In case you missed the big news last week, Atlanta Braves outfield prospect Robby Hefflinger will be joining Talking Chop this season. He'll keep a weekly diary throughout the year, giving us a peek into his world -- the world of a minor league baseball player. We'll follow him through the highs and lows of the season.
Here is a Q&A I did with him last week during spring training. I hope you enjoy it, and we should have Robby's first submission towards the end of this week.
Q: Tell us a little about your road to professional baseball.
A: I was signed to UGA out of high school to be a pitcher, and stuff didn't really work out there, because of over-recruitment. I wasn't really forced to go to Junior College, but I didn't want to sit out a year and get red-shirted. I went to Georgia-Perimeter in Covington and everything worked out really great. I actually worked on pitching there and thought it would be my ticket out, but I had a great year hitting. Everybody at Perimeter helped me out. I was supposed to go back to Georgia after one year of Junior College, and I had some of the coaches and players helping me out making the decision as to whether to go back or get drafted. Fortunately it all worked out for the best.
Q: How did it feel to get drafted by the Braves?
A: It was amazing. Doing all the workouts before [the draft], I kind of knew the Braves were looking at me. They were basically the only team that wanted me to hit, the other teams wanted me to pitch. It was a shock to get drafted that early, so I was real excited.
Q: Which do you prefer, pitching or hitting?
A: Definitely hitting, playing everyday. If there ever came a time when I couldn't hit, I'd love to try and pitch again, but until that time comes... or hopefully it doesn't. Pitchers run too much.
Q: Did you make a lot of friends last year when you went to Danville?
A: Oh yeah, our whole team was pretty close. We had five guys in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, so we got pretty close. It was Myke Jones, Jace Whitmer, Chris Masters, and Matt Crim. Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg, he's probably one of my better friends on the team. He came up to my house in the off-season and hung out. It's like college friends, but in a baseball atmosphere, it's very enjoyable.
Q: It sounds like you're all going to move up to Rome together?
A: Yeah, that's going to be amazing. Everybody was a instructs together, everybody's down here together, we're always together and it's always close.
Q: Talk about last year, you started off kind of hot and then cooled towards the end.
A: People ask me, "was it what you expected." Yeah, it was all of what I expected. The pitching was just phenomenal, but I think one of the biggest factors was because of the long bus rides I stopped working out. When my body started getting physically tired I stared getting mentally weak and tired. But this year's going to be totally different because I know what I have to do. I know I'm going to have go play 140 games instead of playing 25 high school games where I can slack off a little in the weight room and get by, and that's one of the huge adjustments I'm going to have to make.
Q: Did you prepare yourself this off-season any differently?
A: Yeah, I worked out with Micah Owings and Jon-Mark, and their oldest brother is a personal trainer, and I worked out with them everyday -- [the trainer] just busts our tail. They are great guys and they helped me out so much growing up in Gainsville. Every time I wanted to hit or throw they were always there to help me out, so I'm blessed to have them help in the off-season.
Q: Did you know them before you signed with the Braves?
A: Yes. I didn't transfer to Gainsville until my ninth grade year and I started getting really close to Jon-Mark in the tenth grade. This off-season is the second year I've known Micah, but I got to know him, we hung out and stuff.
Q: Were you a fan of the Braves growing up?
A: Yeah, here and there, and I went to Braves games, but I always liked football better growing up.
Q: How was your experience the other day when you got called up to play in a Major League spring training game?
A: It was awesome. It was really fun. I got a real taste for what it's like to live that life. It makes you not want to be down here, [up there] that's just like first class.
Q: Did it feel good to get a hit in the game?
A: Yeah. I didn't really square it up, but a hit's a hit. That was the best pitcher I've every faced in my life. He had some nasty stuff. I was just really excited, and my girlfriend and my dad were there, so they were really excited too.
Q: Do you have any goals for this season?
A: Just getting another ring, like the one I got at Danville. Individual goals, you know I don't really set any for myself. I have expectations, but my goal every at-bat is just to hit the ball hard. If I do that three or four times a game, then I'm happy.
I hope you enjoyed this Q&A, and stay tuned for more from Robby throughout the year.