Baseball America named him the best pitching prospect in the New York Penn League in 2008. It was hard not to notice Adam Reifer, the then 22-year old right handed relief pitcher, as he struck out over a batter an inning with a fastball that touched the high 90s. In 2010, he was listed as the Cardinals 16th best prospect by Baseball America who noted his fastball velocity and “a slider that grades as a plus-plus pitch at times”.
The 2007 draftee was poised to have a big season in 2011 for the Memphis Redbirds. In competition for the closer’s role, Reifer would suffer a season ending injury on a cold April night against the Chicago Cubs AAA affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa. Surgery would follow and the history books of baseball will note a season that totaled five appearances — the last of which was on April 17th, 2011.
A healthy Reifer, just arrived in Florida for Spring Training, took the time to talk with me last week. The weather is beautiful and Reifer is ready to fight for a job; to fight for what that unfortunate moment in 2011 delayed but, hopefully, didn’t take away from him. He’s “100% go” and eager to be back in competition. Our conversation follows.
azruavatar: So I’d like to start with the injury from last year. In April, you tore you ACL in during a relief appearance. Did you have surgery to repair the tear?
Adam Reifer: I had ACL surgery on it back in June.
AZ: And how long was it before you were back to pitching off a mound?
AR: I think I started off a mound in October. I started throwing I think in the grass beginning of September and I actually threw all through rehab because I didn’t want to lose my arm strength, so I had my surgery in June and didn’t do anything for a couple weeks. I just sat on a stool for a couple weeks and would throw off a stool. Then when I was allowed to stand, I’d stand an throw. Cause I wanted to come back and I wanted to play winter ball in Mexico or Venezuela or maybe even be ready for the Arizona Fall League. I wanted to make this miraculous Jerry Rice comeback. As it got closer though I decided to take the time and make sure I was 100% though. I didn’t want to rush it too much. I was ahead of schedule the whole time but I wanted to be close to 100% when I decided to come back.
AZ: Did you have the surgery back home?
AR: I was going to have the surgery with Dr. Yocum but I would have had to wait so I had it with Dr. Cook in Jupiter and started rehab right away.
AZ: Did the rehab program focus on strengthening the muscles that support that knee, I assume?
AR: It focused a lot on the knee and when you have any type of injury to there’s a lot of atrophy. I’m a big leg guy cause I’m a pitcher. My pants and everything didn’t fit like they used to after the surgery. At the beginning of rehab, it was a lot of just flexing the muscle. I couldn’t do a lot of weight so we were just flexing the muscle. I actually didn’t lose they say it’s like your VMO muscle and some people will see there’s really atrophy mine didn’t go away too much.
AZ: You missed a significant part of 2007 due to injury as well, right? What was that injury?
AR: My junior season of UCLA I had bad terrible mechanics and my tricep tendons were pulling away from my elbow so they were causing inflammation. So my bones in my arm hurt alot. I got hurt in March and still got drafted by the Cardinals. Then I got re-injured that fall and came back. It was like a bone bruise. The tendons just kept tugging and tugging. They said there was lot of inflammation in my arm and I just kept trying to pitch through it.
AZ: So the last injury was a chronic problem and this ACL injury was just an acute instance of a tear?
AR: Yeah, yeah. The last one was more I tried to throw through it and I just kept re-injuring myself. So they restructured my mechanics through a throwing program. At the same time I was rehabbing I was reworking my mechanics and trying to get everything straightened out. But it was a chronic injury that just happened over and over and this ACL was more or less just a huge tear.
AZ: How exactly did that happen? Did you just land on your plant foot wrong …
AR: No. I’ve heard people say that before and that’s just not right. I was fielding a bunt to my right. It was in the 11th inning in Des Moines it was like 35-40 degrees it had rained the day before. It was freezing cold. I was just trying to warm up standing by the heater and stuff. I’d been out in the bullpen trying to stay warm. It was the first batter, first pitch of the game. A left handed catcher bunted I wasn’t expecting a him to bunt. I mean, I how often does a catcher bunt on the first pitch. It had rained earlier so the ground was muddy. I was fielding the bunt and my foot just stuck and the ground like moved with it. I went to plant and throw to first and my tendon just ripped in half. It was pretty terrible.
