I had the opportunity to speak with former Dodger farmhand Chuck Tiffany a couple of days after the trade that sent him, along with Edwin Jackson, to Tampa Bay for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. Unlike my interview with Bill James in December 2004, I can't say I had breakfast at Tiffany's. I'll admit, it would have made for a nice title. Instead, I settled for a 45-minute telephone call one evening last week with the young man who will turn 21 on Wednesday.
Tiffany was drafted in the second round out of Charter Oak High School (Covina, CA) in 2003. He signed a $1.1 million bonus in August and pitched two innings at Ogden (Rookie) in the Pioneer League. The southpaw made the jump to Columbus (Low-A) in the South Atlantic League in 2004 and Vero Beach (High-A) in the Florida State League in 2005.
The pitcher (see photo) who Bryan Smith tabbed as the 72nd-best prospect in baseball earlier this month has a minor league record of 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA. Moreover, he has struck out 279 batters in 211 innings (or nearly 12 per 9 IP). Tiffany's first two wins included a combined no-hitter (in which he pitched the first five innings) and a seven-inning perfect game.
Had Tiffany opted for Cal State Fullerton rather than signing with the Dodgers out of high school, he would be a couple of weeks away from beginning his junior season. However, rather than being the "Friday Night" starter for the Titans this year, Tiffany is entering his third full professional season and first with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Rich: As a Dodger fan growing up, how did it feel to be drafted by your hometown team?
Chuck: It was a childhood dream. I grew up in the city and had always watched them play. I was really excited about everything and was shocked when they traded me. It's now just a new chapter in my life that I have to open up.
Rich: Did someone from the Dodgers contact you regarding the trade?
Chuck: Ned Colletti called me up and said he had some news for me. He told me it was very hard for him to even tell me. He then said the Dodgers had traded me. A couple of the people within the organization called, and I thanked them all.
Rich: The news must have been tough on you.
Chuck: Like I said, it was a dream. They gave me everything they could, and I gave them everything back I could. It just happened to be in the cards that I was part of the trade. Now that I'm with another team, I'm going to do the same thing I did with the Dodgers and give the Devil Rays everything.
Rich: That's good. Who did you hear from the Tampa Bay side?
Chuck: Andy Friedman. He called me about an hour or two later. Mr. Colletti actually told me that Mr. Friedman would call sometime throughout the day. He then called and welcomed me, and I thanked him and said I was shocked at first. He knew I was shocked but said everybody was excited over there. At the time, I couldn't really say how upset I was because I didn't really know what to do because everything was a shock. If I had a chance to talk to him now, I would tell him I'm excited to be with them and that I can't wait for the season.
Rich: One of the nice things about the trade is that Tampa Bay has a lot of good, young players and appears to have a bright future.
Chuck: That's the same way I feel about it, too. They actually have faith in a lot of the young players, bring them up, let them do what they've been doing and what we're paid to do and what we love to do.
Rich: In some ways, the trade could turn out to be a positive for you. The organization has more hitting than pitching in terms of depth of talent so the opportunity might be greater with Tampa Bay than with Los Angeles.
Chuck: Yeah, which, in time, we shall see.
Rich: Did Friedman tell you where they expect you to play this year?
Chuck: He told me that they would call me within a week and let me know.
(Editor's note: Tiffany was subsequently told that he will report to St. Petersburg on March 2.)
Rich: After succeeding in High-A last year, the obvious assignment would seem to be Montgomery, Tampa Bay's AA-affiliate.
Chuck: It's up to them. It's all in their hands now. All I can do is just go there and compete and earn my spot.
Rich: Absolutely. What are you doing this winter to stay in condition and make yourself better?
Chuck: I'm doing a lot of running. I've taken a little bit of time off from playing catch, but I've been throwing the football, working out, and pretty much running at least two or three miles every day.
Rich: When will you start throwing a baseball?
Chuck: I'm slowly working my way up so I will be ready when I start pitching in games.
Rich: Do you have a personal catcher you work with during the offseason?
Chuck: No, I'll just throw to Lenny Strelitz, my agent at West Coast Sports Management, or call a friend or my little brother and they will play catch with me. I'm meeting up with Cory Lidle tomorrow, and we're going to play catch.
