Cullen Off to a Large Start for Dunedin

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Renae Weaver/Lansing Lugnuts photo

Injuries limited Cullen Large to a total of only 61 games over his first two pro seasons.  Finally healthy now, the 2017 5th rounder is in the top five in Florida State League OBP, Slugging and OPS, and the Third Baseman may be one of the most under the radar prospects in the Blue Jays system right now.

Large is one of those versatile up-the-middle guys the Blue Jays have been stockpiling over the last several drafts.  Moved over to 3rd from 2nd last year in an injury-shortened 2018 campaign at Lansing, the switch-hitting Large has taken up residence at the hot corner on a more permanent basis at Dunedin this year with the presence of Samad Taylor.

Baseball America labelled the William and Mary product a bat-first player in his draft year:

 Some scouts give him above-average raw power, and he has a chance to get to it because of his feel for hitting. He’s comfortable working deep counts, isn’t afraid to draw a walk and can drive balls to both gaps. He’s an above-average runner in workouts, and while it doesn’t always play on the bases, it could allow him to play the outfield and become a utility option. He’s a switch-hitter with sneaky pop from the left side. Large’s range and hands are fringy and he should become an an average defender at second.

 Large hit .246/.356/.325 in 34 games for Vancouver in his draft year before breaking his hand with a head-first slide to second while trying to break up a double play.  Last year, he was shipped off to full season ball at Lansing, and slashed .286/.425/.492 for the month of April before missing almost all of May due to injury.  He came back at the end of May, but only managed to get into 7 games (Homering in each of the last three) before landing back on the (then) Disabled List, where he finished the season.
We spoke to Large as he prepared for a home game with Dunedin – a place he’s see far too much of over the past two seasons – yesterday.
FBJ:  You’re healthy this year, and that seems to have helped you get off to a great start.
I definitely have gone through some some rough patches the last couple of years but it’s all right…. it’s kind of helping me enjoy the game a little bit more now that I’m back into it. I definitely don’t take the little things for granted anymore after being on the injured list the last couple of years. I think it’s helping me. I’m in a good mood, and go to the ballpark every day knowing that I’m healthy and able to play and that’s been a pretty big factor.
FBJ:  Anything else you can attribute your hot start to?

So last year in Lansing was when things started to click. I had an injury at the beginning of May, after I had a five-hit game, and that kind of made things a little bit difficult as far as seeing the ball and that kind of thing because I did start to see the ball really well right before I got hurt. And then I went back to Lansing at the beginning of June and picked up right where I left off maybe maybe even a couple ticks more. I had three straight games where I had a Home Run, getting extra base hits and seeing the ball really well, and then – bam – another injury. So things that started to click last year and I think I did a pretty good job of remembering what that felt like.  I spent a lot of time not being able to hit. But I think things carried into this year which was exactly what I wanted to do and kind of kept the ball rolling, and hopefully I can build off of this.

 

FBJ:  You got into a pair of games for the Blue Jays in Spring Training.  Tell us what that was like.

It was awesome. I was a little surprised (to get the call) just because of how much time I missed last year, but it was awesome – it was a great experience. The atmosphere is fantastic and spring training is a lot different than on the minor league side or at the complex that’s for sure. It was a lot of fun and I loved every minute of it.

 

FBJ:  In talking to people around the Blue Jays organization this spring, your name often came up, with a “Man, if he can just stay healthy,” tag attached.

That certainly was the goal this year going into spring training. You know people were asking, “What do you want to do this year?” and the answer was literally just stay healthy. I know that I’ve had a little bit of bad luck that’s been a little bit out of my control but I’m doing everything in my power this year just to make sure that I can stay on the field.

