Climbing the mound in this episode of C’s Chat is 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Conor Larkin.
The lad from Lima, Pennsylvania joined the Toronto Blue Jays organization after being drafted in the ninth round of the 2021 MLB Draft after a four-year career at Penn State University. Baseball America had this scouting report on the 6-foot-1, 205-pound righthander leading up to the draft.
“Larkin got hit hard for a 5.09 ERA this spring at Penn State, though his peripheral numbers were better with 69 strikeouts and 24 walks in 63.2 innings. He’s mostly a two-pitch guy, throwing strikes with a fastball that sits at 89-92 mph and can get up to 95-96. Larkin’s best weapon is his slider, the pitch he leans on to get the most swing-and-miss, with an occasional changeup mixed in too. He could be a relief option if his fastball more regularly works into the mid-90s in short bursts.”
After splitting time as a starter and reliever during his freshman and sophomore seasons of 2018 and 2019, Larkin moved into the Nittany Lions rotation in 2020 and 2021. His most successful years on the mound were his middle two seasons. He recorded a 3.14 earned run average and a walks-hits/innings pitched ratio of 1.15 in 48-2/3 innings in 2019 and followed that up with an ERA and WHIP of 1.69 and 1.08 respectively in 21-1/3 innings in 2020 before COVID shut things down. Larkin tossed 171 innings in his college career and put up a strikeout rate of just over 10 batters per nine innings.
In his final three years on campus, Larkin achieved Academic All-Big Ten honors and earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
Larkin made his way to Penn State after a stellar high school career at Spring Ford-Area High School in Royersford, Pennsylvania. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 but Larkin returned to the mound with a vengeance by winning six of eight decisions with a 1.01 ERA and 73 batters in his junior season of 2016. He was even better in his senior year when he went 7-1 with 86 K’s and a 0.80 ERA in 2017. The author of two no-hitters in his high school career, Larkin was a 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game honorable mention All-American and Atlantic All-Region second team.. He was also a 2016 Perfect Game Underclass third team selection and a 2015 honorable mention.
After getting a $77,500 signing bonus, Larkin made his pro debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays this season and had an ERA of 1.46 over nine relief appearances covering 12-1/3 innings. He earned his first professional save with by stranding two runners with 1-1/3 perfect innings or relief in Tampa April 15 and converted his next opportunity with two scoreless frames and four strikeouts against Fort Myers April 21. Larkin recovered the save in his last two outings with Dunedin against Tampa May 11 and May 15 before receiving a promotion to Vancouver. His first appearance with the C’s came May 22 when he tossed a perfect frame against the Tri-City Dust Devils at Nat Bailey Stadium, striking out the first batter he faced in José Guzman. He put together another perfect inning in which he struck out two batters and earned a hold in Hillsboro May 29.
Unfortunately, Larkin has not been back on the mound since June 15 and was placed on the seven-day injured list June 29. However, the 23 year-old Larkin did take the time to chat with C’s Plus Baseball during the team’s Canada Day homestand. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
CPB – You were drafted in the ninth round in last year’s draft. What was that process like for you?
Conor Larkin – The draft was a very interesting process. Obviously the draft was cut short in my junior year due to COVID with five rounds. Kind of mixed things up a little bit, delayed the process a little bit, but no, I think I learned a valuable lesson through obviously patience and honestly I learned more about myself as a pitcher and baseball player. I had all this downtime and I really took time to view different types of pitchers mechanical-wise, pitch-wise, what I needed to focus on to get better for when I come back after COVID. I really changed some stuff up and honestly I got a lot better from it. My coaches at Penn State – coach Rob Cooper, Josh Newman, Sean Moore, Jake Stone, Dallas Burke. They really shaped me into the best player possible for the four years I was there, especially my senior year and with all the stress that I was going through. They were there, they were resources for me I can rely upon to keep my head straight and just enjoy the moment. And I think my senior year was a big testament to me in enjoying the moment, instead of putting so much pressure myself and not had to learn to not worry about the uncontrollables and the draft, you know, I, I can only control what I can control in my attitude. And I feel like I had a good head on my shoulders throughout the year. Sometimes it’s slipped up and my coach was there to fix me up right away. Having those six weeks after the season was done just to prepare for the draft. It was a crazy process, you know, it was really stressful. In the end, it turned out well and I’m very thankful and blessed to where I am now. I couldn’t be with a better organization, but enjoying my time so far. The draft process in general was definitely a whirlwind of emotions, but definitely something I learned from just a person and baseball player.
