Royals Farm Report is once again pleased to bring the fans another player interview, this time with stand out lefty Marlin Willis, Jr. Marlin was taken with the 540th pick overall out of McEachern High School in Georgia in the 2017 First Year Player Draft. The Royals were fortunate to convince Marlin to forgo his college commitment to Georgia State and begin his professional career. Leading up to the draft, scouts were raving about the southpaw that oozes potential that includes a strong three pitch mix, an excellent pick-off move, plus athleticism and the intangibles that make it easy to root for this young man.
2017 (AZL Royals): 21.1 IP, 3.80 ERA, 13 strikeouts/5 walks, 3.83 FIP, 62.9% GB%
RFR: Georgia high schools always seem to have a wealth of talent, not only in baseball but football and basketball as well. Was baseball always your first love? If not, what was your sport of choice and what made you decide to stick with baseball?
MW: Growing up, I played all three sports and loved every one of them. My father was a really good basketball player, but he never forced me to play a certain sport. My parents believe in trying every sport out and which ever sport your passion was in, then that was the sport that you would dedicate all your time in. As I got older I never understood the big hype about someone being left-handed until I was about 15 years old. Coaches would push for me to get on the mound and pitch but my parents wouldn’t let me due to them not wanting me to get injured later on down the line. When I finally started pitching, I was about 16-17 years old and since the first day I stepped on the mound, I didn’t want to come off. With the other sports , I was happy when the off-season came because I could relax and be a typical teenager, but with baseball I didn’t feel right if I wasn’t on the field competing, so that’s what rung a bell in my head that baseball was the right sport for me.
RFR: Can you describe the feelings going through your head when you found out you’d been drafted by the Royals?
MW: Although the draft was quiet a stressful process, hearing my name being called was a very exciting experience, but also very humbling because it may seem at the moment that you’ve made it but in reality, the road has just begun.
RFR: Who are some of the people you’d attribute most of your success to and how they helped you to become who you are now?
MW: First off, I have to thank God. Because without him, I’m absolutely nothing! God blessed me with the best support around me. I have a great mother, father, sister, and grandmother I can ask for. Ever since I was little, all of them supported my dream, and made sacrifices to help push me to get to where I am today. From sitting at all my games supporting me through good or bad, to my dad taking hours of his time every single day tired or not to help me get better. All of these sacrifices have played a big part in making me the player and individual I am today.
RFR: How do you feel after your first season of professional ball and what were some of the ups and downs that you dealt with during the season? What are your goals going into 2018?
MW: After completing my first professional season, I felt things went fairly well . Getting a chance to play baseball at a professional level for the first time felt unreal! I was alongside great coaching, great players and great competition. I feel during the season, the ups were honestly just being able to go out there everyday and do what I love to do. The game of baseball is so inconsistent, you can have bad days and you can have good days, but the only thing that stays consistent is the love for the game; so being able to do that everyday was a blessing. In 2018 my goals are to simply get better and develop as much as possible. Of course you want to play good, but I feel that if you lock in on getting a little better every single day, the performance takes care of itself.
RFR: Being an 18-year-old in rookie ball, were there any older players that took you under their wing or players that you look up to?
MW: Playing at the rookie level, their were not very many opportunities to come across older players, however despite us being around the same age we still learned a lot from each other. Whether it was just something I was showing as a pitcher that I can fix or even asking how another guy threw their change-up. Bouncing ideas off each other was a way for us get better together.
RFR: Who do feel like was the best player you played with/and the best against in your first year?
MW: Naming a best player that I have played with this year is a hard thing to do. I feel like every single one of those guys are great players and was chosen for a reason. Every player brings something unique to the game, so singling out one player is a hard task to complete. On the other hand, when I face other hitters or come across other players, I try not to focus on who is who, because when you are playing that doesn’t matter. It’s all about competing and trying to win all the time.
RFR: What is your best baseball memory?
MW: I think my favorite baseball memory was just growing up playing and building relationships that still continue today. I try to refer back to those memories often because the game has ups and down and you just want to remember to have fun just like you did when you were a kid, it’s called a game for a reason.
RFR: Are there any major league players that you pattern your game after?
RFR: Can you describe your pitch arsenal for us? (pitch type/velo/etc.)
MW: I throw a fastball both four-seam and two-seam in the low 90’s and have been working hard this off-season to increase that. I also throw a curveball at 76-79 mph , with a change-up sitting in the low 80’s.
RFR: What kind of physical gains have you made this offseason?
RFR: Has anyone from the organization told you where you’ll start the season and what they’d like to see you develop?
MW: Unfortunately, I have no idea where I may land this season. However, wherever I go I want to develop and continue to get better everyday. The minor leagues is a process, so I just trust in that and work hard and have faith and let the rest take care of itself. I got a chance to work with our pitching coordinator this off-season and the biggest thing we worked on was just smoothing out my mechanics and allowing me to feel comfortable and athletic on the mound.
RFR: Have you earned any nicknames yet?
MW: Hopefully the nicknames pile on in the future, but I have yet to earn any nicknames as of yet.
RFR: Anything else you’d like to add?
MW: To the fans, I really appreciate the love and support! It’s an honor to get an opportunity to put on a Royals jersey everyday and compete for you guys!