March 11th, 2018
Dillon Maples is a hard-throwing reliever for the Chicago Cubs. Drafted in 2011 in the 14th round due to his commitment to UNC, but ultimately signed for $2.5 million. Since then Dillon has had a rollercoaster career in the Minor Leagues, and in 2017 everything came together for him. Going into 2017 he had never made it past High-A in parts of six Minor League seasons and would end the season in September pitching for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. From High-A to Triple-A, Dillon appeared in 52 games, throwing 63.1 innings, with a 2.27 ERA, 1.279 WHIP, .189 BAA, and a 36.5% K%. He appeared in six games with the Cubs in September striking out 11 batters in just 5.1 innings. Dillon enters the season as the Cubs 13th ranked prospect by MLB.com and is fighting for a spot in the bullpen in Spring Training.
Matthew de Marte: You have had a history of injuries. Nobody wants to get hurt especially in professional baseball. What have these injuries taught you, and how have you grown from them as a person and player?
DM: My first year as a high school guy, you think everything is going to be perfect. A lot of my buddies were going through a similar process. Guys I played with on team USA and the Canes, were getting drafted. It was a fun time, it is your dream to play in the big leagues, you just think it is going to happen. You think it is going to be a smooth path. Getting injured was a reality check, I had never been injured at any point in my life. I had always been healthy no matter what sport I played. Being hurt was taboo. This was early in my career what I learned from that I had to be smarter with my throwing program. You just cannot grab a ball and not warm up and sling it the first week back throwing, playing long-toss foul pole to foul pole. At the time I thought what I was doing was right because that is what I had always done. I quickly figured out I had to treat my arm properly.
MD: You began your pro career as a highly touted starting pitching prospect. How do you think your transition to a reliever has benefited your career?
DM: I got to the big leagues as a reliever, so that is obviously a huge plus. It was kind of by default; I was so bad at starting. I lost the zone altogether, had no confidence, and knew going into spring training in 2015 that I had to get some swagger back. I wasn’t going to do that starting. They were not going to send a guy out there who could not get out of the first inning every other outing. They moved me to the bullpen, and I built back my confidence, and I grinded through that year. I was in extended, and then I was in short season, then I went to Low-A. I learned how to compete that year. It was so bad as far as my mental approach. I climbed out of the hole I had dug myself into the previous years. 2015 was a big year for me, I learned how to compete and have fun.
MD: You have been quoted as saying a lot of the struggles in your career were due to a lack of confidence. Why did you lose confidence in yourself, and what made you find it again?
DM: It was like a snowball effect. You have a bad outing, the next day of catch you feel bad for yourself. Then your struggles get talked about, and you start to be that guy. It is crazy how it happened, but ultimately it is on me and my thoughts. I found myself every time I picked up a ball having negative thoughts. 2014 was not pretty at all. There were days I did not want to even play catch; I was scared to play catch. I was just in a morbid state, that is not how you want to play the game. I picked my head up and was like my god how did I even get here. I started reading some books on the brain and plasticity. It sounds a little cheesy, but that just lifted my spirit. I listened to Jocko Willink’s podcast, and that fired me up. That changed my mental approach. The books I read were The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain That Heals Itself by Norman Doidge. It was crazy some of the transformations I read about people going through. It was great to understand why I was thinking the way that I was. It gave me a new perspective, and I did not care that year. I was scared of failure, and I asked myself why I was afraid of failure. I wrote down my fears, and I looked at them and thought it was the stupidest thing ever. I was scared to walk a guy, and I was nervous to hold a runner. It was ridiculous; you can’t do that and succeed in this game. Abandoning most of my fear of failure, and the negative thoughts was huge for me. The negative outcomes, I stopped thinking about them because you are going to walk people, give up hits, give up homers. If I just allow myself to not think about that I can only be better.
MD: Young pitchers often struggle with confidence. What advice would you give them on this matter?
DM: If you are confident in your game you can have success anywhere. Obviously, the degrees of success are going to vary. Confidence is key, and I can’t stress that enough. Everyone is going to be different, but for me, it made a world of a difference. I would advise pitchers to keep a journal. I am not the first person to think of this, but my mom has always pushed me to do that since I got to pro ball, and I have started to take it more serious the past few years. After you have a good outing or feel good one day go back and write down what you felt and the results of the outing. That way, if you have a bad outing or day you can go back and look at what you wrote when you had a good day and see what you did. When you read that you start to visualize it slowly and you are back where you need to be.
