Conner Menez was drafted in the 14th round last June out of a small private college in northern Los Angeles County, home to fewer students than some of his new teammates' high schools. Playing in the Golden State Athletic Conference in the NAIA, a separate athletic association from the NCAA, the odds of being noticed by professional scouts are certainly smaller than many others' chances. Just seven players had been drafted out of The Master's University dating back to 2000.
That was until Menez and his Mustang teammate Brandon Van Horn were selected in 2016 — to the same organization. Menez made eight appearances for the AZL Giants, totaling 21 innings, 26 strikeouts, and a .190 opposing batting average, before being moved to Salem-Keizer, and eventually San Jose. Van Horn, a shortstop, recorded 197 plate appearances, the majority of which were spent with the AZL squad.
Menez met with Giant Potential a day after his first start of 2017's minor league spring training (video below) to discuss his opening outing, continuing his pro journey with a college teammate, and his resemblance to a World Series MVP.
GP: Yesterday's start was your first chance to face hitters outside of your own teammates. How did you feel out there?
Menez: "It felt pretty good. I felt strong. I felt really confident in my pitches. I knew I had to get my batters out in less than three pitches and that’s what I was working on: getting hitters out in as few pitches as possible. So I just got my fastball out there and tried to spot it."
GP: You rarely, if ever, throw a fastball that doesn’t have some sort of movement to it. I know you throw a two-seam, that’s pretty obvious. But do you throw a cut fastball, as well?
Menez: "No, I just sometimes cut off myself a little bit and it cuts kind of naturally. But most of the time it’s just the sink with the two-seam movement. But yeah sometimes it works out for me."
GP: When I saw you debut in the AZL last summer (video below), you were working your slider nicely. Do you throw a curveball, too?
Menez: "I worked on my curveball a lot this offseason. I’m still trying to get a feel for it but definitely a lot better than last year. But yeah definitely the slider is my go-to. I get it breaking pretty sharp so I like it."
GP: You’re out of TMU, which is still NAIA, right? Not common to have players come out of there, and yet you had two from the same team go to the same organization. How cool was that?
Menez: "That was awesome. Growing up I was a Giants fan so that was a plus getting drafted by them, and having Brandon [Van Horn] come along for the ride made it easier for me adjusting to everything. It was just cool how us NAIA guys can keep up here with the big boys. I’m glad it worked out this way."
GP: I can't help but notice that your wind-up, delivery, and finish on the mound remind me of Madison Bumgarner. Even your pitch arsenal is similar. Is there anything purposeful behind that?
Menez: "Not really. That’s just always how I’ve thrown, ever since Little League. I just try to throw it smooth out of the cannon and I guess it comes out a little bit like Bumgarner. He's definitely a good role model to look up to."
GP: What goals do you have in mind moving through your first spring training?
Menez: "My goal this spring was to mentally stay in every pitch because I realized during some of my last years at Master’s I wasn’t totally in pitch to pitch. So I’m trying to focus on throwing this one pitch as best I can and hit my spot. Just trying to feel like every pitch that I throw, I’m mentally in it. I remember slipping a little bit in college and it was because I was losing focus. So if I can just focus mentally on each pitch, the outcome is usually pretty good when I do that."
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