Rich: From what I understand, you throw three pitches. A fastball, curve, and change.
Chuck: Yes, that's correct.
Rich: How would you rank those pitches in terms of their effectiveness?
Chuck: All three are the same. I worked on my changeup a lot last year. My changeup was a weak pitch at one time. In fact, everytime I threw a changeup, it was, pretty much, a home run. The Dodgers brought me to the instructional league to work on my changeup, and I was throwing 80-90% changeups and only five or ten fastballs and two or three curveballs to try and get out of innings. It was probably the best thing that's ever happened because I noticed how much a changeup can work against a batter. I felt really confident when they let me throw all three pitches and now my fastball, curveball, and changeup are all great pitches that I can use.
Rich: One complements the other.
Chuck: Yes, exactly. When you're expecting one pitch and another one comes, it's sort of hard to hit. Before, it was only fastball or curveball. Now, I can throw all three for strikes.
Rich: Do you throw a circle change or do you choke it in the back of your palm?
Chuck: I actually throw it with my ring finger and my middle finger. I don't choke it off or anything. I just throw it like a four-seam fastball, but the way it is positioned on my hand and fingers it rolls off at a slower speed.
Rich: I see.
Chuck: I can try and throw it as hard as I want. I could probably get it up to about 84, but it won't go any harder. My fastball is usually about 88-90. When I throw it really good, it's about an 82 miles per hour pitch and it just sinks.
Rich: There is a philosophy that one should maintain a certain spread in terms of speed between a fastball and a change of pace. Is that something you have tried to achieve?
Chuck: Everybody laughs when I pitch because my fastball will range between 82 and 93 at times. I learned how to change speeds myself by just throwing the ball. I realized you can't always throw it one speed. I know that changing speeds between a fastball and a changeup is a big thing because now you throw a ball at 90 and then you throw a change at 80, it looks like a fastball but it's different timing. I feel the change in speeds really helps out, and I've worked on that a lot.
Rich: With respect to your fastball, do you throw a four-seam only or do you also throw a two-seamer?
Chuck: If I need to, I'll throw a two-seamer. But most of the time I use a four-seamer. My ball has a natural movement to it so that's why I really don't worry about two-seams at times.
Rich: To the extent that there has been criticism about your pitching style, it generally is about the number of flyballs you give up and that you don't induce enough groundballs. Do you think that is a fair assessment?
Chuck: You know what, I've never heard of that. Honestly, I've never heard of a coach being mad about a flyball for an out. I'd rather have a popup as an out than a groundball. The reality is that a player doesn't have to throw the ball to a base. He just has to catch it.
Rich: My high school coach liked to say, "There are no bad hops in the air."
Chuck: Exactly. But don't get me wrong. In different situations, when it calls for a groundball, I know which pitch to throw to get a double-play ball. It just depends on what type of batter is up, who's running the bases, and everything like that.
Rich: If you were looking to get a double play, which pitch would you be inclined to throw?
Chuck: It depends on the hitter. What they can and can't hit. I study everybody before I pitch. I have charts on them. I've played against them before and remember certain pitches I've thrown. All three pitches work good for me, so I'm not worried about always throwing this pitch to get a groundball.
Rich: Do you keep your own charts or do you get scouting reports?
Chuck: I do my own. When I was with the Dodgers, I had to be up in the stands two nights in a row before I pitched. I don't know how the Devil Rays do it. But when I did that, I just kept my own chart and studied it along with the stats the night before to make sure I knew what they could or couldn't do.
Rich: Is your curveball more of an overhand drop or a left to right pitch?
Chuck: Whatever way I want to throw it. Sometimes I have it just drop off the table but, most of the time, I can make it slurve.
Rich: Alan Matthews from Baseball America said your propensity to give up home runs might have to do with your arm angle and the curveball flattening out.
Chuck: No, I just gave the guy the right pitch that he wanted to hit. They still have to hit it, no matter which arm angle I'm coming from. It's just that I left it in their sweet spot, maybe a changeup stayed a little high or a curveball that didn't really break that much. People say that, in this game, you make a lot of mistakes. You're not going to be always perfect. There are times I throw a pitch where a guy wants it to be and he'll totally miss it. That's the one shot he had. That's his mistake. Well, sometimes they hit my mistakes and that's what hurts. That's what gives up the home runs. My mistakes. Not the arm angle.
