During the 2008 MLB First Year Player Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals set its sights on a high school that it had become familiar with in recent years. Durango High School in Las Vegas not only produced All-Star outfielder Ryan Ludwick but also one of the system’s more intriguing prospects, Tommy Pham. So, it should have been no surprise that the team went to Sin City once again to tab one of the top players in the state of Nevada, Niko Vasquez.
The shortstop that has been compared to Nomar Garciapara appeared to be a tough sign due to his commitment to back-to-back College World Series Champion Oregon State. That commitment did not deter the organization and they selected Vasquez with the 91st overall pick.
Since joining the organization, Vasquez has been one of the most talked about prospects in the Cardinals’ Minor League system. Originally signed to Johnson City, the 19 year old hit .317/.416/.462. He finished ninth in the Appalachian League in hitting, second in on base percentage, and tenth in OPS. His 16 doubles were the seventh best mark while his 42 runs were the fifth highest total. He would later be promoted to the Quad Cities where he would find the Midwest League pitching quite tough and he would struggle in 11 games for the River Bandits.
As Spring Training approaches, Niko was kind enough to take some time and answer some questions.
Dustin Mattison: How is your off-season going? Are there any skills in particular that you are working on?
Niko Vasquez: It has been going really well. I have been working out a lot and I had a lot of things I wanted to work on. I wanted to gain at least ten pounds over the off-season. I wanted work on my speed, agility, and quickness.
DM: Tell me about draft day 2008.
NV: I was golfing with my dad. We just wanted to do something to take our mind off of things. We didn’t want to sit by the TV and watch so we went out and played 18 holes. I got the call when I was on the ninth hole.
DM: So how did you shoot that day?
NV: (Laughing) It wasn’t my best day.
DM: Take me through the days before the draft. Did you think the Cardinals were the team? What other teams were in contact with you?
NV: I didn’t know the Cardinals were going to take me. There were other teams that were interested that I was talking to a lot more. But then I got the call from my agent telling me that they had taken me, I was really surprised. I wasn’t expecting them at all. I am glad it worked out because (the Cardinals) are a great organization.
DM: You went to Durango High School with 2007 Cardinal draft pick Tommy Pham, correct? Did you get a chance to talk to him before you signed? What advice did he offer?
NV: Yes. I was not able to talk to him because he was playing.
DM: But you did get play with him at the end of 2008 at the Quad Cities.
NV: It was nice when I got the call up. I knew a couple people there. It was a comfortable move for me. It was a big leap but there were people there to help me.
DM: How big of an adjustment was it going from Las Vegas to Johnson City, TN?
NV: Everything is a lot slower and a lot calmer. Actually, I enjoyed Johnson City and the fans were great.
DM: What did you know about the Cardinals organization?
NV: I didn’t know much. I knew one guy from our high school, Ryan Ludwick, was playing with them.
DM: Did playing on the showcase circuit help you make the transition to wood?
NV: It did help me out a lot. The superb competition at the showcases allowed me to go against better pitching and helped me with the timing of my swing.
DM: Tell me about the transition from the Appalachian League to the Midwest League.
NV: I learned quickly that the game is so much mental. Everyone is so much better. I think I will be ready to start there this season.
DM: So you are expecting to start the 2009 season at the Quad Cities.
NV: That is where I am expecting to go and I hoping to go.
DM: You are a guy that hasn’t had many lows in your baseball career. How did you handle your struggles at the Quad Cities? Do you feel in the long run those struggles will help you?
NV: Definitely. I what I learned at the Quad Cities are the things I am working on right now. I am working on what to expect from the pitchers and on having a plan during each at bat. The game is a lot quicker. I have to focus on the little things as well as everything else.
DM: How did you like the ballpark at the Quad Cities? It is one of my favorites.
NV: That is a beautiful ballpark. I am glad I get to play there.
DM: You were committed to play baseball at Oregon State. What made you choose to sign with the Beavers?
NV: I knew a couple of people who were there already. Coach Pat Casey and coach Marty Lees came down to my house and treated me really well. They had a lot of respect for my family and me. Oregon State was the school that showed the most interest. When I went up for my visit, everything felt so comfortable.
DM: How hard was it to let Coach Casey that you wouldn’t be coming to play for him?
NV: I got a call from him about 10 minutes after I was picked and offered me a big congratulation. He and Coach Lee are great people.
DM: What team did you root for growing up?
NV: I’ve always been an Angels’ fan but now I am a Cardinals fan.
DM: I’ve heard you described as a somewhat smaller version of Nomar Garciapara. Do you feel that is an accurate assessment?
NV: I don’t know. I just do what I do and play the best that I can. I let others draw their own conclusions.
DM: When not playing baseball, how do you like to spend your time?
NV: I like to relax. I hang with my buddies who are in college and catch up. Whenever I get the time to spend with them, I take advantage of it.
I thank Niko for his time and wish him the best of luck in his Cardinals career. Since the Cardinals drafted him, he has become a personal favorite. I look for him to have a strong 2009 and vault up into our Top 10 Prospect Rankings.
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