Kurt Heyer is a junior, right-handed pitcher for the Arizona Wildcats known for his supreme control, durability and advanced mound presence. He has been one of the top college pitchers in the country this season, going 9-2 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 85 K/15 BB over 102.2 innings for the 17th-ranked team in the nation. He was recently named to the watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, given out annually to the top collegiate player in the country, and has been the team’s Friday night starter since day one of his freshman season. Kurt was also just named the PAC-12 Pitcher of the Week. I recently had a chance to bounce some questions off one of the top prospects for the upcoming MLB amateur draft to be held on June 4-6. I would like to thank Kurt for his time and wish him the best of luck in the draft!
You were a highly touted prospect coming out of Edison High School in California, racking up an impressive list of awards along the way. Why was Arizona the right choice for you, and how has college ball prepared you for the big leagues?
Coming out of high school, there were a few programs looking at me. My first official visit was to Arizona, and coach Andy Lopez said I could have a huge impact right from the start. And to be honest, not many programs were going to let me start on Fridays as a freshman. And I guess it was a pretty good decision!
For those not familiar with your game, tell us about your style of pitching and repertoire.
People say I have an unconventional or unorthodox windup, but it’s not intentional. I know I don’t have a very overpowering fastball, but I try changing speeds with it to disrupt the hitter’s timing and keep him off-balance. I try to create a lot of deception with my pitches, go in-and-out with my fastball. My main goal is to stay aggressive with the hitters.
Which pitch have you worked on most over the past year?
I would say my slider. When I came in as a freshman, it wasn’t a dominant “out” pitch, it was more of a show pitch. I developed a curveball the summer after my sophomore year on my coaches’ suggestion, and this season, I’ve really worked on developing the slider, and I can say it’s an “out” pitch now.
You are known for having a slightly unorthodox delivery with a mid-to-low arm slot, almost sidearm. How did you pick it up and how do you use it to your advantage?
I’m not really sure how it happened. I’ve had multiple pitching coaches show me different slots and I kind of molded everything I learned into something of my own. I was over-the-top in high school, and then dropped down and it created a lot of deception.
Pitchers who can go deep into games are always a hot commodity and something every team covets. As a sophomore last season, you averaged almost seven innings per start. This season, you are up to almost eight per start, including five complete games. What have you done to build your stamina over the years to become such a workhorse pitcher?
That’s definitely something I take pride in. I’ve worked hard in the weight room, especially my lower half. I’ve also managed my pitch counts better, which has allowed me to go deeper in games. We’re also in the part of the season where I want to go deep and give my team the best chance to win. Every game is crucial, and we’re chasing Oregon in the PAC-12.
Tell me what it means to be on the watch list for the 2012 Golden Spikes Award, given out annually to the top college player in the country?
It’s unbelievable. I’m happy to be considered. The last Arizona player to be on the watch list was back in 2004, and Terry Francona was the only Wildcat to win. Really, I’m honored and hopefully in a couple of weeks, I’m still in the running.
You were named the Friday night starter from day one your freshman season. Having been the ace of the pitching staff for one of the top programs in the country your entire career says a lot about your abilities and leadership. How do you see that carrying over to the next level?
I will try to keep the same mentality. I’ll try to show the organization that drafts me that I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win, whether it’s on the mound or on the bench. I’ve been fortunate to be playing with teammates who have the same aspirations as me, and they’ve taught me to lead by example.
How do you deal with all of the draft hoopla while remaining focused on the mound and getting Arizona back to the College World Series?
To be honest, I don’t really focus on that. I’m focused on the here and now, helping my team to the national championship and the rest will take care of itself. I don’t know where I rank on teams’ draft boards. My focus is on my teammates and helping the team win.
When your Arizona career is over, you will leave as one of the most decorated players to have played there, ranking among the top in most pitching categories. What will you miss the most about Arizona baseball?
I’ll miss the Friday nights, the coaches handing me the ball an hour before the game starts. I enjoyed the pressure of owning up to the title of staff ace. Hopefully, I can do the same thing at the next level.
Who has been the biggest influence in your baseball career?
There have been three people. My parents and Andy Lopez. My dad taught me not to be a follower but a leader. My mom taught me to be humble and to never take anything for granted. And she taught me that to do that, you have to outwork everybody. Coach Lopez has helped me become mentally prepared and tougher. He’s an old-style coach, and not many coaches are like that.
If you had to compare your game to anyone, who would it be, and why?
That’s a tough question because it’s hard to compare myself to big leaguers when I’m not there yet, but I relate to Roy Halladay’s approach to pitching, the way he locates his pitches. He’s not trying to blow by guys with his fastball. Everything he throws, there’s some movement to it, and there’s nothing straight, and he keeps the hitters off-balance. That’s what I try to do when I pitch.
Your middle name is Wolfgang. Is that a family name, or are your parents just big classical music fans?
Ha-ha, that’s a funny story. My dad had a choice to pick my first name or my middle name and he really liked Kurt, so he picked my first name. That meant my mom got to pick my middle name and I think she thought Wolfgang would be cool. I’m not sure it had anything to do with classical music!
Last question and it’s hypothetical. It’s game seven of the World Series, you’re on the mound, bottom of the ninth, two outs and a one run lead. Who do you want facing you at the plate, past or present?
That would be the biggest thrill. I’ve always been the type to rise up to the challenge, so in order to be the best, you have to beat the best. Derek Jeter would be the ultimate challenge because he always has tough at-bats. If I can get him out, then I know that I deserved that championship.
Thank you for your time Kurt!