Cullen Large walked nearly 12 percent of the time with Vancouver to help him post a .356 on-base percentage in 2017.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ fifth-round pick of the 2017 draft is the latest player to stop by in this edition of C’s Chat. Second baseman Cullen Large was taken by Toronto after playing at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where he hit .323 over his three-year career in his home state. The Chesterfield, Virginia product showed some pop in his bat by slugging over .500 over his last two years and showed a good eye at the plate with on-base marks over .400 during his sophomore and junior campaigns. He was named to the All-CAA First Team and ECAC Second Team in 2017.
Before heading to William & Mary, the 6-foot-0 switch-hitter played at James River High School in Midlothian where he earned first-team All-District and second-team All-Region in his senior year after winning first-team and honourable mention plaudits in his junior year respectively. He showed his all-around game by leading his school in sacrifice bunts.
The 6-foot-0 switch-hitter made his professional debut against the Spokane Indians at Nat Bailey Stadium June 23 and recorded his first single in his second at-bat, scored a run and drew a walk to help the C’s pick up an 8-5 victory.
Large began his C’s tenure with a five-game hitting that included a pair of two-hit games. Among his biggest hits were a game-tying single in the ninth to help Vancouver pull out a 15-13 win in Everett June 27. He recorded another two-hit game with a pair of doubles against Eugene July 1 and scored the winning run the next day after getting aboard on a hustle double.
Large did have a seven-game hitting streak near the end of July but his batting average had dipped from a high of .291 in early July to .236 in early August. It appeared things were turning for Large in Hillsboro August 6 when he contributed a pair of hits, including a game-winning RBI single to help the C’s even up their five-game series against the Hops. Vancouver would eventually get the series victory at Ron Tonkin Field and gain a measure of revenge after the Hops swept the C’s in five straight back at Nat Bailey Stadium in July.
The euphoria of Large’s game-winning hit did not last long as he suffered a season-ending injury trying to break up a double play at second.
“I actually dove into second base and I kind of jammed my pinkie. It kind of got caught right on the bag and I fractured my hand. It was just bad luck I guess.
Originally, when I slid into second base, I kind of popped up. I jammed my pinkie. It was my first game in left field too so I went back out to left field. I went to warm up and I couldn’t grip the ball real well and actually threw one of my warm up throws over the outfield fence.
At first, we didn’t think it was broken but we got an x-ray (in Hillsboro) anyway so it kind of surprised us that it was broken so it was that night that I went and got an x-ray and found out I wasn’t going to be able to finish out the season…but they let me stay up there and hang around the team, which was awesome.””
On having to sit out the rest of the year due to injury.
“It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t allowed to run or anything. Fortunately, I didn’t have to have surgery so I couldn’t do anything that was going to jeopardize my getting hurt or running into something or making it worse or having a setback so I kind of just had to sit there.
It helped in a way and hurt in a way. It was tough because I’m not the kind of guy who likes to just sit still for any extended amount of time but I knew I had to. During that, I knew I could be a good teammate and be around and kind of lighten the mood if I needed to and that kind of thing.”
Eventually, my teammates started calling me ‘Coach Cullen’. Eventually, Mattingly Romanin came back and wanted a single-digit jersey number so Johnny (Johnny Stewart) came up to me, our clubbie, and said ‘Hey, do you mind if Mattingly takes your jersey?’ I said, ‘No. Absolutely. Go for it.’ I actually got one of the coach’s pullovers so I would wear it during games so I would walk around BP with a fungo just to kind of play the character a little bit. That was kind of fun. It was a fun way for me to be involved, I guess. I was kind of lightening the mood and being around my teammates and having a good time.”
On his final at-bat of 2017, a game-winning hit.