Rich: Do you think you have given up more home runs on one type of pitch than the others?
Chuck: Probably the changeup because I wasn't very good at it and most of the time I left it hanging and it pretty much never came back into my glove. You know?
[Both of us laugh.]
Rich: That's an honest answer but something that can also be fixed.
Chuck: Oh yeah, that's why they sent me to instructional league. Seriously, they told me everyday, "throw changeups, changeups, changeups." So everyday I sat there and threw a changeup and they didn't let me go until I perfected it.
Rich: Some people have speculated that your future might be as a relief pitcher instead of a starting pitcher. I imagine you'd rather be a starting pitcher?
Chuck: Oh, I'd rather be a starting pitcher. But whatever they need in the big leagues. If they need me to come out of the 'pen, I'm more than willing to go in there but, in my eyes, I want to be a starting pitcher.
Rich: Your fastball, curveball, and change repetoire seems better suited to being a starting pitcher than a relief pitcher. A reliever, for the most part, just needs two really good pitches. If you could develop that changeup, have that third pitch. . .
Chuck: The only thing that I think is the difference between a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher throughout the game is I get stronger. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, if you look at the radar gun, I'm still throwing as hard as I did in the first. With the relief pitcher, you just come out and give it everything you've got because you don't get to throw those extra innings. Once you go through the lineup, three-fourths of the time you get taken out for the set-up guy or closer. So, I think the three pitches, no matter what, can work as a starter or a reliever. It's just the way you use them.
Rich: You have averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors. Do you feel as if you are a strikeout pitcher and why?
Chuck: I've been told that I'm not a power pitcher, I'm a crafty pitcher. In my eyes, I've always been a guy when I needed a strikeout, I know I can get it. I know I have the pitches to do it. Most of the time, when I get a guy 1-2, 0-2, I just try to put him away. I don't like to mess around with them and sit there and go 3-2. My goal is when a guy comes up to bat, I'd rather see him walk back to the dugout than popout. I want to strike him out everytime because that means I'm giving it everything I've got. I don't want to think, "Here, put the ball in play." To make this really easy on myself, I'd rather just go right at them.
Rich: Looking at your game logs, my partner Bryan Smith has noted that you have generally been more effective in games when you have been a bit wild, if you will.
Chuck: Every game is different. It just depends on what game it is. Some days your arm feels great and some days it doesn't. When I'm out there, honestly, none of that is going through my head. If my arm is tired or not, I'm just throwing 110% each pitch and that's all that matters. If I'm throwing it a little bit softer, it's not because my arm is sore or tired. It's just the way it felt that day. There are games I've gone out and thrown 85-88 and pitched great and other times I've thrown 91-94 and had awesome games. It just depends on the day.
Rich: After finishing 2004 by striking out 46 batters in your last 21 innings of work, you beat first-round draft pick Philip Humber and the St. Lucie Mets, 1-0, in the season opener. You allowed just one hit in five innings while striking out 11. You went 4-0 in April and were named the Florida State League Player of the Week twice and the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Month.
Chuck: I felt good when I finished in 2004 and was pumped up going into the 2005 season. I got hit pretty hard by the Mets in a spring training game. They shelled me. I later walked by them in a scrimmage and they asked if I was ready to be lit up again. They tried to get in my head. I proved them wrong.
Rich: Nice. You then experienced a setback in May when you had surgery to remove a pre-cancerous mole from your back.
Chuck: I actually pitched a game the day I heard I was going to need surgery within the next two weeks. It was scary news. Once I got it done, I was in bed for two or three days because my lower back was really sore. But, as soon as I was able to move without it nagging, I had a baseball in my hand and I was throwing it and just getting ready. About a week-and-a-half later, I was back even though I was supposed to be out for about two, two-and-a-half weeks. I came back a bit early and was just trying to get back into a throwing mode. No excuses, I lost. I went out there and threw and got hit, and I lost. It's nobody's fault. It's just the game of baseball.
Rich: Well, you righted the ship in July.
Chuck: I did. I came back and didn't lose much.
Rich: You had some ups and downs last year. The season might best be characterized as one of peaks and valleys, but that is probably pretty normal for someone your age who is working his way through the system.
