Joey Murray made his professional debut with two scoreless innings against Everett at Nat Bailey Stadium June 20.
2018 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Joey Murray is the latest guest on this episode of C’s Chat.
Murray is wearing number 32 for the Canadians this season, the same number Blue Jays first-round pick Nate Pearson wore in 2017. Pearson was all the rage in Vancouver last summer with his 100-mile-per-hour fastball as he helped the C’s win the Northwest League championship. Even though Murray’s fastball comes in around 90 MPH, he has posted a better strikeout rate than Pearson so far with Vancouver. Murray has struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings over his first 16 innings with the C’s while Pearson checked in at 11.3 over his 19-inning stint.
The College Years
Murray’s ability to get batters to go down swinging or looking has continued a trend from his college days at Kent State University. He set the Mid-American Conference record for most strikeouts in a season this year with 141 in just 95-2/3 innings. The 21 year-old righthander from Dublin, Ohio was 17-4 with a 2.45 earned run average during his three-year stint with the Golden Flashes. He became a full-time starter during his last two seasons in which he won back-to-back MAC Pitcher of the Year awards. Murray helped Kent State get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 by winning nine of 11 decisions with a 2.45 ERA, matching his career mark.
Though the Golden Flashes were eliminated at the Lubbock, Texas regional, Murray had a pro career to look forward to as he was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 8th round of this year’s draft.
“It was awesome. We actually just finished up a regional in Texas so we flew back the previous day and so I got drafted on day two of the draft. I finished up my exit meeting at Kent State and was trying to make it back to my house in Columbus with my family before I actually got picked and I actually made it back in time. Some of my best friends were waiting for me at my house and we were all just watching the ticker and all of a sudden, my name popped up. It was a cool experience. It was definitely something I worked hard for.
There were other teams (who were interested). It was just kind of a crazy day. It was up and down and just a whole bunch of things going on. It’s one of those things you never really know if it’s going to be you until you actually see your name pop up but yeah, I heard a lot of things but it happened and I got my shot so here I am. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Murray was also happy to see his Kent State teammate and fellow righthander Austin Havekost get picked by the Blue Jays in the 17th round.
“Oh yeah, it was awesome. Havey, he texted me right when I got drafted. He got drafted the next day. It was the next day and I really wasn’t watching the draft too much because the whole previous day was a pretty emotional day so I didn’t even want to watch the draft. I was checking Twitter every once in a while to see if any of my teammates or my friends from summer ball were getting picked.
I wasn’t really watching and then all of a sudden, Havekost texted me and said ‘Hey, I’ll see you at the Blue Jays in Dunedin.’ I was like, “Wait! Did you just get picked up by the Blue Jays?’ He was like, ‘Yeah!’. I was like, “Alright, cool! I’ll see you down there.’ We went out flying down the same day and land at the same airport and we went to a hotel together. It was a cool experience just to be able to have somebody you already know down there so it makes the transition kind of a whole lot easier.”
Murray also says he heard from former Kent State and 2016 C’s righthander Andy Ravel (who also wore number 32 with Vancouver) after being drafted.
“He was junior my freshman year so he got drafted that year (2016). I believe he was a seventh rounder. Right when I got picked, he texted me and congratulated me. It was actually a week-and-a-half, two weeks before the draft and I was talking to him on the phone. He was like, ‘Yeah. Actually my trainer just said, ‘Hey, I just went through some guy from Kent State’s file. He was like, ‘Is there any draft prospects on that team?’ (Ravel) was like, ‘Was it Murray?’ He was like, ‘Yeah!’
It was kind of weird just because I haven’t really heard anything from him in the weeks prior to the draft. It was just kind of weird he brought that up and I ended up getting picked by (the Blue Jays) that week later.”
Joey Murray was named a third-team All American by Baseball America in 2018.
The Art of Pitching
Looking back during his three-year stay at Kent State, Murray attributes his success to former major leaguer Mike Birkbeck.
“During my time there, it made me really realize that in high school I had no idea about how to pitch. I was just throwing the ball and hoping that (the hitters) weren’t going to hit it too hard. I just kind of relied on my pure stuff in high school.
Coach Birkbeck, I owe a lot to him. He really taught me how to pitch, especially like the mental aspect up there on the mound. Coming into college, I was like a huge, emotional wreck out there and if something was going wrong, I was one of those guys that would show it and like my posture would go down. We worked on that a lot, that and the mental game and how to sequence pitches which I didn’t even know was a thing – me being a naive high school pitcher.
