John Swanda was selected as a pitcher by Billy Eppler and the Angels in the 4th round of the 2017 draft. What is notable about that is he was the Gatorade High School Player of The Year in Iowa as a combination shortstop/pitcher, so he is obviously a talented two way player and just now settling into fully developing his pitching.
Between morning workouts and an afternoon team meeting, John was kind enough to spend a few minutes going over his baseball journey to this point, his goals, and the critical In-N-Out vs. 5 Guys question. He comes across as far more mature than the average 19 year old, very observant, and ready to prove himself.
Thank you for calling in today. You are out in Tempe, how long have you been out there?
“Thank you. I got here March 5th, so about 9 days ago.”
And what is an average day like for you during Spring Training?
“I usually arrive at the complex around 7:15. Some days we have conditioning at 8, others with our bullpens we’ll wait until 10, and days with no bullpens we’ll lift after that. We usually get out of here about 1 to 1:30.”
Now you’ve already been to the facility for instructional league and the Arizona League, does that help you feel more familiar, more comfortable coming back for your first Spring Training?
“Yeah, for sure. During instructional league I got to meet a couple of the strength coaches and I was out for champs camp and met a few other coaches, so here at Spring Training with all the levels coaches here I feel comfortable talking to the coaches.”
Last year at this time you were playing high school ball, playing both shortstop and pitching on your way to being named Gatorade Player of the Year for Iowa. What was it like transitioning away from shortstop and focusing on pitching full time?
“It definitely was an easier transition because I’d pitched throughout my high school career; only 25-30 innings per year, nothing like out here in pro ball.
But just talking to scouts about playing shortstop, I wasn’t really going to play at the pro level so once I got over that it made it easier to switch over and focus solely on pitching. That’s where I was getting most my interest.
So mentally not that hard but physically I’ve had to overcome a few obstacles.”
You had a scholarship offer from Nebraska. Were you going to pitch there, play shortstop there, or be a college Otani?
“I was going to do a little bit of both. I think primarily they had me left side of the infield and then I’d probably relieve a little bit. They were just going to grade them both out and see where I’d be most effective.”
The decision to go to college or pro is tough. There are pros and cons to both sides. What swung your decision to go pro over college?
“The developmental track of pro ball. I was most interested in turning pro. I’ve heard over and over that colleges just want to win games and I’ve seen lots of examples of guys that go, they get hurt and they lose their scholarship.
But I know that if I’m in here and I get hurt they’re going to work with me through that.
So to be the best that I can be, I though that going professional right away was the right choice.”
A lot of the development is strength and flexibility. What type of regiment do the Angels have you on right now?
“We’re lifting a few times each week and we do some pretty intense high effort things. We do conditioning every other day, got to get that blood flowing.
As far as arm care we’re kind of on our own, but I kind of experiment with a lot of things and try to figure out what’s working for me for recovery purposes.”
Do you have any indication where you’re going once camp breaks?
“No, not really. Haven’t got much feedback there.”
I have to imagine you are one guy out there hoping to get assigned to Burlington, not to far from where you grew up, right?
“Yeah. If that’s this year, if that’s next year, I’m going to be excited to get there so my family can come out and watch.”
Did I read that you actually left high school a few weeks early so you could get out to the instructional league?
“In Iowa we play a summer high school season so the draft falls right during the beginning of the season so I got about 10 games under my belt before the draft rolled around. After that it’s better to just get out there.
You don’t want to get injured after you get drafted and you’re going to sign. So I didn’t play, I quit right there.”
I’ve never heard of that before, a summer season. So you guys would play after school was let out?
Do other places in the Midwest do that, or just Iowa, or do you know?
“I think it is just us and the next state over.”
Is that due to bad weather in February and March?
“I think just too many games were getting rained out and we’re still getting snow sometimes in February and March and early Spring.”
You’re young and obviously have a life outside of baseball. What do you like to do away from the diamond?
“Usually just hang out with my roommates and watch Netflix, honestly. I have a skateboard that I go riding around and kind of sight see a little bit but but I don’t do that anymore. I kind of just hang out.”
And what are you guys queuing up on Netflix?
“I watch a lot of That 70’s Show and they came out with a TV series based on the movie Shooter which is pretty good.”
The latest scouting report I read had your fastball as a plus pitch and said your change up could be a good out pitch. Are you working on the change up quite a bit?
“Yeah, I am. I had some success with it during the instructional league in games, which is really good, and here I took off where I left in instructional league so it is definitely going to be one of my better pitches.”
That’s two (pitches). What else is in your arsenal? What are you working on?
“I throw a curve ball. Actually I was fastball/curve ball in high school. Right now its a good pitch it just has an inconsistent shape sometimes its more of a slider and then others its a true curve ball.
I’m trying to make that more of a consistent shape so I can control it a little bit better.”
Is that a traditional 12 to 6, nice big rainbow type curve ball?
“Its 11-5 when its true, when it has that true shape.”
Running around the back fields at Tempe, the whole team is there, have you run into any of the big league guys? Do you have any cool stories?
“Don’t run into too many of the big name big leaguers. Not that they’re not all big names, but not Trout and Pujols.
I see Troy Scribner around, he made his debut last year. I see some guys that I’ve watched, Jahmai Jones, I see him a little bit. I see some of those guys that I’ve been watching since I signed but unfortunately I haven’t met Trout or Pujols yet.”
You were the best player on every team you played on growing up as was every other guy who showed up for the instructional league. What is it like looking around the room and realizing you are surrounded by the best players from all over and that you’re now competing with them?
“Honestly, it is pretty exciting. Its fun being around guys that have kind of been brought up the same way I have, that have the same goals. Its just fun to look around and see everybody busting it.
It can get a little bit intimidating, for sure, but I’m here for a reason and my stuff is just as good as anyone else’s.”
The way you were brought up, I have to imagine you did All Stars, travel ball, your parents were taking you to baseball non stop. Am I right?
“Yeah, you’re right. Ever since I was 13 we were making 2 hour car rides over to Nebraska 3 times a week so yeah, they were pretty intense.”
Wow that is a lot of travel. On to something lighter, but a tradition at Halos Heaven. Have you eaten at 5 Guys with Fries?
“Yes, I have.”
Have you eaten at In-N-Out Burger?
If it is lunch time and they are right across the street from each other, where are you going?
“I’d definitely go to 5 Guys. The amount of ingredients that they have kind of over matches In-N-Out. In-N-Out does one thing, it is really good, but I have to get the diversity so (5 Guys).”
Last question, as you climb up the rankings and people start following you more, is there anything about you that you’d like them to know? Here’s your shot to say whatever you’d like.
“Whatever I like? Hmm. I’m big into music, that’s about it.”
Nice, who are you currently listening to?
“I’m into a lot of reggae stuff so Rebelution, Soja, Primal Seeds, those are kind of my go to-s.”
Wow. Not really what most people would expect from a Midwestern kid. I like it. Thanks again for the time, I’ll let you get to the team meeting. Best of luck, I appreciate it.
So there you have it. John turned 19 between the interview and this writing yet shows a maturity far above most 19 year olds. He’s competing against the best players in the world, he’s enjoying it, and he’s a reggae fan from Iowa. If you want to follow his journey, his Twitter handle is @john_swanda.
Please leave any questions and comments below as John will get a link to this page.