Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Derek Self
The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.
A ninth-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Louisville, Self reached Double-A for the first time in his young professional career this past season. He went 5-4 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA (20 ER/66.2 IP) in 42 appearances between Single-A Potomac and Harrisburg. He struck out a career-high 61 batters and walked just 18 along the way.
His strong regular-season performance has carried over to the Arizona Fall League, where he has allowed just two earned runs in 14.0 IP (1.29 ERA) in eight appearances out of Mesa’s bullpen.
We recently caught up with the Cave City, KY native to talk about his 2014 season and his experience in the Arizona Fall League.
Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?
It’s been great out here. A really cool experience. I’d been out here one time for college regionals, but to live out here for a month-and-a-half and get to play baseball every day is truly amazing.
How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?
It’s an honor and privilege to wear that ‘W’ on my chest. Knowing every day I walk into the clubhouse I get to represent the Nationals and I intend to do that the best I can. But my goal is to soon put on that Nationals uniform every day in D.C.
What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?
I’m just learning how to pitch better in certain counts to better hitters. I’m really working on my new changeup and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well. Also, making my slider sharper and working on having better control of it. Some of my main goals are just go out there and give it all I’ve got, become a better, sharper pitcher to carry over to the 2015 season.
How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?
It really hasn’t affected me. I know with the time situation of delivering the pitch, but I’ve always worked pretty fast.
What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?
It’s been great. It’s always nice to travel around and be on different teams. You get to know all these new players and you spend so much time with them that you become friends. I’ve made a lot of new friends out here and met a lot of great guys.
What have you done on your off days? Tony Renda said that he dominated you in a round of golf. Would you like to refute those claims?
Honestly, I have relaxed for the most part. My roommates and I will chill by the pool, get a little sun — because I know I’m not getting that when I go back to Kentucky. We hiked Camelback Mountain, which was a great experience.
And yes, I’ve played some golf and with Tony. He didn’t dominate me — he got me by one stroke. I think he may have kicked a ball out of woods and had a little help once or twice.
Did you cross paths with Neil Holland at all at the University of Louisville? If so, how has it been going on this journey with him?
Yes, I actually did. I got to play with him for two years — my freshman and sophomore seasons. It’s been great to share this season with him again, and also out in the Fall League. If you asked me in college if we both would be playing with the Nationals organization, let alone be in the Fall League at the same time, I wouldn’t think there would be a shot. So to be able to do this with him, it’s pretty cool.
There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned from working with them for a few weeks?
It’s an honor to be coached and have these two guys around you every day. They both have given me more knowledge about pitching, and suggestions to help me succeed in the big leagues. But just talking to them both, I’ve learned a lot more about the game and I’m appreciative to have them along my journey.
This was one of your better professional seasons. What were some of your keys to success this season?
Thanks. I feel like I had a pretty good season as well. I felt like I should’ve done a little bit better in Harrisburg, but it was a learning experience, also. I feel like when I was having success, I was doing a really good job of locating with the fastball and really mixing up my pitches. Not trying to strikeout everyone, just trying to get weak contact. That was huge for me. I also had more confidence in myself than I’ve ever had. That truly makes you a better pitcher, and it’s a big difference when it comes down to who wins the battle with the hitter.
The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that, and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?
I wouldn’t call it a hitters league, because I’ve seen a lot of good pitching also. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good hitters here. But my approach really hasn’t changed that much. I go out there and pitch like I always do and not try to do too much.
Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?
Yes a lot. They know you better than any other catcher, so they know how you like to pitch. I’ve spent a good amount of time with both Spencer and Pedro, and it just makes things better when you’re out there with your fellow Nats catcher.