kind of taken that to heart. I know what it's all about, and this offseason I've concentrated on what I need to do to get to that level in my career."

On how he will prepare physically:

"This year I'm trying to put some mass back on. I lost a lot of mass last year because an injury prevented me from lifting. I pinched my sciatic nerve and didn't pick up a weight until June or July. It also affected the way I threw, and I was messed up for the first month and a half in Triple-A. But I got rid of it through running and extra stretching.

"I feel like I've worked real hard this offseason and I shoud be strong throughout. I've also been working with Alan Jaeger [who conditions players' arms through the use of surgical bands and a long-toss program, and incorporates yoga and mental training], who works with a lot of Major Leaguers -- Barry Zito is his claim to fame. In January, I'll start throwing long-toss and getting my arm ready for the season."

On how a 6-foot-8 athlete winds up in baseball and not another sport where his size can be more of an asset:

"I'll tell you my basketball story. My freshman year, I wasn't 6-foot-8. I was close to 5-foot-11, maybe 6 feet. I tried out for basketball, got cut and never went back. Baseball was it for me. High school turned out to be one big growth spurt for me. All of a sudden I'm 6-foot-8 and people are like, 'What happened to you?'

"My senior year, I was running around the track getting ready for baseball and the football coach came up to me and said, 'Why don't you come out for football?' and I said, 'Well, coach, I'm a senior.' He said, 'You could have been the quarterback.' I was like, 'Thanks for telling me now.'

"But I'm 6-foot-8 and I keep a high three-quarters arm angle. You figure the mound is a foot and a half, and my arm may be another two, three, four feet. It makes the batter have to look up instead of straight at me, and he may have a difficult time adjusting."

How he went from 6-foot-8, 260 pounds but with a self-described "bad body" and an 88 mph fastball -- and little scouting exposure -- in high school to a high draft pick in 2003 after pitching at Cal Lutheran University:

"I got a look from a couple of teams while I was in high school, but I wound up going to an excellent program at Cal Lu.

"Arizona State was where I really wanted to go. I went to a bunch of their camps, but they wanted me to go to a junior college for a year and then transfer. But I didn't want to bounce around, and I wanted to go somewhere the I could play right away. Cal Lu is only 40 minutes from my house, and it was a great Division III program.

"Fortunately, a lot of scouts were going to Camarillo High School to see Delmon Young [the top pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft with the Devil Rays], and Cal Lu was a short stop from there. We had three guys drafted off my junior year's team."

On how Cal Lutheran was more than just a place to play:

"I started out wanting to do Web page design and ended up in the graphic art and design end of it. I left school after my junior year, but I went back after that first Rookie ball season in the New York-Penn League, left before Spring Training but took my laptop and e-mailed in my assignments to earn a BA in multimedia in 2004.

"My brother [Matt Hirsh, a pitcher in the Cardinals' system] has the same degree, and we've got a Web site, www.hirshbrothers.com. We have our designs and some layouts. When I do all my baseball work, sometimes my mind goes nuts. I can't be sitting there watching TV. I need to be creating something."

On the prospect of pitching at Coors Field, which has become an easier place to pitch the last few years:

"For me, the last thing from my mind was how I've got to pitch at Coors Field. That's a very good way to look at it for me. I've had the opportunity to pitch in some tough ballparks. In Double-A at Corpus Christi, it not only had a short porch in left field and a 30 mph wind blowing off the bay every night.

"But you learn how to pitch -- you pitch, you don't throw. That's what our pitching coach, Burt Hooton, preached to us in Triple-A. He wanted to teach us to use the ballpark to our benefit and to the hitter's detriment. Plus, I'm sure guys like Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook have some ideas on how to go about pitching there as well. There's no reason to use Coors Field as an excuse."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.