In today’s “A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer” I had the chance to sit down with Cameron Junker. A promising hard-working Pittsburgh Pirates prospect.
Blue collar guys are one of my favorite people to interview. Their stories are fascinating to hear, which makes it much more fun to tell for me. Today’s 11th installment of “A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer” was one of those blue-collar good ones with Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Cameron Junker.
Wanting to know who Cameron was as a person, I asked him to describe himself for the fans who don’t know who he is. “I come from a pretty blue-collar family. My dad works construction, and my mom works as a lunch lady. Education has always been one of the biggest things my parents have taught my siblings and me. Throughout the whole recruiting process, I was going to go to a school that mainly provided an education. That’s when I chose Notre Dame and spent three years there. I think what makes me; me is my hard work and education. You ultimately get out what you put in.”
Like the blue-collar and hardworking individual, Cameron is the one word he chose to define himself as is “hardworking.” When you look over his career to this point, and you see the countless hours he put in to master his craft, he hit the nail on the head with his one worded description.
There are tons of passionate people still left who have an admiration towards baseball itself, but I wanted to know what or who drove Mr. Junker to play America’s game. “Ultimately, my decision to play baseball was my own. My dad played college basketball, my little brother plays college football, and I’m the one that plays baseball. We had three boys play three different sports. My dad, from the beginning, told me to play what you want to play. I played all three sports in high school, but baseball got the most traction from college coaches, and I knew baseball was going to be it for me.”
One of the things I want to know is if any coaches had an impact on Cameron’s life and if he still corresponds with them to this day. “One of my best friend’s dad was our head coach for my summer team. I started playing for him when I was 15, and he started mentoring me. Even to this day, I go work out with his son, and he even brought me back to my pitching coach back home that I work within the offseason. My friend’s dad has lead me to the right hands and helped me to go along the right avenues.”
Playing for Notre Dame for three years and then playing in pro ball had to be a bit of a jump as far as competition for Cameron, so if it was a bit of a jump for him. “Yes, I would say the biggest difference was the approaches to the hitters. Obviously, starting in college and then going into the bullpen was different for me I really didn’t know how to warm up in the bullpen to start at first, but I quickly had to learn. I started to see the batters there were not going to chase anything out of the zone. Getting guys out in the zone was tough rather than making them chase.”
Sticking with the bullpen theme, I wanted to know how hard was it to transition to being a starter in college to a bullpen arm. “I think it was more of a mental thing. Being a starter, they’d like you to go six innings, and then they tell you in the bullpen you’re going to throw one or two. The main thing for me was just understanding how to warm up and being my best when I went into the game. I knew I had to be my best from pitch one to the end of the inning. I had to really work on a plan in the bullpen on when to get loose and when to ready to go in and blow it out for one or two innings and not waste any bullets.”
On the mental aspect of being in the bullpen, Cameron mentioned that when he gets in a pickle, he tends to overthrow. So what he would work on trusting in his ability to hit spots and let his pitches do what they’re supposed to do. This is a big mental hurdle for some young arms, but with his numbers last year, I’d say Cameron is excelling in between the ears.
As far as Mr. Junker’s future in the bullpen, I wanted to get a feel if that is where he will stay when he moves up levels and if he’s comfortable there. “I have no preference at all where they put me. During spring training, they told me they might put me back as a starter. I don’t know now with this pandemic if it changed anything. But the plan was for me to go back as a starter. I’m open to all avenues and whatever gets us that W.”
With veteran pitching coach Tom Filer behind Cameron and the rest of that pitching staff, I was curious as to what he tried to instill in him during the season. “What me and Tom worked on was a harder slider. I have a slurve type of slider right now that’s around the mid 80’s that has a little less movement but a later bite. Me and him worked on that quite a bit from the halfway point on and also being able to control the zone with fastballs. Especially controlling it down. As a pitcher who likes throwing it up, it was hard to see what he meant at first. Once I put that into motion, I realized you have to be able to throw down in order to throw up. If you can pitch two levels with the fastball, it makes a world of difference.”
Speaking of Tom Filer, I wanted to know what kind of guy he was within the clubhouse and what was their relationship as a whole. “He’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse. He’s all business, but at the same time, he’s a great person to talk to you can talk to him about anything. I would say he taught me how to be a professional pitcher with a lot more scouting reports. He was all business in the bullpen, and everything had a plan when we’d have a pen session. He would get your body right and teach you how to bounce back after a rough day.”
Touching on Cameron’s delivery, I noticed he had a bit of a pause right before he released the ball. I wanted to know if this was something he learned or if it just happened over the course of time. “Going back to the pitching coach back home. We really focused on staying stacked in the delivery and staying over the backside of the rubber. Going into my freshman and sophomore year in college, I focused on staying with that, and for me to be able to that, I stayed really slow just to feel it and make sure I was in the right position. I struggled throwing strikes early on in my career, but when I went to that, I started finding the zone, and I wasn’t going to change from that if I was throwing strikes.”
During this extended offseason, I wanted to know if there was any pitch he was developing or working on bringing into his arsenal this year. “I started throwing the harder slider pretty much regularly to where I’m comfortable with it. Right now, though, I’m really working on the changeup and to be able to throw it to both righties and lefties. This has been a big focus for me in spring training, and it’s still one for me right now. The main reason they were telling me to focus on the changeup is that if I was going to be a starter, I needed to have one. With having that changeup, it could impact my other pitches like my breaking ball because I wouldn’t have to throw them as much.”
I love to put pitchers in this scenario, and that scenario is if the bases were loaded with two outs and it was a 3-2 count, what would be his go-to out pitch? “Two come to my mind, fastball or slider. It would depend on the batter honestly. If it’s Bryce Harper, I’m throwing fastball. If it’s a lefty, I’m definitely throwing a fastball. If it’s a righty, I’ll probably go slider away to try and get him reaching out.”
In regards to the new front office, I wanted to know if he has spoken to Ben Cherrington or Travis Williams at all and if they gave him a plan for where he will start this year. “I haven’t talked to either of them personally. I did have somewhat of an idea where I was going, but none of that really matters when they first tell you. Ultimately it matters how you do during spring training and how others fit. They told me I kind of control my own destiny, which I completely believe. They told me either Greensboro or Bradenton, and I would be fighting for one of those positions.”
Now for the most important question of the day. Is Cameron a Netflix or Hulu guy? He mentioned he had both, but during spring training, him and his roommate Grant Ford would binge watch Hulu. Now during this pandemic, he’s been on the Netflix kick and who can blame him with the cringey yet addicting Tiger King documentary. Being a Bengals fan, he must be happy with their own Tiger King in Joe Burrows.
When and if there is a season, I can’t wait to see where Cameron ends up, and hopefully, we can see him continue his dominant ways like did last season in West Virginia. (Side note) Carole Baskin killed her husband.