Interview with former MLB pitcher and COD baseball coach

BY COLIN CHAPDELAINE

SPORTS EDITOR

Photo courtesy if Getty Images.

Anthony Claggett was born on July 15, 1984 in Hemet, California. After his family moved to the Coachella Valley, Claggett attended Palm Springs High School where he played baseball for the Indians. After three years at the University of California-Riverside, Claggett was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 11th round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Claggett was traded to the New York Yankees in 2006 and would go on to make his Major League debut for the 2009 World Champion Yankees. After a brief stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Claggett continued to play professionally in the Minor Leagues before pursuing a career in coaching, beginning here at College of the Desert in 2014. Currently, Anthony Claggett is the pitching coach for New Mexico State University. The Chaparral spoke to Claggett and he reflected back on his time at Palm Springs High School, his three years at UCR, being drafted into professional baseball, and his time at College of the Desert.

So you attended Palm Springs High School here in the Coachella Valley and graduated in 2002. How important was your time there to your progression as a player?

Anthony Claggett: “My time at PSHS made me the type of player I ended up becoming.  I was lucky enough play under my father for 3 years, along with some great assistant coaches.  He always treated me equally and kept me humble throughout my career at PSHS.  I learned the game of baseball from my father, the fundamentals, craft, and how to respect the game.  As a freshman, I got a chance to spend a little time at the varsity level which allowed me to learn and grow from some of the upperclassmen.  I played infield throughout my career there and maybe pitched a total of 5 innings (who knew I would turn out to be a major league pitcher, haha).  My father and I joke about that until this day. During High School, I could barely reach 80 MPH off the mound.  There was really no reason for me to pitch.  I learned the game as a position player which later on helped my mindset as a pitcher.  I owe a lot of my success to my friends and teammates.  We all pushed each other to be great and always had a team-first success mentality.  I was always undersized as far as strength so I had to learn the fundamentals of the game and that helped me when I became physically stronger in college.”

Upon graduating from high school, you attended the University of California Riverside where you played for the Highlanders for 3 years, both as a middle infielder and a pitcher. When was it that you really started to move into that role as a pitcher while simultaneously moving away from other positions? What started that transition?

Claggett: “I went to UCR as a walk-on.  I was still undersized when I came into the program (6’ 1”, 155lbs).  I was always a pretty good defender but struggled offensively.  I had to work extremely hard to just make the roster in my first two years.  I had limited at-bats and playing time.  Near the end of my Sophomore year, our pitching coach (Andrew Checketts) approached me and asked if I wanted to throw a bullpen.  I always had an above average arm and I was willing to do anything to get on the field, so I, of course, said yes.  He had the radar gun out and my first couple pitches were 89 MPH.  Coach Checketts said if I hit 90 MPH I would become a full-time pitcher.  Unfortunately, I was not in pitching shape so as the bullpen progressed my velocity dropped.  Overall my velocity range was from 85-89 MPH with not knowing anything mechanically and just throwing.  After the season was over I went to play summer ball in Canada for the Yorktown Cardinals and I went as a two-way player.  I was told by the UCR coaching staff to go play infield as well as get experience pitching.  This was the perfect place for me to play.  No distractions and I could focus on baseball and working out.  My body developed and I gained a lot of weight which helped me both as a position player and pitcher.  I came into the fall of my Junior year at UCR with the opportunity to play infield and pitch.  My first outing on the mound I was throwing 92-94 MPH.  At that time I thought I had a real chance to extend my career as a pitcher.  I continued to play infield but worked with Coach Checketts on pitching every day to try to learn and pick his brain as much as I could.  He did a great job of teaching a few basic mechanical things along with a slider, which later became my best pitch.  I pitched exclusively as a closer that year and had my ups and downs as a pitcher.  I was lucky enough to be given a gifted arm so I made sure I worked hard to reach my full potential that year.  I truly feel that if I didn’t have the coaching staff I did at UCR I wouldn’t have ever had the chance to play pro ball.  Becoming a pitcher was the best thing for me but my time as a position player also helped me with work ethic and learning the game from all angles.”

