In the 22nd round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the Yankees selected University of Seattle pitcher Janson Junk. In a draft class that was heavy with pitching, the right-hander has continued to climb the ladder, finishing 2019 with High-A Tampa. He recently took time to talk with Pinstripe Alley about his 2019 performance, what he has done to improve since leaving spring training due to the COVID shutdown last year, and his path to professional ball.
Junk struggled at times during the 2019 season but he feels that he has a pretty good feel for what he can improve.
“I’d say that last year, I came out of Tampa and I wasn’t happy with the year that I had,” said Junk. “Based on numbers wise, I knew what I had to work on. My slider wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t consistent and I knew that and I was tinkering with it too much during the season. So it’s like if I don’t have a slider especially to right-handed hitters, moving the other way, I have a curveball, but the righties seem to like that one. I need something that moves off my fastball, moving left harder than my curveball. I’d say coming into this year since March I’ve really wanted to work on getting that slider back, and I was really able to dive deep into it.”
Heading into 2021, Junk is confident that he has taken the steps to improve his game and give himself the ability to succeed at the higher levels of the Yankees’ system.
“I’m probably feeling the best I’ve ever felt heading into a year,” said Junk. “I’ve worked on developing certain aspects of my game that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to in the short four-month offseason. So to have extra months to do this and concentrate on baseball, diving deep into mechanics, pitch design, weight training, and every aspect of the game … It is what it is, but we are just trying to make the most out of it.”
At home in the state of Washington since leaving spring training in 2020, Junk has been taking the steps he needs to make progress during the upcoming campaign.
“A guy I have some prior history working with, Kyle Rogers, was starting up his own training facility,” said Junk. “He’s got a few professional athletes and we got together — some local guys — and we really started to dive deep to the body, weight training, and focusing on things that I need. It’s been amazing what he’s done, the attention to detail. The curiosity to help his athletes, he wants what’s best for us. He is really striving to help us to become better athletes in all forms, in speed and mobility, power all aspects of training.”
In addition to working with Rogers, Yankees minor league pitching coach and former big league pitcher Daniel Moskos has been instrumental in helping Junk during his time away from the Yankees’ facilities.
“I’ve been working with pitching coach Daniel Moskos; he’s been amazing,” said Junk. “He’s been my right-hand man with pitching stuff most of the time, giving feedback on videos, breaking stuff down, numbers … his knowledge and how he perceives the game. He is a guy that I can talk to about anything. He has constructive criticism, he has clear feedback, he tells me what I need to be better at, he tells me what’s good, and you know he’s a straight shooter, so I respect that.”
With the work he has put in, Junk is very confident in the pitch that gave him problems during the 2019 season.
“I’m very happy where that [slider] is now, with all the Rapsodo numbers — how it looks to the eye, how hitters are reacting. So I think my arsenal has one-upped; having that pitch ultimately will lead me to better success. That combined with strength training and really believing in my stuff and striving for the best that I can be.”
With the recent news that Major League Baseball is “deadening” the ball used in both the majors and Triple-A for next season, I asked Junk if he noticed a difference in the ball when he made a spot start for Triple-A Scranton.
“I’ll tell you this: I could definitely notice a difference, in that Triple-A start,” said Junk. “I threw a slider to a guy, and with those low seams, I’m used to the High-A ball, with a little bit higher seams. With those lower seams, I didn’t get all the way through the ball, and it just spun and it was low. From my angle, he just dropped the barrel and flailed his arms and hit the ball, I pointed up like it was a pop fly and that thing just kept going.
“I’ll always remember, Terrance Gore was in centerfield, he came in and was like ‘Welcome to Triple-A, the balls fly different around here.’ I was like, ‘Oh my, I was thinking the same thing.’”
Prior to becoming a member of the Yankees organization, Junk was grateful for a college pitching coach who saw enough in him to offer him a spot as a walk-on at Seattle University (SU).
“I wanted to go to college and play baseball, and I thought I had the ability,” said Junk. “Luckily, coach [Elliott] Cribby from SU at the time was scouting one of my friends and he saw me, and had some questions, then followed me for a few more games. He called me up and gave me the opportunity to come to SU as a walk-on, and I thought — after talking to my family — that would probably be the best opportunity academically and in the baseball realm to succeed, so I went that path.
“Coach Cribby, he really instilled my work ethic and the way I am on the field, the way I treat work every single day, how I go about life — not just in baseball. That was a big turning point in my life, and that freshman year, he got the best out of me and really showed me that if I’m serious about this, I can play professionally.”
At the same time he was recruiting Junk, SU pitching coach Cribby was also landing Tarik Skubal, who made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2020 and is considered a top pitching prospect.
“We’re the same age and came up together,” said Junk. “We’ve been through hell weeks together and those doubleheaders and WAC championship games. We’re good friends; he’s in Arizona right now, but we still do communicate. I told him congrats on his debut, I was watching with my college roommate who also played at SU. To see his success, he deserves it.”
Janson Junk is ready to show off the hard work he put in over the past year, as he and his fellow minor leaguers await their report date for spring training. He is likely to start the 2021 season with High-A Hudson Valley or Double-A Somerset.