Michael Bugary is a left-handed relief pitcher who made his professional debut earlier this year in Lowell. Coming from the University of California, the Red Sox drafted Bugary in the 15th round of June’s Player Draft. His delivery allows him to deceive hitters, evidenced by his impressive strikeout numbers (12 K’s in 8.2 innings). Bugary is one of the lesser known products of the recent draft, and the Spinners Blog took some time to correct this with our recent interview.
After reading your bio, I understand that you were born very local in Boston, MA. You currently live in Salinas, CA and played your high school ball in Monterrey. At what age did your family leave New England, and were you here long enough to establish yourself as a Red Sox fan?
I was actually born in Leominster, not Boston. But a lot of people on the West Coast didn’t know where that was, so over time it kind of just turned into Boston because that was an easier answer. My parents and I were only there for a year or two because they were moving around in the military.
I can’t remember much of a connection [to the Sox] at all because I was so young. We moved out to California after that, and I spent basically my entire childhood out there. Not to disappoint, but I was naturally raised as a fan of West Coast teams such as the Angels and the A’s.
You had a very successful high school career in California, excelling as a two-way player. In your junior season you batted .659 with 15 homeruns, prompting scouts to rank you the #8 1B prospect in the entire country entering your senior year. Your offensive numbers regressed a little bit that season (.518 BA, 6 HRs), but you ended up throwing three no-hitters on the mound. Was this a conscious switch on your part to focus more on pitching, or was it based on team necessity and what your coaches wanted?
Coming into my junior year, no one really knew who I was. Teams weren’t preparing their game plans around me, so I was really able to shine as a hitter. My senior year was a different story, though. A lot of pitchers refused to throw me strikes, so that’s where you see the dip in power.
I drew a lot of walks, but the national attention definitely caused teams to work around me rather than through me like they did the year before. I guess it was just a coincidence that my pitching became so much more refined that season. It’s not like I focused on the mound any more than I had in the past.
What moment during your High School career would you say sticks out as the most memorable?
The no-hitter I had in the playoffs was really big for me. We won the state title that year, and it was especially rewarding after the up-and-down season that we had. It was really cool to enjoy a moment like that with all my buddies on the team.
With an impressive track record at both positions, you must have had a number of different options during the recruiting process. Was Cal one of the programs that offered you a chance to play both ways, or were you satisfied to be used as a pitcher only?
Yeah, that was a big thing for me during the whole process. A lot of schools wanted me to come in and specialize, giving up one or the other. Arizona State wanted me as strictly a hitter, and a lot of other schools had offers on the table to only pitch. I was a bigger hitting recruit coming out of high school I’d say, but I wanted to pitch as well so Cal was a natural choice once they gave me that option. Pac-10 baseball is always great, and the quality education just put it over the top.
Once you arrived in Berkeley, things didn’t necessarily take off right away. You appeared in eleven games as a freshman, taking home a loss in your only decision. After posting a 6.55 ERA in limited action, did you have to refocus your game at all and change your approach before coming back as a sophomore?
It was more of an adjustment to college life overall. In college, you’re all by yourself for the first time and there’s really no one there to help you. I battled a lot of injuries that season, missing the first twenty games of the year with arm problems. I actually came back and pitched well briefly, but it was a battle to stay healthy.
My knee started acting up towards the end of the season, and at that point I was still getting random at-bats as a 1B. There were some days when I didn’t know how I’d be used, so I think the toughest part was flipping that switch between pitching and hitting.
Speaking of your knee injury, it forced you to sit out the entire 2007 season after getting it scoped. At what point did this occur, and how did you initially react to being sidelined for an extended period of time?
It was more of a ground and pound injury than one certain moment, so I can’t really point to any particular game as the cause of it. I felt it even going back to high school, meaning it had to have been some form of overwork. I decided to get it taken care of during that summer because I couldn’t deal with having doubts about it anymore.
The recovery was actually a lot longer than we had intended, and I was having problems doing simple things like shuffling and sliding. That’s when I decided, after two years of limited action, to give up hitting altogether.
2007 ended up being a redshirt year for you, as time was necessary to recover from both right knee surgery, and left shoulder tendonitis. Although you surely had to be at the team facilities for rehab, was this time away from the game good for your long term development in any way? More specifically, did it change how you approached pitching mentally?
