Trayvon Robinson came to Seattle in a deadline deal last year and saw extensive action at the big league level, winning some fans with his tools, his hustle and his smile. This season, with some direct instruction about what parts of his game the club wanted to see improvements on, he is working hard in his return trip through the Pacific Coast League to get back to the Major Leagues, this time to stay.
Robinson, currently out nursing a hyper-extended knee, took some time before a Rainiers' home game over the weekend to talk with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about his strengths and weaknesses as a ballplayer, about the difficulties of learning to switch-hit, learning his abilities and growing as a player as he advanced in the minor leagues.
SeattleClubhouse: Hey Trayvon, thanks for taking a break to talk with me before the game tonight.
Trayvon Robinson: No problem, man.
SC: Let’s start the interview out and go back to last year – your major league debut. You got the chance to make your debut not far from where you grew up, and you performed really well in that first series; a great catch, your first major league homerun, lots of smiles and I'm sure lots of memories. That must have been great. Tell me what it was like to get that opportunity to not only make a dream come true, but to be able to do it in front of friends and family.
TR: Oh yeah, it was awesome. The timing was perfect. Everyone wished that I was able to do it for my hometown team, but just to get to play in a ballpark that I visited when I was younger and in front of my friends and family was awesome.
SC: This season got off to a bit of a slow start for you, but it seemed like you hit your stride in about the first week of May, hitting for more power and drawing a lot more walks. Did you have a bit of a Spring Training hangover from not getting as much of a look with the big club as you wanted?
TR: No, I don't think it was related to Spring Training at all because I actually had a really good Spring Training. I always have a slow month at some point during the season and I think it just happened that this year it was at the beginning. No I just know that I'm mentally stronger for having gone through that. I think of it as me doing a mental push up to get stronger so that in September, at the end of the year, I can fight through that. I just keep fighting every day, run the race, you know? No point in looking at your average on the scoreboard because it can swing a hundred points day to day in the early going.
SC: You’ve got a lot to offer a club with your tool set; good speed, good power the ability to defend at a few positions and the ability to switch hit. How old where you when you picked up switch hitting?
TR: Officially I picked it up when I was 18, but the Dodgers wanted me to start switch-hitting in the cages when they drafted me.
SC: Wow, so you didn't switch-hit at all until you were a pro? Natural right-handed hitter, correct?
TR: I was a natural right-handed hitter, yes. Left-handed is definitely not natural for me. A lot of people tell me to cut down my strikeouts, but hitting left-handed is like asking me to write something left-handed, you know what I'm saying? It's just not natural. People don't understand how hard I work at it. For where I'm at right now in my career it's almost like I'm hitting as a 12-year-old, you know what I'm saying?
SC: Definitely. So you were drafted by Los Angeles out of high school and made your pro debut as a 17-year-old, had to learn to switch-hit as you matured as a ballplayer. That must have been a huge change. Your game has changed a lot in other ways, too, with your power being the last tool that really showed up. What is that process like for a young player, learning to adjust yourself, your approach, your swing, etc., as you’re learning to adjust to the pro game?
TR: That (switch-hitting) was a tremendous change. When they asked me that, I was like, "What?" I mean, they plopped me down in the middle of Florida in Vero Beach and as a 17-year-old kid they try to teach you to take one thing back to think about and work on every day, but I had more than one thing because on top of learning those things I was learning to switch-hit. So I had a number of things that I was working on and, I mean, from 17 to 25, the game changed tremendously.
And then in 2009 that happened really quick and it changed drastically again. I'd been working hard on hitting the ball the other way, then all of a sudden I hit the ball the other way and it went over the fence and I was like, "Whoa - what?!" I kept looking at the flag to make sure that the wind hadn't blown it. I thought to myself, "Who's this guy?!" But I just kept working, kept working.
One coach that I had with the Dodgers at the lower levels -- Tarrik Brock, who is now the Marlins outfield coordinator -- he told me that as I advanced through the minors that I wouldn't be able to keep just slapping the ball the other way and beating out infield hits, those are going to be outs as I advanced, he said. So he told me that I would have to learn to drive that ball the other way. So as I was advancing and learning to hit, I was also learning to hit the ball hard the other way. There were some tough learning curves along the way and I don't know where things are headed the next couple of years, but I'm going to try my best to navigate it.
SC: Sticking with that theme, hitting against right-handers seemed to be difficult for you last year, but this season in Tacoma you’ve turned that around, hitting for a good average and drawing walks while limiting the strikeouts; has anything changed in your right-handed approach?