MD: When you were drafted your peak fastball on perfect game was 95 MPH. You have been clocked as high as the triple digits now. What do you credit for your spike in velocity?
DM: Physical maturity I credit the most. Just getting stronger and learning. When you are a high school guy, you are going to go through an adjustment period. A lot of high school guys go through an adjustment period. They are drafted as 95 MPH guys, and their velocity drops to the low 90’s, and then after a few years in pro ball they will come back and be back up to where they were in high school or stronger. It is a long season, and you have to know your body, know what you have to do each day, and be smart with your routine.
MD: In 2016 you were ready to retire from baseball. You called your dad and said you were quitting. What was going through your mind at that moment, and how did he convince you to continue playing?
DM: I just wanted somebody to tell me I had put in my time in pro ball and it was time for me to start a new chapter of my life. I was looking for somebody to tell me it was ok to walk away from baseball. Somebody to feel sorry for me too and he just did not do that. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Staying off the rollercoaster and not getting emotionally invested in a bad outing or a good day. You can’t ride the emotional roller coaster or you are going to be inconsistent. It is tough to be consistent if you are always going up and down emotionally. He didn’t lay down the law on me like you cannot quit. I wanted him to tell me it was ok if I walked away from the game, and he did not do that. We had an off day the next day, and he told me to chill out and come back to the park ready to work. I finished out the year pretty well after that.
MD: You were listed as 195 pounds in 2015, and were listed as 225 pounds in 2017. Do you believe your added size and strength contributed to your success this year? If so can you touch upon the importance of strength training and being strong enough to be a high-level athlete?
DM: My weight gain has been a casual rise since I was drafted. You learn how to get smarter with lifting. My first few years of pro ball I tried to lift the house and realized that wasn’t the best option for me. I have become more aware of what I need to work on in the offseason. It does not completely lie in the weight room. When I am throwing that is always the most important thing for me. I still put my work in lifting, but I know throwing is the most important thing for me. Over time you know what you need to do to get ready for the season, so my weight gain has been a gradual rise.
MD: In 2017 you had your best professional season by far. Before 2017 you had never made it past High-A and ended the year in the MLB. What do you credit for your success in 2017?
DM: I saw Jose Rosario (another Cubs pitching prospect) he had never been out of High A, in a similar situation to me. He was one of those guys who was plagued by injuries, he started in High A and dominated through Triple-A in 2016 and exploded through the organization. I kept telling myself Rosario had a great year last year, and we have similar stuff if I just put it together I can do this. I knew if I did not have a good year this past year I would have been out of the game. I probably would have retired or gotten released. If you play six years and are not out of High-A, it is hard to stay in professional baseball. I went into spring training knowing this could be my last year. It was gratifying because all the people who have supported me my whole career have been on this ride with me. It was a fun call to my parents, friends and other family members when I got called up to the big leagues in September.
MD: In 2017 you began pitching backwards a lot throwing your offspeed early in counts often. This method seemed to play a significant role in your success. Why the change in ideology?
DM: That is how I grew up pitching when I first began throwing a breaking ball at 14. One, it is fun throwing a breaking ball at 14 when you first learn it, and people are swinging and missing at it. You can make the ball move, and guys can’t hit it is pretty sweet. I remember in high school being 60% fastballs, 40% breaking balls and I just got back to that. That is how I felt comfortable. Every young guy in pro ball they want you to develop your fastball command, and who doesn’t want fastball command? They wanted you to be around 70% fastballs when you are young. As you get more of a feel then you can start mixing it up more like I did this year.
MD: Your playing career has had a lot of ups and downs. How have the ups and downs shaped you as a person and made you more prepared to succeed at the big league level?
DM: You just know what you can handle. When you need help, you know what and how to get it. It is a different realm, but knowing you don’t have to go through things alone was big for me. When you are in the Minor Leagues, you debate things internally, and you know you can push through some things alone. I have figured out a lot how to handle the emotional ups and downs.
MD: MLB pipeline grades you as the only pitcher in the Cubs system with three pitches that grade as a 60 or better (75 fastball, 65 slider, 60 curveball). You struck out 36.8%(!!!) of batters you faced last year. Which of these weapons do you believe is your best strikeout pitch?
DM: Whatever they are swinging and missing at that day. Whatever grip feels good in my hand that day. Sometimes you just pick up a baseball, and a grip feels right. It’s a feel thing for me.
MD: Do you elevate your hard fastball a lot?
DM: No not really. Just because if I am going to put you away I would prefer to do it with my slider or curveball, but if I need to start elevating, I will.