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Interview with Ian Clarkin: the top Yankees prospect details his road to recovery

One of the Yankees' top pitching prospects talks about recovering from injury, the success of Greg Bird and Luis Severino, and pancakes.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Ian Clarkin has had a difficult year. After an incredibly successful 2014 season, he was ready to make a jump this year. Instead he experienced a couple of cases of elbow inflammation early in the season, and the Yankees decided to shut him down for the year. He is now ready to pitch, and shortly after he was added to the instructional roster, the Yankees surprisingly added him to the Arizona Fall League roster. I was fortunate enough to speak with him (before he was added to the AZL roster), and he opened up about his year of injury.

Matt Provenzano: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Firstly, how are you feeling? Are you throwing at full capacity, and how's your elbow feeling?

Ian Clarkin: I'm finally feeling great. I feel one-hundred percent. It's been a long road, but I'm ready to go and I'm at full-throttle. Instructs [Instructional League] start, we have our first game tomorrow [September 24th], so I'm preparing for tomorrow and we'll go from there.

MP: So now that you're ready to pitch, do you think you'll be fully ready for a full season next year?

IC: Yes. I feel one-hundred percent, I feel confident, and everything should go according to plan.

MP: What's your timeline like for instructs? Do you have an innings limit?

IC: I'm not too sure about that. All I know is that I want to pitch as much as possible. We haven't talked about a timeline or how many innings, or anything like that. It's just about being smart for now.

MP: What has the recovery been like? You were put on the shelf near the beginning of the season for elbow inflammation, as you know. What was the timeline like for your recovery, and what was that like on a day-to-day basis?

IC: It's been good. Like I said, it's been a long road. Something flared up in spring training. I started to come back, and then I went down again. It's just been an up-and-down year, and it's been one of the most frustrating things in the world for me, because as an athlete and a competitor, you want to be out there every single day with your teammates playing. It's been a long year, but now I'm trying not to look at the past too much. I don't want to focus on the past; I just want to focus on the future.

MP: What toll has this extensive recovery taken on you, both physically and mentally? Has it been especially tough to sit knowing how well you did in 2014?

IC: Absolutely, it's been tough. But at the same time, I know for a fact that this has made me a better teammate, a better person, and a better pitcher. Being down all this time, I get to watch a lot of baseball. It wasn't just going to the field and getting rehab and treatment--it wasn't anything like that. I studied the game, I watched film after film after film. I also watched the GCL [Gulf Coast League] games this year. I stayed and did all of the extra stuff so I can get better for when I start playing again. So yeah, it's been tough. It's been really tough. But at the same time, I've been getting better without even being on the field.

MP: Have you talked with any players who have had similar injuries?

IC: I've had people down here to help me along with this process of how to get better. We've had major leaguers down here helping us out, telling us to take advantage of this down time, because if you're going to be pitching for a long time, you're never going to have this break; so, you have to study the game. That was about it.

MP: Which major leaguers in particular had an effect on you?

IC: Andrew Bailey was a big one. Brendan Ryan was a big one as well.

MP: What did they teach you?

IC: Well, Bailey's been hurt for a few years now, and Brendan Ryan is getting older--awesome guy, I love Brendan Ryan--so they've gone through it. They've gone through the minor leagues, they got hurt in the big leagues, they played again after injury, and then they got hurt again. Unfortunately, that's why they were down here. They just taught me how to handle all of the down time, like I was saying. Study the game, take it slowly, and focus on the little things without even stepping on to the field.

MP: Now that you're going to be pitching and not just studying, what are some things you want to work on next year?

IC: Well, there's a few things. I don't want to tell a few secrets of mine, but let's just say I've been watching a lot of film, and almost every single game of Clayton Kershaw's this year--his tendencies, what he likes to do on certain counts, what he does in tough situations, and what he does based on his composure. I've also been watching a lot of Zack Grienke, so I've been watching a lot of them and seeing how they work in certain situations. That's what I want to implement into my game next year, too. If you have the bases loaded and no outs, what do you do in that situation? That's what I want to implement next year.

MP: I'm glad you said that, because I was just about to ask which pitcher you model yourself after. So, I'm assuming it's Clayton Kershaw?

IC: Yeah, and there's a few. I really enjoyed watching Zack Grienke as well, possibly as much as Kershaw. I know he's right-handed, but he does a lot of things I like. I also like watching David Price, so all of those would be my top three. I watched a lot of games this year, so those are the ones I like to watch the most.

MP: Obviously you have seen rookies having a huge impact at the big league level. Luis Severino and Greg Bird come to mind, of course. What's your opinion on their success, and does that motivate you to join them as quickly as possible?

IC: Absolutely. I want to be in the big leagues as soon as possible and help out the team. Greg Bird and Luis Severino are two amazing people, on and off the field. They're amazing teammates, so I'm really happy for them and I'm glad to see them both achieve what they want to and live out their dreams. I love that they're both really helping the team, so it's always good to see friends up there. Of course it motivates me. I want to get there, I want to stick there, and I want to be ready to compete at that level.

MP: I wanted to finish off this very serious interview with something a little humorous, and a fellow writer on the staff encouraged me to ask this, so: pancakes or waffles?

IC: Pancakes. One-hundred percent.

MP: Why is that?

IC: I'm not sure, that's a pretty good question. I couldn't really tell you why, but I'm not a big waffle guy to be honest with you.

MP: [laughs] Fair enough. Thank you so much for your time; I really appreciate it.

IC: Of course, and I appreciate it too.