TR: Whatever happened in the big leagues I'll work on adjusting when I get back there, you know what I mean? But as far changing approach, I know what type of player that I'm capable of being, what type of player I was when I was (in Tacoma) last year and in Albuquerque last year and the guy I was the season before in Double-A, and I just think that I need to keep working hard. I did go back and watch some tape and I think I may have been a little too close to the plate, so I've backed off the plate a bit and the results are coming. I don't look at average too much because I know the average will be there at the end of the year, but I just try to stay within myself, keep the same plan and use every tool I have.
SC: This isn’t your first go-round in the PCL as you were playing with Albuquerque last year at the time of your trade to Seattle from the Dodgers. What’s different for you and what’s different for the league this time through?
TR: Some of the same guys are here, some are wearing different uniforms, but it's the same league more or less.
SC: I watch a lot of Rainiers’ games and you play an incredibly shallow center field with that deep wall behind you at home – what is the reason for that?
TR: Our manager, Darren Brown, wanted me to play in a bit more and he said he hasn't seen anyone hit a ball over that wall yet. It is a pretty deep wall and I don't think I've seen one ball even hit off the wall. Outside of that, I am trying to stop some of those bloopers -- get to the ball early but still stop the extra base hits. I'm trying to find a happy medium but staying aggressive. I'd rather make aggressive mistakes out there than mental mistakes. I made a couple of mental mistakes in the big leagues last year. I think because I had that one big "oops" and it took some of my aggressiveness away from me. I feel like I can control the game a little bit better when I'm being aggressive. When I'm passive, I think it leads to mental mistakes. When I'm being aggressive I feel like I can take a chance to cut a ball off or make a diving play.
SC: You’re from Crenshaw High School in California, where one of my favorite players from my youth – Darryl Strawberry – was from. Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane also went to Crenshaw. Did you know Brandon in your school days?
TR: I was there the same time as Mebane, but I didn't know him. I was trying to stay out of everyone's way back then and just keep quiet.
SC: You got glasses over the winter, was that a rough adjustment for you and do you think it has helped you see the ball better?
TR: I was always wearing contacts and I had some goggles in Albuquerque, but it turned out that the prescription that I had was wrong. So when I put them on...it was bad. When I got to the big leagues, I saw the eye doctor with the Mariners and I showed him my contacts and I had the wrong contacts and everything. So this offseason I got my eyes checked again, and that's what led to the glasses. And, you know, I got a couple laughs and what not when I showed up to Spring Training, but it's really helped me, you know? I was seeing the ball a lot better, I felt better at the plate -- felt more confident. And last week I got some new contacts so I'm not even wearing the glasses anymore, just contacts again now.
SC: Do you have any family members or role models that have helped shape your career or who you pattern your career after?
TR: As far as inspiration, my mom was always my biggest influence in life. Being a single mother and raising four boys in Los Angeles -- that isn't easy. She's my role model. As far as players, I was always a huge Juan Gonzalez fan and I wanted to be like Juan Gonzalez growing up. He was my five-tool guy. He hit home runs, drove in runs, had a strong arm -- he was my MVP every year.
SC: He was a little bit bigger than you, huh?
TR: (laughs) Way bigger. Way bigger.
SC: A lot of young players I talk to growing up talk about what motivates them to get to the big leagues, but since you already have that taste, the motivation must be pretty easy to find, I assume.
TR: Yeah, definitely. I just want to get back there. The big leagues is like the greatest place on earth, I tell everyone that. And anyone that's been there knows.
SC: Clearly getting back to the big leagues is your ultimate goal, but do you set up smaller goals, accomplishments, statistical thresholds or that you aim to hit day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month during the season?
TR: My goal is to work on every time I take the field to try and find a way to beat the other team, score more runs. The bat isn't always going to be there -- sometimes pitchers are on and we're not, just like sometimes the hitters are on and they're not. My goal is to get on base and score runs. It's not always about getting a hit, it's about getting on base whatever way I can and score runs. One of my best years, back in Double-A, I just wanted to score as many runs as I could.
SC: How'd everything going with your knee right now? Do you have a timetable for getting back in the lineup?
TR: Not sure on the timetable for getting back out there now, no. I just hurt myself playing the game hard. I tweaked a muscle in my knee a bit. I don't want to rush it, because if I don't have my speed I don't have my game.
SC: You are a great interview, a very engaging person and really outgoing and friendly – why in the world are you not on Twitter blowing up with thousands of followers?
TR: (laughs) I can't do it, man. I've been thinking about getting back on there and getting active again, but I'm just focusing on getting healthy and getting back to the big leagues right now.
SC: You do that. You have a lot of fans in the Seattle area and you won a lot of people over with your style of play, your effort and your love for the game last year. You're a fun ballplayer to watch and, above that, it's easy to tell that you are a great person. So get healthy and we'll look forward to seeing you back in the big leagues down the road, Trayvon. Thanks for your time today.
TR: Well thank you. I truly appreciate that and I appreciate getting the chance to talk with you, too.
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