As a junior, you were selected in the 11th round of the 2005 MLB draft by the Detroit Tigers. What do you remember about that experience on the day that you received the call?

Claggett: “The draft process was all new to me.  I started filling out information cards and talking with scouts late in the fall of my junior season.  I was inexperienced in this so I leaned on my coaching staff and my parents to help me out.  I was always told to be myself and answer the questions to the best of my ability.  I received more exposure as the season progressed and I tried to not to let the draft affect my performance but it was always in the back of my mind.  Once the season was over I waited around until the draft.  I was told by scouts that I could go anywhere from the 4th round to the 8th round which is a wide range.  Again, this was all new to me so I just looked it as a great experience and how lucky I am to have this opportunity.  I really realized that I was never supposed to be in this position.  I had the most amazing people around me that helped me with this opportunity.  On draft day I sat in my room at college and waited by the computer.  I received a few calls throughout the day from scouts asking which round I would sign for and how much money.  I didn’t have an agent so I had to do everything myself but had guidance from my parents and coaching staff.  I finally received a call from the Detroit Tigers and he (Tim McWilliams, scout) said we are going to take you with our next pick.  It was the 11th round and what a great feeling to get that call.  I remember thinking it seemed like yesterday I was just playing whiffle ball in the backyard with friends and pretending I was a big leaguer and now I’m going to get the chance to play professional baseball. Pretty special.”

After a couple seasons in the Tigers’ system, you were traded to New York in the offseason following the 2006 season as part of a deal sending Gary Sheffield from the Yankees to Detroit. What was your reaction when you found out that you had been traded?

Claggett: “The trade happened during the offseason.  I was at my parent’s house in Palm Desert relaxing on the couch when I got the call.  First, I received a call from the General Manager (GM) of the Tigers Dave Dombrowski and he said I have been traded to the Yankees.  He said he couldn’t give me many details but he thanked me for all the hard work I put in and best of luck.  I didn’t really know what to say so I said thank you and I appreciate the opportunity.  5 minutes later I got a call from the GM of the Yankees, Brian Cashman.  This was a huge shock and a great surprise.  He said Anthony, you were just in a trade and we are happy to have you.  Again I didn’t know what to say so I said Thank you and I look forward to the opportunity.  Right after is when I saw my name along with the other players in the trade scroll across the bottom line on ESPN.  I called my parents right away who was at breakfast and they came rushing home.  They were extremely excited for me, especially since my dad was a Yankee fan growing up.  I then called my agent, he was shocked because he didn’t know about the trade.  He said, congratulations, it’s great to be traded because it means a team really wants you, who did you get traded to? I laughed and said the Yankees.  He said oh, its going to be very difficult to get to the big leagues with them.  I said I accept the challenge.  Shortly after that, my phone started blowing up and I was getting messages from all my friends and family.  It was a pretty special moment.”

In 2008, you had a really successful year pitching for the Yankees Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder. You made 29 appearances in relief, going 58.2 innings, with 55 strikeouts, a 2.15 ERA, while holding opponents to a .233 batting average. What adjustments did you make that season to really hit your stride and sustain that level of success throughout the year?

Claggett: “I think this is my ability as a pitcher and knowing who I was as a pitcher all came together.  I was comfortable and confident in my ability to pitch and get anyone out.  We had a really good team and went on to win the Eastern League championship that year.  I learned from the players around me and that helped with my personal success as well.  It was a special year and one I will never forget.”

Seeing those 58.2 innings in only 29 appearances really stands out to me, especially in today’s age of pitch counts and Tommy John surgeries. Was there a conscious effort being made by the Yankees to have you stretched out in order to have you ready to start games at a higher level if need be? Or is that just the type of pitcher you were, a guy who would come in and eat innings out of the bullpen to keep his team in games?

Claggett: “I was prepared to pitch in any role.  I understood that I wasn’t a flamethrower or had the best stuff as a pitcher.  I had to go out and compete with whatever I had that day.  I was lucky enough to have an arm that allowed me to stay healthy and be ready any time I was called upon.  I was taught at a young age from my father that long toss was the best form of strength for your arm and I continued that throughout my career and I truly believed that is what kept me healthy for all those years.”