Birkbeck’s influence on Murray also went beyond the mound.
Over the course of the three years, he helped me mature a lot as not only a baseball player but just as an adult. He kind of showed me how to carry myself on and off the field. He made me realize that I’m not only representing myself but I’m representing my family and the baseball program at Kent State University. I owe a lot to him, the coaching staff – they were all awesome.
We had a couple of coaches cycling throughout the years. We got new coaches this year. Coach (Alex) Marconi, our catcher’s coach from the previous year, he was big for me too. Coach (Jeff) Duncan, everybody. I’m definitely not a self-made baseball player, that’s for sure. I’ve had a lot of help over the years and I really appreciate everybody that’s been able to help me out along the way.”
The scouting consensus is Joey Murray relies on deception to pile up the strikeouts.
Blue Jays also go the #MACtion route with Kent State’s Joey Murray. One of the premier performers in college baseball in his career, lots of deception, mostly 87-91 mph with flashes of 55 SL. @CoachSimmons4
— Brian Sakowski (@B_Sakowski_PG) June 5, 2018
Murray has a traditional four-pitch mix which he still is trying to refine.
“I just throw a traditional four-seam fastball and then my go-to breaking ball is usually my slider but every now and again, my curveball could be a little bit better depending on the day. I’ve been working really hard on trying to get a feel for a changeup. I’ve been working on that for about two years now. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there. What I’ve really been working on is my changeup and really being able to command my fastball in and out of the zone.”
Blue Jays 8th rounder Joey Murray throws an invisi-ball. Oustanding deception. Fastball plays way harder than the velo readings.
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) June 5, 2018
Murray has heard the talk about his so-called “invisiball” but he admits he’s not really sure why that is the case.
“I don’t really know but that’s what they call it. They say I have a really high spin rate on my fastball so I guess it makes it look like it rises or something like that. Yeah, I have no idea. I don’t know. It’s cool though. I’ll take it.”
Murray says he does not really pay attention to analytics but he did watch video of himself at Kent State.
“We do a good amount of video review. If I’m not feeling right on the mound, if my timing’s off or anything like that, we take videos of every single game so I’ll kind of go into the coach’s office and break it down with the pitching coach. He’ll ask me what I think and then we’ll see what he has to say about it.
If things are going well, I try not to watch video just because I don’t want to get into my own head, like ‘If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it.’ I’m not a huge analytical guy or video guy or anything like that. I just go out there and just kind of do my thing. If things are going poorly, then I’ll kind of take a look at it and see what’s going on.”
Joey Murray has been a tandem starter with Sean Wymer in Vancouver this season.
Pitching In Vancouver
Murray feels he has made a smooth adjustment from college to the pros.
“It’s definitely a lot different than college. College is a lot more structured. Here, it’s a lot more on your own, individualized and kind of do what you got to do to get ready. I really like that aspect of it. The long bus rides aren’t ideal but it’s what we signed up for. I love it so far. I’m ready to keep going and see how far I can take it.”
One thing Murray has enjoyed about pitching at the professional level is getting to pitch in front of the fans at Nat Bailey Stadium.
“I like it a lot. The ball doesn’t travel too far. That right field wall saved me on a 2-0 fastball that I left down the middle. I like it. I think left field is pretty fair, right field (the ball) doesn’t travel too well.
The crowd is awesome. Every time you throw a strike, they’re cheering for you. The past two times I came into the game, I was able to strike out the first batter I faced. The crowd was going crazy. It was a really cool experience.
We’ve never had those kinds of crowds at Kent State so to have 6,500 people behind you cheering for you, it’s a pretty cool experience.”
Murray has been teamed up with righthander Sean Wymer as tandem starters with the C’s. Murray says he has enjoyed working with him.
“We’ve been bouncing a lot of ideas off each other. Since we’re on the same schedule, we’re throwing partners out in the outfield. We have bullpens on the same day. We’ve had a couple of similar mechanical issues. We kind of talk our way through on how each of us is trying to go about fixing that. He’s a great throwing partner, a great dude. It’s nice being able to kind of share the experience as well as learn from somebody at the same time.”
My thanks to Joey Murray for stopping by in this instalment of C’s Chat and to Canadians Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for arranging the interview.