This season's Fresno Grizzlies lineup is stacked with talented hitters. Most, if not all, are just begging to get their chance in a big league uniform. But none have impressed with more authority than third baseman Adam Duvall — current Pacific Coast League home run leader. The University of Louisville product taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 11th round of 2011's draft has hit 20 homers in just 217 at-bats, a remarkable pace that has him averaging a big fly every 11 at-bats.
I sat down with Duvall just hours before he slugged his 20th bomb of the year — a three-run shot that glanced off Chukchansi Park's scoreboard in left center — to discuss how he became a power hitter, his hometown university, as well as his favorite pitch to hit.
Going to high school just six miles southwest of downtown Louisville, it must've been great to play collegiately for your hometown university. How special was that?
"I grew up in Louisville and it's a big sports town, so growing up as a kid I was always a local fan and was always cheering on the Cards. When my time came to go to college and I ended up there, it was awesome for me to be able to play in my hometown in front of my family and friends and to play for such a great university — one that backs all the athletic programs and is really making strides to be one of the best all around colleges in the country."
You had back surgery your senior year of high school, how difficult was that to deal with in your final season?
"During my junior year I started experiencing some pain in my back. It all happened after a diving play I made in regionals so I went to the doctor and found out I had a stress fracture in my back. I started to try to take the road to recovery and it didn't work so I ended up having surgery in 2006 and ended up missing my whole senior year of high school so that was tough on me. That's one of the biggest years of your young career so that's one that you want to play. The surgery was successful and here I am today."
How did you wind up at the University of Louisville?
"After sitting out my senior year I went to Western Kentucky my freshman year and I didn't play much because I wasn't cleared by the doctors until halfway through the season. I got to play a little bit but then I went to a junior college in Florida to try to get back into the game and get my feet wet again and really get in there and play everyday. Then I went to the University of Louisville where I ended my college career. We ended up hosting a regional and going to a super regional so it was a good time."
Guys have told me that you're "all baseball." What does that look like?
"Ever since I was a little kid I've always dreamed about playing in the big leagues and I've had people tell me "yeah I can do it" and I've had people say "no you can't." I'm trying to prove the ones that said I can right and prove the ones that said I can't wrong. I've really put a lot of energy and a lot of effort into this game and I respect this game because I know it can do a lot for a lot of different people, society and fans and in times of need such as Boston last year. Some powerful stuff there. I really respect this game and I would love to eventually make it to the big leagues."
We knew you were a power hitter when you hit 30 home runs two years ago in San Jose. How have you been able to provide the power like you've done this year?
"Over my career I've been asked to do a couple different things. In college I was a tool hitter. I was asked to hit for average. As my professional career continues, being a 3-4-5 hole hitter, you're asked to drive in runs and hit for power and so over the last three years I've learned to really play the chess match with the pitcher. Knowing what you're trying to do up at the plate is something I really pride myself in. I've learned over the years that in certain situations you're going to have to do different things. In Fresno I've been able to have some success and I really attribute that to my approach at the plate and knowing what I'm trying to do each and every at-bat. When you go out there without a plan that's when you seem to get in trouble so I just take a plan to the plate every at-bat and figure out what he's trying to do to get me out."
Tell me about your approach at the plate.
"It differs from each pitcher — righties, lefties, sinkerballers, a guy with a lot of speed. You can sit on certain pitches with runners in scoring position. A lot of times they'll try to flip a curve ball in there. With runners in scoring position, I try to stay in the middle of the field and not get too greedy and try to pull the ball because that's when you get in a little trouble."
I heard you've been working lately on your two-strike approach.
"That's something that as a hitter you want to continuously get better at because obviously you're going to strike out. Power guys seem to strike out more than others because you're trying to swing hard and really do some damage but the great hitters can hit with two strikes. I forget the stat but 50 percent of your at-bats are going to have two strike counts so you've got to learn to hit with two strikes and to put the ball in play and make the defense field the ball. You're going to get a lot of hits that way. So I try to shorten up, maybe widen my stance out a little bit, and know what his strikeout pitch is that he's going to try to go to with two strikes."
Do you have a favorite pitch to hit or a "happy zone" where you like the ball pitched?
"I pride myself on hitting the fastball. When I miss the fastball, I get disappointed with myself. I know to be a great hitter, and to stay in this game a long time, you have to be able to hit the fastball. So when he throws a fastball over the plate, I want to try to do some damage. I want him in the back of his mind to think, "I don't want to throw him a fastball over the plate." A pitch that I can recognize is probably a slider or a curveball that's up [in the zone]. I feel like if I'm sitting on a fastball I can still adjust to that pitch. That's something I've worked on and done a lot of drills off the machines with curveballs and fastballs. You have to go into the box ready to hit because if you're passive and not aggressive that can lead to some problems."
What differences have you noticed facing Triple-A pitchers?
"My first two months in Triple-A I would say the pitchers know how to pitch a little more. In the younger levels you see a lot of good arms but they don't necessarily command the ball as well. They don't play that chess match. You can kind of predict what they're going to throw. Here in Fresno they're going to throw the whole kitchen sink at you. They're going to throw the curve ball, slider, changeup, and fastball. And with their command, they can really throw it in any count which is dangerous when you're a hitter because if they can command all three or four pitches, it's going to make for a long day. But you just have to get in there and be ready to hit and not miss your pitch."
A few Pacific Coast League ballparks are known to benefit hitters. Do you change your approach there or try to remain the same?
"I really don't take into account where I'm hitting because that's when you get into trouble with trying to lift the ball. I like to take the same approach, no matter which park I'm hitting at and try to stay in the gaps and take line drive swings at every ball. If I miss it just a little bit and get it up in the air, as long as I take a good swing towards it, it can go."
You were a non-roster invite to Spring Training in 2013 and now in 2014, you were on the 40-man roster. What was it like the second time around?
"The first year you walk in there and you're a little star struck because you don't know everybody and they don't know you so you're trying to really get a feel for things, but at the same time compete. The second year I went I knew more people and it was an easier adjustment. I just went in there and tried to open as many eyes as I could and just play hard and just try to win a job."
What is it like playing both corners of the infield?
"As a position player, you want to be able to play different positions and try to be as versatile as possible. That way if there's ever a need at multiple positions, you could be the one to get the call. Third base is my primary position but I've been fortunate enough to get over at first base this year and I played a little bit in winter ball this year so that was good. I'm just trying to be a guy you can use in different situations and double-switch because the more positions you can play, especially with the Giants, that's important. I just try to help the team win in multiple different ways."
You injured your hamstring a few weeks back and missed a week. How did it happen and how are you feeling now?
"I hit a ball off the wall and was at second base and it kind of kicked off the wall a little funny. When I went to take off to get to third it kind of grabbed on me a little bit. We've been looking into different things with some hip mobility and form running and so hopefully those things will help out with that. Hopefully we'll take a little preventative measure into next time and stay healthy. I feel 100% and I'm glad to be back in the lineup helping my team win and contributing every day. That's something that I take pride in. I want to be able to play every day."