CPB – Did you have any idea it was going be the Blue Jays. Did you think maybe there was going to be another team or two in the mix?
CL – It was only a couple team that I knew was they were focused on me. It’s funny. During the process, my (advisor) helped me as much as possible. Draft day came and when the day started, I was going to not work out. I was going to sit down and kind of enjoy the day. But as soon as the draft started, I got on antsy and I had to go. I actually went and worke d out when the draft was going on in the beginning. I just couldn’t focus. I was just too stressed, what was going to happen? And when the time came, I knew it was between a couple teams and my (advisor) ended up calling me in the ninth round to say, ‘Hey, the Blue Jays are going to take you here for this next pick.’ So it was kind of I didn’t know until the time, until it happened. But no, it was definitely a surprise, like I said, found out in the moment. So I’m very thankful for this organization. I’m loving the time here so far.
CPB – Who was your signing scout?
CL – Tom Burns was my signing scout. He came and viewed me a couple times. It’s funny, I’ve never met him in person yet due to COVID last year. We’ve had a ton of phone conversations. We’ve been texting back and forth even after the draf. When the day comes, (I’ll be) excited to finally meet him. Funny enough, Ryan Sloniger was here (with the 2019 Vancouver Canadians) so I was a teammate of his for two years. One of my favourite teammates, he really helped me. He paved the way when I was a freshman and sophomore at Penn State. He really helped me grow and gain confidence at such a young age, especially coming into a school like Penn State. And he allowed me to be confident in myself and especially him being a catcher really helped me throughout the games. And he’s really shaped me for the years to come. And I still keep in touch with him. He called me on draft day and very thankful for him. He has been a resource to me.
CPB – I’m sure he must have given you the scouting report of what it’s like playing here in Vancouver?
CL – Yeah. He called me on draft day. He congratulated me and he let me enjoy the moment. The next day I say, ‘Hey, I’m going to call you the next day. I got a lot of questions.’ I’m very grateful that as a former teammate of mine that’s been through the organization and you know, I come in, I’m like, ‘Alright, well, that makes it a lot easier.’ So I ask him questions, say, ‘Hey, what can I expect when I come down here? What do I expect in spring training? What’s the expectation in the off-season when you come here? And obviously he started off in Vancouver after he was drafted. He gave me the rundown and said, ‘When you go to Vancouver, you’ll love it. It’s the best crowd you’ll play in front of. You get sold out crowds almost every night in the summer. And it’s funny. I didn’t believe him at first, but no, when I’m finally here, I’m experiencing it for the first time. And now I’ve never played him (in front of a) bigger crowd than I have here before. It’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. But Ryan, he just told me the ins and outs. He just told me, ‘Hey, you know, just the normal stuff you got to do. Just be professional, show up on time.’ And he really allowed me to on a day-to-day basis understand what’s the norm, what had to move forward? So he helped me big time. He really just calmed my nerves and allowed me to understand how to prepare for each and every year,
CPB – After you get drafted, (the Blue Jays) shut you down. Talk about what it was like getting ready for 2022.
