FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Twins camp, it was Minnesota's No. 8 prospect, Brent Rooker.Rooker was a 38th-round Draft pick of the Twins as a
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Twins camp, it was Minnesota's No. 8 prospect, Brent Rooker.
Rooker was a 38th-round Draft pick of the Twins as a redshirt sophomore in 2016, but opted to return to Mississippi State for one more season. The move paid off as he won the SEC triple crown and was taken, again by the Twins, with the 35th overall selection in the 2017 Draft. He kept on hitting during his pro debut, finishing with 18 homers in just 62 games.
• Twins camp report
MLB Pipeline: I like to start things off with 2017 draftees by asking about what their first Spring Training has been like. Has it been more or less what you expected?
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
Rooker: Honestly, camp has been pretty much what I was expecting, just having been around guys who have been in pro ball and are in pro ball. I had a pretty good picture of what my first Spring Training would look like. It's trying to get back in the rhythm of things, trying to get comfortable at the plate again, trusting that the work you put in during the offseason will start to play off. Once you get back into a game setting, it's just trusting your ability and trusting what you worked on.
MLB Pipeline: Last year, you had the longest season you've had in your life, between college ball and your pro debut. Did you shut down at all, and when did you start picking things back up?
Rooker: I ended up playing 133 games last year from college and the summer combined. It's definitely the longest season I've had. I went home for two weeks after we got done here in the Florida State League. Then I had to come back for a modified instructs; the hurricane kind of messed up the typical instructs. There were around 15 hitters and we did a mini-camp in the mornings, then had the afternoons off. Nothing too taxing, but something to continue the work I had put in during the season. From there, I probably took a week or two off from lifting and probably a month from hitting, then picked it back up.
MLB Pipeline: It didn't seem like you were tired and you hit throughout your pro debut. Were you surprised at how well your body held up?
Rooker: Honestly, I was. I talked to some people about when you get to late August, especially down here when it's 100 degrees every day. People would ask me, "How does your body feel?" My answer always was, "Surprisingly, it feels better than I expected it to." The college season starts the second week of February and you're going all the way through the first week of September, so that's a long process of constant playing. You're kind of expecting yourself to wear down towards the end, but I was able to hold together pretty well. My body felt good towards the end. I think having several changes of scenery contributed to that, being able to go from college ball to the Appy League and then finally coming down here for the last little stretch. Nothing ever got too monotonous. The new year this year, hopefully I'll be in the same spot for an extended period of time if things go like I want them to. It'll be a new test for me, something I've never done before. I'm looking forward to it. I have confidence in my ability to stick to my training regimen and keep myself healthy so I feel good throughout the season.
MLB Pipeline: You said "if things go like I want them to." What does that look like for you?
Rooker: Ideally, I would love to start at Double-A Chattanooga. Obviously, that's not my decision. That'll be up to the guys in the office over here. Whatever decision they make, it's my job to show up to the field every day and do what I can do to continue getting better step-by-step, incrementally. You always hope to start at the higher level. That's nothing different for anybody. But you have to take any decision that is made and hit the ground running.
MLB Pipeline: You were drafted in 2016, but made the decision to head back to Mississippi State, and it clearly worked out for you. Was there any point in time where you worried about if you had done the right thing?
Rooker: Yeah, every time we were doing conditioning in the fall. Every single Tuesday and Thursday when we were running gasses in the fall during college ball, that thought slips into your mind: All I had to do was sign a piece of paper and I wouldn't be on this 15th 100. In all seriousness, it never really did. I knew going back to Mississippi State and playing another year in the SEC was never going to be a bad decision because the experience you can have there, the type of competition you can play, the type of development that can take place playing that type of competition. No matter what happened, it was never going to be the wrong decision. I was confident in that when I was making the decision that summer in the Cape when I was deciding what I was going to do. I wouldn't trade that last year at Mississippi State for the world. I feel very fortunate to have had that fourth year there.
MLB Pipeline: And you came back to the team that had drafted you in 2016 anyway.
Rooker: It all came full circle and all worked out. I had a relationship with some of the guys in the front office already from that first Draft in 2016, some of the scouting guys. Obviously, some of the higher-ups in the front office turned over, but some of the scouting guys I had already known, so that made the transition pretty easy.
MLB Pipeline: The level of competition in the SEC is so good. So many of the pitchers go on to the pro game. Did that automatically give you a better sense of what the level of competition would be like here?
Rooker: Every college pitcher taken in the first round in 2017, I had faced in college, with the exception of Brendan McKay, who technically was taken as a first baseman. So I didn't count him, but every other pitcher taken I had faced, either in conference play or in the Cape Cod League. Having that kind of experience, being able to see those guys week in and week out will do nothing but pay dividends once you get to this level, where every guy is that good. You have an idea of what you're getting into and what kind of plan you need to have success against them.
MLB Pipeline: You've played both first base and the outfield. It seems like the Twins are committed to giving you a lot of time in the outfield, but do you have a preference?
Rooker: I don't. When they ask me what I want to do, I say, "Whatever gets me in the lineup faster." I'll play left field, first base, right field, I'll DH. Whatever gets me in the lineup and allows my bat to contribute as quickly as possible. I'm very confident that I'm going to continue to hit as I make my way up. I'm doing a lot of time in left and at first, giving myself the option that wherever they need to plug me in in the future, I'll be able to handle it.
MLB Pipeline: From last summer, you got a sense of what works and what doesn't. What are the finishing touches you need to make the move to the upper levels and beyond?
Rooker: The broad answer is to continue to learn from every at-bat. In Spring Training, I've felt that with every at-bat, something else has clicked, a little thing has fallen into place as I continue to get ready for this season. It's going to be taking every at-bat during the the season and learning something from it and move forward, be able to build my offensive approach and build on my swing. It's a process of never stopping the learning. When you talk about finishing touches, it's going to be about being able to compete against those frontline starters every day, to be able to formulate a plan to beat those guys with plus-plus stuff. That takes not only the ability to have a good swing and put your body in a good position to hit, but also to read the advanced reports, watch video so you can formulate a plan and win those matchups.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.