“I remember I hadn’t been feeling very good at the plate for the past week and-a-half to two weeks maybe and that day, I was figuring some stuff out. I got a base hit in my first at-bat and I hit the ball hard in my second at-bat. In my last at-bat, I knew I had been seeing the ball well and I was kind of sitting off-speed. I knew that they weren’t going to give me any fastballs to hit in that at-bat, in a big situation like that. It was a slider down that I just got the (bat) head on it and had a nice line drive. It was nice to kind of get that off my shoulders. That was actually the game I unfortunately got hurt was when I started feeling good.”
On the C’s bouncing back the next day in Hillsboro after blowing a 7-0 lead in the second game and gaining revenge by winning three of five against the Hops at Ron Tonkin Field after being swept in five games in Vancouver.
“I think that sparked us too. Having them come back. We knew we didn’t play well obviously in that first series. We knew it was going to be a little bit different. We just kind of went into it knowing they were a good team and try to play as well as we could. I think after the first game, we kind of realized that we got, it was going to be more of a better match-up and that we knew we could handle them.”
Cullen Large was successful on all three of his stolen base attempts with Vancouver.
On the Canada Day weekend series vs. the Eugene Emeralds.
“That was one of the first series where kind of our draft class was playing at the same time. Our coaches had told us, ‘Hey, Eugene’s good, like they’re on a roll, they’re one of the best teams in the league.’ We kind of went in with that mindset like, ‘Alright, they’re playing well, we’re playing pretty well so we’re going to try to play as great as we possibly can.”
On scoring the winning run in a come-from-behind victory against Eugene July 2.
At that point, I remember feeling pretty good at the plate, which was awesome. Things were just kind of rolling and that (second-to) last game in particular when I scored the winning run, I remember it was kind like a jam shot over the first baseman’s head and I was running down the first base line, nobody got to (the ball) when I was touching first base and I saw the second baseman got to it and he was kind of falling away from second base.
I knew it was going to be a tough throw and I knew that since I was a pretty important run, being aggressive and going to second wasn’t a bad thing. If I was going to be aggressive on a good ball read if I stayed at first or if I was going to be aggressive and try to turn it into a double so I just decided to go for it, (make it) tough for the second baseman and it was exactly that. The throw was kind of wild. I think I would have beaten it anyway but I kind of slid in safe and it worked out pretty well from there.”
On the play-off type atmosphere that surrounded that July 2 game.
“We were all pretty pumped up. Learning to win close games is something that doesn’t just happen in the playoffs, you kind of work for that during the regular season. Just like you work on taking ground balls and seeing pitches and stuff like that, a team works on winning, whether it’s a close game or whether it’s a game you should win, it takes practice.
That was kind of nice that we got the win in the game and from then on, we kind of knew that we could then do it and we obviously worked on it before going in the playoffs which was awesome.”
Cullen Large stayed with the club for the remainder of the season despite a finger injury that sidelined him in early August.
On the pennant chase that resulted in a first-half North Division title.
“I don’t know if we were focused on the pennant on that point, we were just kind of trying to play well. I guess you could say we were probably pressing a little bit because we wanted to win the first half and that kind of stuff and we were scoreboard watching for a little while and it wasn’t really helping us very much.
When we started to kind of turn things around, it was just like, ‘Alright, we’re just going to take this one inning at a time. We’re not going to focus on what Tri-City was doing, we’re just trying to kind of go at it.’ And that’s when things were kind of started going well for us again which I think really helped.
It was really fun obviously when we clinched. It was a lot of pressure off our shoulders so we could kind of just focus on playing well again, which was awesome. It helped us out a lot.”
On having to be extra careful during the championship celebration.
“Yeah. I looked at Dan (trainer Dan Leja) who, any time my hand was outside of the dugout so if I was up on a step, he would say ‘Come on, put your hand back in!’ if I was sitting on the little bench outside the dugout, he’d be like, ‘Cullen, get back in the dugout!’ When we were about to win, I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to hang around the dugout and I’ll be one of the last ones out, I’ll be on the outskirts of it in case anything, like, happens so that’s exactly what happened. I kind of hung around the dugout and hugged a couple of guys before I ran out there and I ran out there and I was on the outskirts of the dogpile out there.”