CL – I was down in that draft camp and then I was there training the rest of the time. And that time really helped me, you know, obviously not being sent out. I think I learned more just understanding on the day-to-day basis what to expect. When I was there for the first couple weeks I went, ‘Okay, this is what days are gonna look like every day and moving forward, however long I’m here for’. It allowed me just to have the proper mindset going in. This is what I go do today. This is what I got to do to prepare for the next day, about recovery, all that kind of stuff. I’m very thankful for the Blue Jays for that draft camp because it allowed me to get to know my fellow draftees and let me kind of get to know them on a more personal level. So it was easier to kind of build friendships and build relationships with upcoming teammates for upcoming years and meeting the staff members, meetings about what the Blue Jays are all about. I think having all information given to you all at once was definitely a lot but I don’t think I’d be where I am mentally and how prepared I would be if it wasn’t for that. Telling us how many resources we have available in the off-season with the training at home and the resources I had. Even when you’re not there, they check in on you and say, ‘Hey, how are your lifts going? What can I do for you? Anything we could do more of?’ You got pitching coordinators reaching out to say, ‘Hey, how’s throwing going? Send us videos.’ They’re always there to help. I think having that on the back of my mind, no matter what you need, they’re there for you, it really prepares you to come ready for spring training. I’m very thankful for the resources that they give us each and every day.
CPB – Speaking of the resources at the Player Development Complex. Is there any specific way it’s helped you out as a pitcher so far?
CL – Honestly, Penn State had a lot of the technology that Blue Jays had but I think the biggest thing that the Blue Jays have is the pitching lab. I absolutely love the pitching lab. I’ve been in there only once but understanding how you move down the mound, the amount of force you put in, your force output, seeing it on (the) Edgertronic (camera) from all different angles, side-to-side, on top, from behind home plate. I’ve never had that before. Just having the resource from the pitching side, all the pitching coordinators that are there watching you, at your disposal. The PDC for me, I mean, that’s just incredible. You can’t ask for anything better especially with your first year in pro ball or coming into it as a new guy coming in the summer. Just going into a complex like that, brand new, state-of-the-art facilities, it’s unbelievable. I’m excited to go there each and every day during spring training. A brand new complex like this, such a beautiful complex and probably one of the best in all of professional baseball. It just goes to show how much they really care about player development, especially you as a person, you know? And I never take that for granted. I just go in each and every day just enjoying it. The PDCs unreal and just as a pitcher, it’s really helped me develop. All the technology they have, the resources they have, the plan they have and all the scouting reports they have on you and what they can do to help you prepare for the upcoming season. Just the stuff they have, the data, the technology, it’s unreal. And it’s helped me tremendously so far. I’m very thankful for it.
CPB – In 2022, you start off witht he Dunedin Blue Jays and put up some really good numbers. What was the key to your success early on?
CL – I think for me, each and every day I come in the same mindset. I just have fun and enjoy the moment. I’m living my dream and, you know, good, bad, win or lose, I’m very thankful for the opportunity I’m given and I try to be the same person every day. I can have one of the best outings I’ve ever had. I can have one of the worst outings I’ve ever had. I try to keep the same mindset every day. It’s baseball, you know, you’re not going to be great at every single outing. And I think for me down in Dunedin, I had a rough first outing in my debut because I was really nervous. Then I was like, ‘Alright, here we go.’ And after that, after I got my feet wet, I really adapted the mindset and I really learned a lot at Penn State too, just the side of the mental game. Really just enjoying the moment and not getting too high or too down on yourself, you know, you got to be neutral. And I feel like I try to be that every day, not try to be too high or too low. Because I feel like that’s when baseball can really help me very quickly. If you’re really always down on yourself and you’re never confident and never going to do well. But if you’re too high on yourself, baseball’s going to humble me very quickly. I just try to enjoy the moment, enjoy my friends, try to enjoy my teammates and enjoy the moment where I’m at. When it’s game time, focus in. And after that, I try to enjoy life. I try to have a baseball Conor and a life Conor. I think once baseball’s out of the way, I got to have the personal life to be able to have fun and enjoy where I’m at. Because if I take the baseball life into the personal life, I think that’s where you run into trouble. So I think for me, I’m just trying to be the same person every day, not being too high or too low,
CPB – Leave the game at home.
CL – Exactly.
CPB – I want to ask you about your pitching repertoire? What is it that you throw?
CL – I throw a four-seam, two-seam, slider and changeup.
CPB – Was there anyone who taught you the slider or changeup or is that something you figured out yourself?