On April 18th, 2009, you were called up to the major leagues. Can you walk me through that experience and what it was like for you to get that news?

Claggett: “I was given the news after a game in Scranton by the pitching coach and manager.  After the game I was told to stick around for a little bit so when I was told that, I had a feeling something was going on.  I was thinking am I getting traded or being sent down to double-A but I was having a good season or was I being called up to the big leagues.  After a few minutes, they brought me into the office and told me that I was being called up.  I gave each of them a big hug, it was an emotional time.  The funny part was that they told me when I leave the office I can’t tell anyone or show any emotion because there was media in the locker room and the roster move wasn’t made yet so no one could know.  I walked out of the office, went straight to my locker and sat there.  My teammate who had a locker next to me and best friend on the team asked me what happened and I cracked a little smile and right then he knew what happened.  It was a great feeling getting the news and of course, the first people I called was my mom and dad.  I couldn’t think of anything more special than to tell them that news.”

You made your major league debut that same day. How do you view that experience now almost 10 years later?

Claggett: “The experience was special because it’s your major league debut but the outcome wasn’t the best.  I remember trying to soak it all in and enjoy the experience.  As a competitor, it was disappointing because I didn’t pitch well but as a guy who worked very hard to get where he got and a kid who loved and cherished the game, it was everything I dreamed about.  The lights were brighter on that stage and it’s a feeling that can’t be put into words.”

After being sent back down to AAA, you went on to have another very strong year for Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Was there anything different that you worked on that year now that you had some experience at the big league level?

Claggett: “My goals now changed to do everything I can to get back to the big leagues.  I was used in a bunch of different roles and really took on the challenge.  The pitching coach in Scranton had me make a few adjustments that really helped out.  I was definitely humbled by that outing in the big leagues and I took that as an opportunity to work on things to get better.  I was able to make adjustments and get a couple more opportunities at the big league level.”

I’m going to fast forward a little now to 2014 when you came on here at College of the Desert as a pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. What made you want to get into coaching and how did you come about coaching here at COD?

Claggett: “I always had true love for the game and what better way to stay on the field after you’re done playing then to coach.  I was still playing Independent ball at the time but I knew my next career was in coaching.  It was a chance to still learn the game but now teach it from a different perspective.  I developed a relationship with coach Welker (John Welker) there and he asked if I wanted to help with the pitchers.  It was a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

How was your experience here at COD?

Claggett: “COD was truly special because I was following my father’s footsteps.  My dad coached at COD for a long time and to have an opportunity to put on the roadrunner uniform just as he did was something I couldn’t pass up.  His name is engraved in that program and I’m lucky to be a part of that.”

After a few other coaching positions at the professional and collegiate level, you’re now the pitching coach at New Mexico State University. How has your time been going there? 

Claggett: “This is my first opportunity to be the pitching coach at this level and it’s going very well.  I get to work with a great coaching staff and under a tremendous Head Coach, Brian Green.  The program is definitely up and coming and we are trying to take the next step in winning a conference title and reach a regional. I get the full range to develop the pitchers and I’m hoping that all the stuff I learned from my playing days will help the pitchers get the opportunity that I once had.”

What were some of your goals/expectations for your guys this year?

Claggett: “I want the pitchers to learn about pitching.  With all the new gimmicks and tools to try to make guys throw hard, the art of pitching is lost.  I want guys to learn how to pitch and learn the mental game.  I believe this will help them at the next level.”

What are some of your goals for yourself in coaching moving forward?

Claggett: “I am truly enjoying coaching at this level.  My goal is to coach at the highest level of college and one day help a team go to the college world series.  Personally, I want to learn as much as can along the way.  There will always be room for growth in this game and I’m excited to learn from some great minds within this game and be the best coach I can be.  My father was a great coach in this game and I hope one day I could be half the coach he was, which would be a huge success.”

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