Chuck: I've always been taught that failure is a part of success. If I went the whole season without losing, then what happens when I lose? I've always been the type of kid who hasn't been able to handle failure. It just teaches me never to do it again. When I lost those couple of games, I knew I was in a valley, but I also knew sooner or later that I would hit a peak again. All I knew to do was to keep on battling.
Rich: Logan White, the Dodgers Scouting Director, called you a great competitor.
Chuck: I always talk to him. Like he said, I do compete. When I go out there, I never give up. I could be having the worst game or the best game of my life, but I'll be giving everything I got. You could have nine runs off me in the first inning...I won't give up. That's one thing my teammates know about me. When I'm on the mound, I'm giving them everything I got. Everybody respects me because they can see it. There's not one pitch I throw without trying, and I think that's where I get a lot of my respect from because I'm a competitor.
Rich: Is there a pitcher out there who you model yourself after?
Chuck: I've always wanted to be like Randy Johnson. Without a doubt. Randy Johnson. Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens are right-handed. But Randy Johnson has always been the guy that I've looked up to and been a hero to me. I try to pitch like him. I don't have his height or anything but am hopeful that one day I could have a name like him and other people could look up to me.
Rich: At one time, it appeared that you were on the fast track and that you might be going from Vero Beach to Jacksonville.
Chuck: Yeah, they were projecting me to be in Jacksonville by the All-Star break but then I had that little back surgery, which set me back a little. They then took up Justin Orenduff, and he kicked butt and did awesome. They needed pitching in High-A because we were in the race for the playoffs so they kept me down. High-A, Double-A, Big Leagues--it doesn't matter because I'm gonna give it everything I got. So, I wasn't disappointed. As long as I can keep throwing the ball, that's all that matters to me.
Rich: You were named to the All-Star team in 2004 and 2005. Did you pitch in both games?
Chuck: I didn't pitch in Georgia, but I pitched in the Florida State League game.
Rich: How did you do?
Chuck: I gave up a home run and struck out the next guy. [Laughs] I didn't know in the All-Star game that they expect fastball first pitch--especially from a reliever--so, when I threw the first pitch fastball, he hit it about 400 feet. My agent told me I should have thrown an off-speed pitch. It's a learning process and now I know.
Rich: I'm sure you have played with or against some of the guys in the Tampa Bay system along the way. Are there any players in particular who stand out?
Chuck: Delmon Young. I played on the USA Team with him. Coltyn Simmons. He's a catcher. I've hung out with him. I met Elliot Johnson at the All-Star game. We talked a lot. I know quite a few guys from that organization. We all have respect for each other. I'm just excited to go join them.
Rich: Are you familiar with another Tampa Bay left-hander, Scott Kazmir?
Chuck: Yes, when I was a sophomore in high school, we played in Joplin, Missouri, on different teams. I got to watch him. He's a good, little left-hander.
Rich: Looking at the Tampa Bay farm system, if you are assigned to Montgomery, you should be the youngest player on the team and one of the youngest in the league. As a result, you are still ahead of most players your age.
Chuck: I feel being young is an advantage. When I get out there and see these older players, I just picture them being the same age as me. There's a reason why they are there and a reason why I'm there. I believe in everything I throw--my fastball, curveball, and changeup--and know my stuff can compete with them. Age, in my mind, doesn't matter when it comes to pro ball. Age is only a number; it's not the way you play. We're all there for the same reason: to compete for a job in the big leagues. Whether you're 20 or 40, it's all the same when you get to the Show.
Rich: Given your frame (6-foot-1, 220), do you feel like you have the ability to stretch your fastball out a little bit more?
Chuck: Yes, I believe that's realistic. I've worked hard in the off-season, and I believe that all the running and working out will pay off in time.
Rich: I'm sure you are chomping at the bit and looking forward to spring training.
Chuck: I'm totally looking forward to it. I can't wait. I'm excited. It's going to be culture shock because I won't be in Dodgertown anymore. I'll be staying in hotels rather than dorms. It's a big city. I'm ready to go.
Rich: Well, good luck this season, Chuck. Let's be sure to stay in touch.
Chuck: Will do. Thanks, Rich.