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Arizona Fall League: Garrett Mock

As I mentioned about a month ago (seems like longer), I went out to see the Nationals who are playing in the Arizona Fall League when I was in Phoenix covering the National League Championship Series. While I'm finally putting something together for the $.35 edition that will kind of encompass what the players get out of the experience and what the Nationals front office expects from the players, I figured it'd be good to put the left-overs from some of the interviews here in the Journal.

Just an overview: The Nationals have seven players participating in the fall league, which is supposed to be reserved for some of the best prospects, a way for top talent to evaluate itself against other top talent. The Nats participants: Pitchers Zech Zinicola, Garrett Mock, Alexis Morrales and Adam Carr, infielder/outfielder Kory Casto, outfielder Justin Maxwell and catcher Devin Ivany (a late replacement for Jesus Flores).

So, here goes. We'll start with a player who Nationals fans might not know much about: Garrett Mock.

Name: Garrett Mock
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Age: 24
Acquired: Aug. 2006 trade with Arizona (with LHP Matt Chico) for RHP Livan Hernandez

2007 regular season:
Class A Potomac: 1 G, 1 GS, 1-0, 6 IP, 0 ER, 0.00 ERA, 1 BB, 5 K
Rookie GCL Nationals: 3 G, 2 GS, 0-2, 7-2/3 IP, 4 ER, 4.70 ERA, 1 BB, 8 K
Class AA Harrisburg: 11 G, 11 GS, 1-5, 51-1/3 IP, 33 ER, 5.79 ERA, 28 BB, 41 K
Totals: 15 G, 14 GS, 2-7, 65 IP, 37 ER, 5.12 ERA, 30 BB, 54 K

Arizona Fall League: 6 G, 5 GS, 18-1/3 IP, 6 ER, 2.95 ERA, 7 BB, 14 K

You might remember that when the Nationals made the trade with Arizona, Mock was the more highly touted of the two pitchers received for Livan. His build - 6-foot-4, 215 pounds - is impressive. But last September, he underwent knee surgery. He had been pitching on a bad knee for almost two years, and it affected him.

In my talk with him, he said that set up another year of injuries.

"I had surgery on Sept. 2" 2006, he said, "and I did my rehab and my timeframe was, we figured by May it should be ready. Just because of who I am, I wanted to beat the odds and get back earlier. I worked my tail off during my rehab in Houston [where he went to college]. I showed up at spring training, and I could do some things but not all. And then I had a little setback in spring training."

The deal: Mock hadn't wanted to wear a knee brace so that he could build up strength in the knee. But when they went to work on pickoff plays to second base, he figured he should wear one just in case. On the first throw, as he whirled to second, he felt a twinge.

"I didn't want to tell anybody, because I had felt that during rehab," he said. "I'd felt that little twinge, and I'd just always pushed through it.

"I went out and finished up the drills, did a few more. It felt the same. I was like, 'I'm probably going to get better.'"

Then, though, after some long tossing, he went to throw his bullpen session. "I just shut it down. It was a little bit more than I was used to." That, then, was the first setback.

(Aside: As Mock would say to me later in the conversation, "In case you can't tell, I'm a talker." I told him that I had noticed. "I mean, I'll talk to that wall, and if I've got a way for him to be a better wall, I'll tell him." Gotcha. Moving on.)

This all started a delayed process. Mock stayed at rehab in Viera, Fla., and then in May finally got the word that he could go up and start for Class A Potomac. He and his wife packed up the truck and headed north on I-95.

"I sat in a car for 24 hours," he said. "The first day I got stopped because of weather. The next day, we took off, and I guess as soon as I got into Virginia there was a wreck about 100 miles ahead of me. I sat in traffic for probably five hours and drove 50 miles."

The start went well, as reflected in his stats above: Six shutout innings. The Nationals, I remember at the time, were excited.

"Everything felt good," Mock said. "But I think that just going from Florida, working out in the mornings with the heat and humidity, then sitting in a car for two days, and then going from that to night and 50 degrees, the next day my arm was aching. It was one of those things where I had a decision to make. I know the setbacks. I pitched two years on a hurt knee and I could just try to throw through this and screw up my arm, or I could just let somebody know. I needed to make a grown-up decision."

That decision, he said, was to tell the Nationals' pitching coordinator, Spin Williams, about the problem. Thus, the Nationals shut him down for a week-10 days. No throwing. No nothing. The problem went away, and some in the Nationals organization I talked to at the time said they couldn't figure Mock out, wondering if he was overly frail.

At any rate, that set him back enough that he needed to go back to Viera, rehab, pitch in the Gulf Coast League - "Just a fun, fun time," he said -- then finally head to Harrisburg. Mock felt like his time in Class AA was a "roller coaster," but he didn't have any health problems, and he felt like his last few outings there were very strong. He then went back to Viera to work with Spin Williams again, then headed west to the fall league. He seemed very, very optimistic when I talked to him.

He also spent much of the year touching base with Chico, his friend from their days in the Arizona organization. Chico gave him some pointers.

"As far as the whole work ethic part of it, I don't think I have any problems with my work ethic," Mock said. "I don't feel like anybody's going to have to kick me in the butt to get going. That's never been a problem with me. But as far as how to carry yourself, ... when I do get up there, one thing I'm going to have to focus on, even if I do have something to say, I need to learn to just keep quiet."

I pointed out that Chico, notoriously understated, would be a good example. "I hope my locker's next to his," he said.

The Nationals must decide whether to keep Mock on the 40-man roster - and thus protect him from other clubs in the Rule 5 draft - and it's a good bet he stays. But when GM Jim Bowden made the trade for Chico and Mock, he said those two players immediately became the best pitching prospects in the Nationals' organization.

Well, look at Baseball America's top 10 prospects for the Nationals, released Wednesday:

1. 1B/OF Chris Marrero
2. LHP Ross Detwiler
3. RHP Collin Balester
4. OF Michael Burgess
5. LHP Jack McGeary
6. LHP Josh Smoker
7. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
8. LHP Glenn Gibson
9. OF Justin Maxwell
10. RHP Colton Willems

Mock's nowhere to be found. (Neither is Chico, but that's because he spent nearly the whole year in the majors.) "Nothing's guaranteed," Mock said.

The key: Mock has to use the fall league to regain his standing in the organization, and he has to be healthy. My guess is he starts at Class AA Harrisburg, but would be a candidate to move to Class AAA Columbus quickly. He's 25 next April. Time to get going.

By Barry Svrluga  |  November 8, 2007; 6:25 AM ET
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