CL – Both the slider and changeup I learned at Penn State. The changeup I struggled with. Throughout college, I was always changing my grip so I finally found a grip with our pitching coach and coordinator Drake Stone and Josh Newman. To change a grip was something I had to work on throughout the years. And once I finally found a consistent grip with it and I stuck with it. And the slider—with Newman and Stone, with the Edgertronic cameras they had at Penn State—I really figured out with my arm slot on how to throw it perfectly. And honestly I had a teammate of mine really help me with the release point I had. I found the grip but I was struggling releasing it and he gave me a cue. And ever since then, it’s probably been my pitch outside of the fastball. It’s a put away pitch,. It’s one of those pitches that I really enjoy throwing and I find it to be one of my better pitches. So both those pitches I learned at Penn state and it’s been working for me ever since. So I know I can keep going with it and obviously I can continue to get better with them.
CPB – If you had to give a scouting reporting on yourself, how would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
CL – I’m very confident in myself. I never really show much emotion on the mound. I have a fastball I know that moves, a slider with the high RPM high movement, more of a sweeper that I like to throw and a changeup that can be really good that I’m just continuing to throw and continue to work on that. Honestly, I just describe myself as a hard-nosed pitcher, that I know I don’t show much emotion but I’m very competitive on the inside, even though I might not show it.
CPB – Starter or reliever, you were both at Penn State. Do you have a preference?
CL – No. They asked me what I wanted to be. And I said, ‘ What do we need to help this team win?’ I think that’s first and foremost, that’s what I want do. Obviously I was a starter my last two years and always loved being a starter. I’ve also relieved at Penn State too. So I told them say, ‘Hey, listen. I have a routine of both. I can keep really doing both, it won’t be new to me. I have the routine to be a reliever and I remember what I did as a starter. I obviously had the routine of being a starter this last two years, but they asked me, ‘What do you want to be?’ And I told them, ‘Whatever you guys see me as and whatever is going to help me and help this team win, I’m okay with.’ And at the end of the day, if that means me being a reliever moving forward is going to help this organization win in the long run, then I’m okay with it. You know? And I’m very flexible. I’m very coachable. I find myself fitting in that role very easily. So I think at the end of the day, I know I put the team first and if that’s being a reliever, I’m all for it.
CPB – Growing up, what would you say was your best baseball memory? Was it at Penn State or something else before that?
CL – Besides being drafted? I would say my favourite baseball memory growing up was I was able to pitch in Fenway Park in the High School Rivalry Classic (Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Classic) that they do in the Northeast with the Yankees and Red Sox. I was able to do that going into my senior year of high school. And I was very thankful for the opportunity to do that. My family was there and obviously pitching in a prestigious park like Fenway, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would say that’s probably my favorite baseball memory, being able to pitch in that historic ballpark and just pitching on the mound that many greats have pitched on before .
CPB – You goals for 2022. What are you hoping to accomplish?
CL – I think my goal for 2022, my first professional season, the goals that I’ve set is trying to just move up as much as possible, but also having fun with the process. And I think it’s any person’s goal to move up as quick as possible. And for me obviously being the first year, I think my personal goal was obviously be moved up and hopefully I can get moved up again by the end of the year. But I’m also trying to learn to stay in the moment more, I think it’s kind of a goal that I’ve had. And I know I said it earlier. I’m just trying to enjoy each and every day. I think it’s so easy to get high or so low on yourself. And I just try to remind myself where I’m at and the dream that I’m living right now. I dreamed of this since I was a little kid. I would say the goal is just throw as much strikes as possible, just compete each and every day, give my team the best chance to win. I mean, it’s all you can ask for. If you can go out there and compete and say, ‘I gave the team the best chance to win.’ I’ll take that every day.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore numbers 8 and 25 at Penn State and number 25 with Dunedin this season.
- Instagram – @conor_larkin25
- Twitter – @clarkin_25
- Irish Roots – Mother Angela was born in Dundalk, Ireland and Conor was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1999.
Thanks a million to Conor Larkin and C’s play-by-play Tyler Zickel for making this chat happen.