A multi-sport athlete with a quick bat and good natural baseball instincts, James Zamarripa used a strong senior year at Rancho Cucamonga High to vault himself from virtual unknown into the early-middle rounds of the 2011 draft. The Mariners were very happy to be able to nab James with their 6th round pick and sign him away from a baseball scholarship at San Diego State.
The young left-handed hitting outfielder, who was a three-time All League and two-time All-Inland Valley selection for the Cougars, took some time recently to chat with me via phone about the early stages of his professional baseball experience and about what motivates him and keeps him focused on his goals.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking a break from your work in Arizona to talk with me today, James.
James Zamarripa: You're very welcome, Rick. Thanks for reaching out to me.
SC: Obviously you were drafted in the 6th round out of high school by the Mariners last year. Does that qualify as a dream come true?
JZ: Definitely. I've known for a long time that I wanted to be a baseball player and being able to achieve that was a great feeling.
SC: So baseball is your ticket now, but you were a two-sport athlete in high school, correct?
JZ: Yes. Well, I played baseball and football up through my Junior season, then I dropped football and just focused on baseball.
SC: But before dropping the game of football I understand you were a pretty good receiver, right?
JZ: I was okay. We had a few kids on the team that were good and that went to big colleges and started. Guys like Randall Telfer -- that starts for USC -- and a few guys that went to Fresno State. But the team was good.
SC: And you had an option to go to college yourself, with San Diego State to play baseball. Tell me about that decision process after you were drafted.
JZ: Like I said, it had always been a dream of mine to play professional baseball, ever since I was a really little kid. So even though it was very tough turning them down -- the school is close to my house, the coach is Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn -- that was the decision we came to. As more and more teams started to show interest in me leading up to the draft, my family all sat down together and went over the pros and cons and, ultimately, we just thought it was great that I could get an early start on my professional career.
SC: And area scout Joe Laricchia was the first Mariners rep to really be in contact with you, is that right?
JZ: Right. He is actually one of my friends' uncles. That friend was on my team for a while, so Joe had been watching me in high school and in tournaments since I was a sophomore.
SC: Well that worked out nice.
JZ: Yeah, definitely.
SC: So once you get all that stressful draft stuff behind you and get back on the field, tell me what your impressions of the Arizona League were -- how'd you like the wood bats?
JZ: Well, I used a wood bat during practice all through high school and in travel ball in practice, so I had a little experience there. The biggest and most obvious differences for me in the Arizona League were that people threw a lot harder and the game in general just moved a lot quicker. Outside of that, you are playing four days on then get one day off -- that is a big difference from high school ball. You only play two games a week in high school, so you go as hard as you can. In Arizona, I had to learn to kind of pace myself more.
SC: What do you think your biggest strength and the area you need the most work on right now are?
JZ: Defense has always been my strength, and I work hard on that all the time. Hitting -- just getting used to pro ball -- I didn't hit as well as I wanted to last year, but I just need to get more used to the pitching and I expect to do a lot better going forward. I'm still really trying to figure out what type of hitter I am.
SC: You came into the draft with the profile of being very advanced defensively for a high school player -- where do you think that comes from?
JZ: Well, in high school, my sophomore season, we had an assistant coach named Demond Smith. He played a lot of minor league ball and he taught me a lot of things about outfield play that some of our coaches are teaching me right now in Arizona with the Mariners. Working on getting good jumps, and reading the ball off the bat and stuff, working during batting practice to always get better.
SC: Do you have a coach or other influence that his stood out with something they taught you or even in the way they coached you to this point in your young career?
JZ: I played on a travel ball team starting when I was 12, and my coach down there was always a little harder on me than the other kids, but he would tell my dad that, "your son has the potential to be a professional ballplayer, that's why I'm being hard on him like this." His name was Rick Adams. He played with the Angels as a middle infielder in the early 1980s. I think he was a big influence. He actually passed away not too long ago from cancer. But I'd say he's the one that stands out.
SC: Travel ball when you were 12, huh? I guess that's one big advantage of growing up playing in California.
JZ: Yeah, we played in a lot of tournaments and events. We actually got to travel to Cooperstown one season and play in the big tournament there, got to see the Hall of Fame.
SC: Wow. I'm jealous, that is awesome.
JZ: Yeah, it was a great experience.
SC: And you also were involved with the Perfect Game tournaments while you were in high school, right?
JZ: Not too much. I really only went to the one in my junior year. Because I played baseball and football, I didn't really get involved too much with tournaments or showcases or anything. Up until my senior year, I didn't play any extra baseball outside of my regular high school schedule.
SC: Were you getting much attention before your senior year from pro scouts?
JZ: Not really, it all really blossomed my senior year. Before that, I think I had one scout -- from the Marlins I think -- look at me for a while, but then Dan Dixon, who does all the reports for the MLB Scouting Bureau, came out and saw me and said some good things about me in the reports that they send out to all 30 teams, and then lots of guys started showing up.
SC: So getting back to today: with you staying behind when the full season leagues started up, tell me what you're working on right now down in Arizona in extended.
JZ: I'm just working really hard trying to get my swing down, seeing pitches better, getting my timing down. That type of stuff. And, of course, putting in a lot of outfield work, too.
SC: Who is your favorite MLB player right now?
JZ: My favorite player is Josh Hamilton. I read his book, "Beyond Belief", and I just really connected with him through that. It's really a great story about how he leaned on his faith to guide him back. Great book, great success story.
SC: How do you motivate yourself, day-to-day, week-to-week, to keep working hard on the ball field?
JZ: For motivation? Well, I've been reading this book called "The Mental Game of Baseball", and it talks about the struggles that players go through and how to stay confident with a positive attitude and things like that. I'm also reading another book called "God's Game Plan", from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Those two really guide me and motivate me.
SC: That's great, James. Thank you so much for your time today. You keep working hard and maybe one day they'll be writing books about you.
JZ: I hope so! Thanks Rick.