On the realization he was part of a championship club.
“It was awesome. It was so much fun to watch. We played a really clean series, the last series. Obviously, it was really low-scoring games. Maybe the offence wasn’t as good as it could have been but in a championship atmosphere, that happens a lot. We never buckled. We never gave up. We had a lot of guys step up obviously. Logan (Logan Warmoth) had a really good series and Kacy (Kacy Clemens) obviously did what he did for the whole year. It was fun to watch. It was fun to be a part of it and I’m lucky to say that I was a part of it. It was just an all-around blast.”
Cullen Large was selected with the 159th pick of the 2017 draft by Toronto.
On his draft-day experience.
“I had no idea where I was going to go but I knew it was going to be in the second day of the draft. I went to play golf actually with my dad and my brother, which was nice so it got me out of the house so I was kind of moving around. I actually went to lunch with my high school coach and I wasn’t going to follow the draft. I was kind of just going to go about it as a normal day but of course, my high school coach wanted to follow it pick by pick so they had it open at the dinner table but I was just kind of sitting there hanging out.
I was with my parents and my high school coach at the time just sitting at a restaurant in Richmond and I got a call just saying, ‘Hey, the Blue Jays asked if you wanted to go.’ I said, ‘Yes’. But obviously, yon never know if that’s the case. Luckily, I got one call once the draft started and it was the Blue Jays and they took me so it was actually pretty smooth sailing, which was awesome.
Once that happened, there was more celebration and a load off your shoulders. You’re a little nervous the last week before but after it happens, it’s one of the coolest feelings after. That night, a bunch of my friends from high school that I played with were around and we celebrated that night and it was good to see everybody.”
On gaining recognition from Baseball America by being rated among the top 200 prospects for the 2017 draft.
“Yeah, that was a big surprise honestly. I had no idea that people thought so highly of me. I like to think that I just kind of kept my head down and just kind of played as well as I could. I never really put any pressure on myself to be ranked or rated or anything like that so that was a big surprise but I was blessed to be able to be in the top 200. It was honestly a great surprise.”
On whether he received interest from other teams besides the Blue Jays.
“It was honestly a complete toss-up. I remember meeting with the Blue Jays and I remember the scout, Doug Witt. We were still in contact a little bit. He was actually one of the first scouts I met with when he came down to William & Mary. I remember meeting with him and we had a good talk but honestly, I had no idea it was going to the Blue Jays.”
On playing for William & Mary for three seasons.
“It was awesome. I was actually a little nervous coming out of high school but once I got there and settled in a little bit, it was awesome and a perfect fit for me. I got along with the coaches really well. I got to play for my freshman year on, which was awesome. It was one of the important things and one of the important goals I wanted to achieve. From the get-go, it was just kind of the perfect fit.
Once I got there, I actually hit lead-off in my freshman year so I wasn’t quite polished because I started switch-hitting going into my junior year in high school so I was still trying to figure out my left-handed swing because I hit right-handed for my whole life up until going into my junior year in high school.
Obviously facing better pitching in college, it was a little bit of a challenge but I started to figure it out. My sophomore year was when I started to get a little bit more production from my left-handed swing. The ball started carrying a little bit better for me and things started rolling from there. I guess that’s when I kind of started to realize that professional baseball was going to be a potential realization was that sophomore year when I started to figure things out.”
Cullen Large made 27 starts at second base and one in left field for the C’s in 2017.
On being assigned to Vancouver to begin his pro career rather than being close to home with Bluefield.
“They had a meeting us and told us in individual meetings and told me I was going to Vancouver. When I found that out, I was really excited. Obviously being in Bluefield would have been a lot of fun too. Some friends and family could have come to see me play but I was excited to go outside of the country that I’ve never been to before.