The time off absolutely helped me in more ways than one. It was hard, and I faced a lot of adversity along the way. And although it was definitely tough, I was humbled in a way that I never thought possible. I’m glad everything went down the way it did, because I realized what I missed about the game. Even just being around the guys, you take that for granted when you’re healthy. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change the way anything went down.
Coming back as a sophomore in 2008, you were limited to only four appearances with only one start. Although you had an impressive ERA of 1.59, the injuries must have played a role in the team employing you so little. At this point in time, were the procedures taking away form your effectiveness in terms of velocity and control on the mound? Or was it simply a matter of having to wait until the end of the year to get completely healthy?
My problems were just as much mental as they were physical that year. Nearly all of them stemmed from the injuries, but it was mostly my mind at this point. I wasn’t mentally prepared to go out there and pitch after missing so much time. The injuries set me back so far, so I just needed some time to get comfortable on the mound.
That’s where summer ball came into play. I went out to Indiana to play in the C.I.C.L. (Central Illinois Collegiate League), and it ended up being a huge confidence boost. They let me start ten games, so I finished pitching just over 50 innings. That summer really helped me get back in my groove, especially after nearly two years off.
Finally, in 2009, you became a true workhorse by leading the team with 28 appearances. You even started one game, and took home a save in another. Although your ERA was a tad lofty at 4.74, you exhibited tremendous potential by striking out 69 batters in just 49.1 IP. Do you think these impressive strikeout totals were the driving force in generating your buzz as a professional prospect?
There was actually a lot going on for me that season. The first half of the year I was doing really well, putting all my pitches together and dominating. But then there were a few injuries in our bullpen. Our closer went down, and then our main middle reliever got injured too. We were even down a starter at one point.
I ended up taking all three roles on at some point, and it was really hard to adjust. I’ll admit that fatigue started to wear on me. It’s especially hard to prepare when you’re not sure how you’ll be used on any given day. The team started struggling towards the end of the year, making it even tougher to pitch with the negative atmosphere in the locker room. My walks began to rise, which was my main problem. I’m confident, though, that my struggles were more a reflection of the situation than my ability.
In June, the Red Sox selected you in the 15th round (#468 overall) of the Amateur Player Draft. With one year of eligibility remaining at Cal, you chose instead to sign a professional contract and leave school to pursue your dream. Did you know right from the get-go that you’d forego your senior year, or were there some scenarios where you would have returned to Berkeley?
Coming off my sophomore season, I wasn’t really expecting to get drafted because I had only pitched six or seven innings. Then I had that good summer in Indiana, and my potential carried over into the fall. That’s when all the buzz started with scouts.
I took a step back to look at it, and realized that I didn’t have much schooling left. My redshirt year basically made me a senior with junior eligibility, so only a few more credits were needed to graduate. I saw that I had a narrow window, and since I was already at school for four years I took it. Once I heard it was the Sox who drafted me, it was a sure thing.
Really, the only thing keeping me from graduating now is my thesis paper. Once I get that done, I’ll be ready to walk. Writing 35 to 40 pages won’t be easy though, so I hope my travels here in baseball inspire me at some point. I’m not going to write it until I find something that I’m passionate about.
Now that you’ve been here in Lowell for over a month, you must be adjusting to the professional game in your own ways. With good results on the mound thus far (2.08 ERA, 13.4 K/9), can you tell us how you’ve been able to come in and be so effective whenever called upon?
A lot of my success here can be attributed to the preparation I went through in college. I’m finally used to being a reliever, after struggling as a starter at Cal. Some things didn’t work out, but I’m not worried about that anymore.
This is a great environment out here [in Lowell]. We’re treated well, and I know exactly when I’m going to pitch. That’s the biggest thing for me, just being prepared to take the ball. There are a lot of externalities that come with that, so it’s a constant adjustment. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the staff.
Finally, we have to ask what your plans are for the off-season. You’ll finish up in Lowell at some point in September, and you must have something in mind for the winter months. Do you plan on returning home to California for more sunny weather, or will you head down to Florida for more professional instruction?
I’m honestly not sure yet. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to go to the Instructional Leagues, but that’s not up to me. If not, I’ll head back to California and train just as hard as I always have. By the time spring training rolls around, I want to be a better pitcher.
Check back Monday for our next installment with Derrik Gibson!