FBJ:  The Blue Jays minor league system has undergone quite a transformation with the approach they preach to their players.  When Steve Springer was here, Quality at Bats was the order of the day – work the count, see lots of pitches.  When Guillermo Martinez came in last year,  the mindset had switched to being aggressive early in the count – look for a pitch you can put a good swing on, regardless of the count.  Which of those two approaches describes you?
I would say I’m more on the aggressive side. I know I’m comfortable working deep in the count but I would prefer to get my pitch earlier in counts, because you can be a little bit more aggressive….. I can do both of those things but I would prefer to be a little bit more aggressive. I just try to look for pitches up – something I can drive. I don’t have the most power in the world but I can drive the ball in the gaps – I like to do that. So just seeing pitches up and getting in the box and having a plan is definitely the most important.
FBJ:  Are you a launch angle guy?  Are you thinking about putting loft on the ball when you swing?
I actually don’t. And being a switch hitter I actually have two different mindsets for two different sides of the plate. Lefthanded, I naturally have a little bit more loft. So I actually don’t need to be thinking about that in fact, when I’m not going well, my swing gets a little bit long and I think that’s actually the opposite direction, and that balances things back out. On the right side I’m right-hand dominant – that’s my top hand on the right side, so I need to think about creating more loft from that side.
FBJ:  Being a switch-hitter is something that will add to your value as you move up through the system.  When did you start?
Going into my junior year in high school. It was the summer before junior year, I had just played my sophomore year in high school, and was just a right handed hitter. I was starting to talk to some schools about playing college ball, and I was actually messing around in the cage before one of our showcase tournaments, and was just hitting left-handed, and my coach came up, and said, “Why don’t you give it a try this weekend?”. I tried it out, and things went pretty well that weekend. It wasn’t great by any stretch, but I was putting balls in play was using the whole field and coach was like, “Hey I think you should do this this summer, but if you do it you can’t you can’t back out of it.” He told me, ” You’re going to be in the lineup every day, you’re going to play shortstop. I just want to let you know that you have my confidence that you can you can do this.” And having that backbone was exactly what I needed because you know Chipper Jones was my favourite player growing up……in those little league games, I would flip over on the left side if we were up by a lot, but I never personally have the confidence to do it all the time. When it was in the seventh inning in a high school game, or a tie game, I wanted to win more than I wanted to hit left-handed in that situation…..but having that backbone, and having someone say I had to do this no matter what, I don’t care if you’re 0-20 and facing righties, you’re doing it, it and having that helped to springboard.
FBJ:  You were drafted as a 2nd Baseman after having played there in college.  Last year at Lansing, you spent some time at 3rd, and now you’ve moved over on pretty much a full time basis.  Describe how that transition has been.
So again, last year at Lansing was the first year that I primarily played 3rd. So last year was a little difficult. And actually that was one of the things that while I was hurt I had a lot of time to think about – what I wanted to do to get better playing 3rd Base, because I was a little uncomfortable there at Lansing. It’s a lot different moving from 2nd to 3rd; it’s like everything was right on top of me. Balls were getting on me a lot quicker obviously. I felt like everything I was getting was in between hop. And I just wanted to figure out why that was happening. So I was sitting in a hotel room (during rehab) just watching a lot of the big league 3rd Basemen, what they did that kind of thing and that translated in the off season when I was healthy, and I was able to kind of put that to work and started to feel a lot more comfortable there, which is awesome.
FBJ:  With the ball coming at you faster at 3rd, it’s a bit of a different world over there.
I think that was the big thing – at 3rd Base, it’s okay to go back on a groundball. And at 2nd, you never really have to go back. And I think just having that mindset really helps – like footwork – coming into this year. I think going into this year and as of right now, even in a ball is hit hard at me feel like I have more time this year than last year which is kind of part of it too.
FBJ:  No interview with a Blue Jays minor leaguer is complete without a discussion about their time in Vancouver.  How did you enjoy playing and living there?
I tell people that playing in Vancouver was the most fun summer I’ve ever had. They sell out every game, the weather is amazing…. being from Virginia is about as far away as I possibly could’ve gone for my first professional season, and I was completely OK with it. Vancouver is a big league city. You walk around and people know you play for the Canadians…that was that was awesome. We were kind of spoiled up there.
FBJ:  What’s it like to play with Nate Pearson?
It’s awesome. We are actually actually pretty good friends – he was in our rehab group last summer, and I tell people that’s a that’s a bond that’s never gonna be broken….. we were with each other every day through the struggles. I was actually at the game where he unfortunately got hurt last year. And we’re great friends now. And it shows on the mound with me being at 3rd, I get to talk to the Pitcher a lot. If a guy hits a groundball to me, Nate will look at me as if to say, “Told you I was going to get you a groundball.” Obviously he’s got plus plus stuff, guys are going to have a hard time catching up to it. And I think this year more than in years past his off speed stuff is kind of coming around a little bit , and he’s starting to look like a really good pitcher now. He throws a lot of strikes, and that’s all you can really ask for as an infielder. You know he’s going to put the ball in the zone, and guys will put the ball play sometimes.
FBJ:  During spring training, the Blue Jays decided to double the salaries of their minor league players.  How will that make a difference going forward?
We thank Mark and Ross more than than they probably know. It goes a long, long way. I think the biggest thing for us is it’s peace of mind now. You know a lot of a lot of guys are struggling… maybe they come back they didn’t like postgame spread, they go home they’re hungry maybe now they can go and pick up something quick ……you know it’s a lot more comfortable. Guys are able to afford an apartment with their own room, as opposed to an air mattress on the floor. You know it’s little things like that that are unbelievably more progressive in the movement of minor league baseball obviously that the perception is that that’s just kind of part of it. But it doesn’t it doesn’t have to be. And I think that the Blue Jays are being in the forefront of showing that it really doesn’t have to be in or whatever we’re able to afford groceries and stuff on at home and we’re able to obviously our own beds and that kind of thing which is it’s awesome. And we really can’t thank them enough.
In the off-season, Large went back to school, where he’s 7 credits shy of graduating, studying accounting and kinesiology.  He hopes to back in September to knock off a few more credits, but if he continues to hit like he has this first month, a trip to Arizona that month is not out of the question.

One thought on “Cullen Off to a Large Start for Dunedin

  1. Great article about a bat coming alive the range and D are a little concerning but thats what thje minors are for to iron out mistakes and identify talent.My old coachused preach want the ball and know what your going to do with it. Visualize the game.
    He is on my radar now I look forward to hearing more.

    Like

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