I’ve heard Vancouver has an awesome set-up. Lots of fans, so I was really excited to start my professional career there, I was thrilled, that would be the best way to describe it and it was exactly that. It completely exceeded my expectations and I had high expectations going in so it was absolutely awesome.”
Cullen Large was teammates with 2015 C’s catcher Ryan Hissey at William & Mary.
On rejoining his former William & Mary teammate and 2015 C’s catcher Ryan Hissey in the Blue Jays organization.
“Yeah, we talked on the phone for a while a day or two after I got drafted. He kind of told me everything that was going to happen and how everything works so I had a pretty good understanding of what was going on when I got down there. Obviously, we talked about Vancouver too when I found out I was going there and he absolutely had a great time up there too. He told me everything I needed to know so I wasn’t completely lost when I got up there.
Ryan’s a close friend of mine too so I’m lucky to have him as a friend. I get to him for a lot of stuff so it’s been awesome to kind of follow in his footsteps and he showed the ropes at William & Mary and he showed me the ropes with the Blue Jays so I’m lucky to have him.”
Cullen Large hit .313 in 32 at-bats when he was second in the batting order for the C’s.
On when he decided to try switch-hitting.
“Chipper Jones was my favourite player growing up so I would go in the backyard and play wiffle ball with my brother and I tried to be like Chipper Jones and hit from both sides of the plate. I kind of toyed around with it when I was younger and did it off and on but it was never like a serious thing.
After my sophomore year in high school, I was on a summer showcase team (Virginia Cardinals) and I was kind of messing around, hitting left-handed before one of our showcase tournaments. My coach, Rich Graham, and was like, ‘Wow! Cullen, that’s pretty good! You should do that this weekend!’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll try it out and see what happens.’
I ended up hitting pretty well and Rich kind of came over and was like, ‘Hey! I think this can do. I think this will help your career. If you say you want to do this, I don’t’ care if you’re oh-for-50, I’m not letting you go back and just hit right-handed. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it for the rest of your career.’ I said, ‘Alright! I’m in! I’ll see how it goes.’
So I got to work and I guess I had been doing it for about a month and hit a home run left-handed so I was like, ‘Alright. I guess this probably is the best thing for my career.’
I was just questioning whether or not I’d be able to do it at the college level but I kind of figured it out when I got to college so it was kind of one of those things that I almost surprised myself but I obviously worked really hard at it. I was probably hitting twice as much left-handed as I was hitting right-handed out in workouts and at practice so I kind of caught up once I got to college and I’m really glad it worked out that way.”
On fine-tuning his swing from both sides of the plate.
“Honestly, I think the biggest thing is trying not to do exactly what you do on the other side. Since you have two different swings, keep them two different swings. Don’t try to be something you’re not from both sides of the plate.
Obviously, you can be aggressive and go after balls but essentially for me, I try not to match my right-handed swing to my left-handed swing or vice-versa. I just try to do what I do well from either side because when I start trying to match it, that’s when things get a little bit out of control. Obviously, I’m the same hitter.
Honestly, I guess it’s approach. Having a strong mindset when you get in the box each at-bat, whether it’s right-handed or left-handed is the most important thing and the biggest challenge.”
I try to go equal swings each day from both sides. Maybe if I’m not feeling as well, I get a bit of extra work on the one side that day or if we’re facing a lefty or we haven’t seen a lefty, I might work a little bit extra righty but I try to keep it as balanced as I possibly can so that one side doesn’t get overmatched or undermatched for me getting work that way
It’s worked out pretty well. Each day, I don’t have to think about, ‘Oh , I guess I’ll hit left-handed today or I’ll hit right-handed today.’ I go in and say, I can hit left-handed and right-handed today,’ and get my work in that way.”
On who he would compare himself to in the major leagues.
“An easy answer would be Ben Zobrist, being a guy who’s a switch-hitter, being a guy who can kind of move around and play a bunch of different positions, be a good teammate.