AZ: But everything is good now? You’re 100% for spring training?
AR: I’m 100% go for spring training. Looking to get that everyday feel back.
AZ: You’re primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, correct?
AZ: What’s your fastball normally sit at?
AR: Mid 90s and I’m hoping to get better. I’ve focused a lot on throwing more strikes. It may have affected my velo [sic]. I tried to adapt and get a better arm motion and now I’m trying to put it all together. I want to get that command with my fastball speed that I used to have and stuff.
AZ: Did the Cardinals have you back off your fastball a little to try and improve your command?
AR: They’ve never had me back off my fastball to improve my command. They want me to not be as long with my arm motion. Sometimes that affected my pitches. We’ve shortened my motion some and I’m able to focus on making my pitches more repeatable. I haven’t seen myself on film lately but that’s the way it feels when I pitch. It feels shorter.
AZ: So you had a lot of success in Batavia back in 2008 and 2009 with Palm Beach was good too. 2010 really saw you take a step forward with your control. Your walk rate plummeted and you were still striking out a batter an inning. Did anything change heading into 2010 – your approach, your mechanics? Was it the coaches?
AR: Like a lot of people were saying I was just a hard throwing guy. If someone says I’m not good at something I get mad. If someone says I’m a wild guy, I’m just going to try and get better. If someone says I can’t do something then I’m going to try and just prove them wrong. That’s what I think an organization wants from a player to try and push through. I want to keep my walks down. With a power guy you don’t have your command 100% but I want to keep my walks down and strike people out.
AZ: Well I do think that’s a key to success.
AR: [chuckles] Yea. I want to have goals. I want to walk 2 per 9 and strike out 13 like I was in Batavia. I want to be a closer. That’s the most fun thing to do. I’m not going to say I’m going to come out of the gates and be a closer but I sure want to push for it. I want to get to a level of being a presence on the mound.
AZ: Back in 2008 when you were interviewed for Future Redbirds you said that Jonathan Papelbon was your favorite pitcher. Is that still the case?
AR: I love that guy. He’s always a presence. He attacks with his fastball. He can throw 9 fastballs an inning and get three strikeouts. He goes out there with a plan and he sticks through it. That’s certainly someone that I would want to be like. You look at a guy like Mariano Rivera and Papelbon is right there too. That 50M dollar contract isn’t bad either.. I look at a lot of power guys and that’s what you want to emulate. Those guys with fluid mechanics and they just throw the hell out of the ball. Jose Valverde is another guy but he might be a little crazy.
AZ: Ok a couple of non-baseball questions, now. If you’ve got a day off what do you do with your free time?
AR: I wish I golfed but I don’t golf. I mean, I’m in Jupiter so I go to the beach or lay by the pool. I just do random stuff. I like to be outside. I go hiking. I hang out with my friends and whatever. There’s always that question like “what’s your hobby?” I don’t think I have a hobby. I dabble in a little bit of everything. I like to go to the movies sometimes. I’m sure if I asked my mom she’d be like, “You always do something.” And I’d be like, “Yeah, I guess that is my hobby.”
AZ: So you said you go to the movies sometimes. What was the last movie you saw in theaters?
AR: I saw that one movie with … what was it. The black dragon. Red dragon.
AZ: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
AR: That’s it.
AZ: Have you read the book?
AR: I have not read the books.
AZ: They’re actually really good. I rented the Swedish version of the movie after I read the books but I didn’t like it.
AR: I heard that one was better. My buddy was like go on Netflix and check out the Swedish version.
AZ: Ugh. I know other people have said that but I don’t think they followed the books as closely and that frustrated me. Okay, last question and then I’ll let you go. Do you have a favorite type of music?
AR: I’m a big techno guy. I love to listen to like David Guetta. Calvin Harris. Basehunter. I like to just rock out to that stuff.
AZ: I’m not completely up on my modern music but techno is different from dubstep.
AR: That’s like Skrillex and stuff and it’s like that hard core. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s like a hard rock with techno. I like music with words. Stuff that like shakes your clothes if you go to a club or party.
AZ: Best of luck on your season Adam. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
AR: No problem.