I try to do as many things as I can do to help our team win. If our manager came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we need you to play left field today if you think you can do it.’ I say, ‘Yes sir, absolutely. I’ll take it head on.’ Anything to help us win. I like to think that I play hard, no matter the game. Obviously, that game against Eugene, I would expect it, trying to turn that single into a double.
Ben Zobrist, I think, is a good example of that because he’s kind of in the lineup a bunch of different ways. He can hit in the middle, hit at the top or hit at the bottom, a little bit of spark down there. A switch-hitter, some good match-ups from either side and he plays a bunch of positions. With the Rays, he played at shortstop—which I don’t think they ever really expected him to—but second base, third base or corner outfield, whatever, he’ll move around which I really admire from him and maybe I can do that one day, hopefully.”
On other positions he has played in his career.
“I played shortstop in high school and then they switched me to second base my freshman year in college and then we had some injuries so I ended up finishing the year playing shortstop for the last six games or so in my freshman year but after that went back to second base.
I like to think that I can move around if a team needs me to. I primarily played second base in college and professional but I can move around a bit if they need me to.”
On playing summer college ball with the La Crosse Loggers in the Northwoods League.
“Northwoods was awesome. I had a blast. I didn’t play summer ball my first year after my freshman year so I went to La Crosse after my sophomore year so I could get a bunch of at-bats. To play like 70 games or so, it’s pretty much just like a short season schedule.
Traveling around to a part of the country I’d never been to before. La Crosse was awesome, the fan base was awesome. I met a lot of cool people and it was fun to play in front of a few thousand every night. They get good fans out there too just like in the Northwest League. It’s definitely the closest thing to professional baseball you can get. I was really fortunate and I liked it so much and here I am.”
Cullen Large had a line drive rate of 19.6 percent with the C’s according to FanGraphs.
On whether being an umpire during his younger years has helped him with his strike zone discipline.
“I never really thought it did but I guess you could say it could help. A lot of the umpiring I was doing was with younger kids so it’s a little tough to compare that because obviously, younger kids aren’t throwing as hard and that kind of thing and don’t have as much command as pitches don’t move as much.
Umpiring, I had a lot of fun with it and it was something to do on a weekend when I was playing in high school. I actually went up to Cooperstown and I got to umpire in a tournament down there, which was awesome, right before I went to college. It’s a fun thing for me to do to stay around the game of baseball and work on it at the same time.”
On what it takes to be an umpire.
“A thick skin for sure. I understand if an umpire makes a bad call. I’ll kind of look up and be like, ‘You know, I don’t necessarily agree with that but you know, I get it. It’s alright, like, no worries.’ I kind of feel their pain obviously like when I’m playing now because I feel I was the same way. I’ve had coaches and parents yell at me before for stuff and you kind of just have to stick with your call and stick with your gut. Umpires at our level do the exact same thing. I’ve definitely been there before.”
On getting over his finger injury.
“I feel great. The finger is a non-issue at all. I don’t even remember breaking it honestly, which is great. I’ve overcome that mental hurdle. I feel really good physically. I put on a little bit of weight, which is good, and I feel strong. I’ve been hitting a lot. My arm feels great. I’m just excited to get down to Florida and get going. The weather’s a little fluctuating right now. It’s really cold some days, then it gets really warm. It’ll be really nice to get down to Florida for some nice weather pretty consistently for a while.”
On his goals for 2018.
“I just want to try and be consistent. I felt last summer, I was a little up and down. Obviously, I only played half the year so it was a smaller sample size but I just want to try and be consistent whether it’s my physical play and mental play.
I’d like to think I’m a pretty good teammate and I try to be as good a teammate as I can be but I want to be that every day. That’s something that I can control and I just want to be kind of a happy guy and not get too down or get too high when I’m doing well. Not get too down when I’m not doing well, that kind of thing. I think that will help me be consistent on the field as well. Those are kind of the things I want to work on this year.”
A big-time thank you again to Cullen Large for stepping up to the plate in this edition of C’s Chat. You can find him on Twitter @cullenlarge.