In 2007 at the MLB Academy in Italia, the Boston Red Sox signed German pitcher Jennell Hudson, the organisation's first European prospect ever. After his first year in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, we had a chance to sit down with Jennell in his hometown of Cologne, Germany, where he was working out during the winter, and ask him about his life as a prospect in the minor leagues.
AHP: Hello Jennell, thank you very much for sitting down with us. Can you tell us a few things about yourself? Where are you from, how old are you and what are you doing when you are not playing baseball.
Jennell is listed as 6'1'', 165 lb. He throws and bats right-handed.
Photo by Bjoern Hartig
JH: Well, my full name is Jennell Frank Hudson. I have just turned 19 and I have been playing baseball regularly since I was 13 years old. When I don’t play baseball, I like to make music, play basketball, go swimming, hang out with friends or go to a club, regular stuff.
I was born in Recklinghausen, but I live in Cologne now and in Miami during the season.
AHP: You are the first European prospect signed by the Red Sox. How did they discover you?
JH: In 2007, I pitched well in a try-out camp in Frankfurt and I was invited to the MLB Academy in Tirrenia, Italy, where we practiced and played for three weeks. Some scouts were there, too, and after three days I had a conversation with Craig Shipley and John Deeble, the Vice Presidents of Scouting of the Red Sox. I got an offer and since the Red Sox are a great club and the offer was cool, I couldn’t say no.
AHP: Baseball is only a fringe sport in Germany. Why and how did you start playing baseball?
JH: I played Basketball at first, and then, from some friends in the neighborhood, I heard that there was Baseball in Germany, too (I had played some tee-ball in America when I was little). So at the age of nine, I started playing baseball in Cologne. Then I moved to America with my family, where I played basketball and baseball, although more baseball, maybe because I realized – I don’t know – I had more talent for baseball and I could be more successful in the future. Then we moved back to Germany and I stopped playing baseball at first, only basketball, but then my friends brought me back to baseball. So at 13, I really started playing baseball for good.
AHP: You have spent the winter in Germany. What did you do? Did you have a special training schedule?
JH: Yes, I got a training schedule from the Red Sox. Running, lifting some weights, a program for shoulder stability, so I’m hitting the gym daily.
AHP: The Red Sox signed you as a pitcher. Have you always pitched or did you play in the field, too?
JH: I started playing in the outfield, and then I played some shortstop and pitched from time to time. For about two or three years now, I have been pitching exclusively.
AHP: You were a member of the German national team when the Red Sox signed you. Are you still allowed to play for your country or do the Red Sox want to protect their investment in you?
JH: I think if I asked the Red Sox, I could still play for the national team, but I did not play for them during the European championships. But if the Red Sox agree, maybe I will play for them again in the future.
AHP: What kind of pitches do you throw and how fast?
JH: Fastball, curveball, change-up and also a two-seam fastball. My fastball was clocked at 91 mph at the end of last season. And the change-up, I don’t know, 76 maybe.
AHP: What is your best pitch in your opinion?
Jennell during a bullpen session at the German Sport University, Cologne.
Photo by Bjoern Hartig
JH: My fastball, because I feel most comfortable throwing it. And on good days, I really like my curveball, too.
AHP: Did you ever read a scouting report of yourself? Is there any pitcher you have been likened to?
JH: No, I don’t know about any comparisons.
AHP: Do you have a role model or a favorite player?
JH: Josh Beckett. I think he is really great.
AHP: But you are not trying to copy him?
JH: No, not at all.
AHP: Do the Red Sox have a special plan for your development? I mean, do they have a timetable for you, when you should reach this level or when you should achieve a special number of innings?
JH: I played my first season in Rookie Ball and you usually have some kind of pitch count or they tell you ‘today, you are going to throw two innings, maybe three depending on how you fare’. Apart from that, I don’t really know about a timetable and can’t really say when I will be where. Let’s see how the next season goes and then things will fall into place.
AHP: You pitched 15 innings last season for the GCL Red Sox with mixed results. Can you say a few words about your season?
JH: I really, really enjoyed it. At the beginning, everything was still a little unfamiliar, every day throwing, getting up early, and going to the ballpark. But you get used to it and I think you can see by looking at the first and the last inning I threw how I got better over the season. It was a great year and I’m very happy about it.
AHP: Is there a part of your game that you will particularly try to focus on next season? Like control or a new pitch?
JH: I will definitely work on my changeup. On the curve, too. And the control, I think it will come around at some time, although I have much better control now than I had two years ago. I feel more assured on the mound, more confident. It is going to come around, I’m sure.
AHP: How was life in the Golf Coast League? Where did you live and how did a typical day look like for you?
JH: The players all lived in a hotel together. A typical day? Getting up, having breakfast, running, then to the gym. At 10 a.m. we all meet on the field, warm up, have batting practice, pitching and fielding drills, that kind of stuff. Before the game starts, we all go inside and have lunch. Then it’s game time.
AHP: Did you get special treatment for not being American? Did someone make fun of you because of your nationality?
JH: No, far from it. Of course, when I arrived, many were curious – a German pitcher, the first European – but it was all very easy, everyone was nice to me.
AHP: Did you have to adapt culturally in some way? Was there something you had problems getting used to?
JH: I grew up partly in the US, in Naples, Florida. My father lives in Fort Myers today, although we don’t have much contact at the moment. But Florida was nothing new to me, I have lived there before, so this was not a big adjustment for me.
AHP: How did the season change you as a baseball player and as a person? Did you have any light bulb moment?
JH: I would say that since I was on my own, away from home for such a long period for the first time – I was seventeen in instructional league – I got more mature, I learned to do things on my own. I don’t need my mom any more, ha-ha, or my siblings.
AHP: What was your best and your worst experience during the season?
Jennell with his German coach and agent, Georg Apfelbaum of the Cologne Cardinals.
Photo by Bjoern Hartig
JH: My worst experience of the season? There was a game when I did not feel that great and did not pitch that well. After the game, in the locker room, we were showering and some players were joking around and I was laughing. We were having some fun even though I had a bad game. The coach was a bit angry at me for kidding around after I threw so poorly. That was not that great, but it was the only time the coach rebuked me. And the best experience was my last outing, definitely. I pitched nearly four innings, did not walk anybody and did not allow a base runner.
AHP: Last year, you participated in spring training with the Red Sox. What was that like?
JH: Spring training was so much fun! When you arrive, there are so many fans, so many people. And since I had been in the newspaper, USA Today, there were people standing with their papers in hand, wanting me to sign them. And so many kids, that was amazing. I’m really looking forward to this year.
AHP: Do the minor leaguers live together with the major leaguers during spring training? Do you get the chance to get together with the guys from the big club?
JH: The major leaguers, the big guys, all have their houses somewhere, they are not at the same hotel as we are, but the Single A, Double A players live there, too. But during practice, we get together with the big leaguers.
AHP: Did you speak with someone from the big league club? Did you get any advice from someone?
JH: Yeah, I talked to Jason Varitek and to Josh Beckett. I chatted with many people, Tim Wakefield, Dice-K… Dice-K and Beckett even threw a few innings for us. I did not get any real advice, but we practiced together and chatted, that was really cool.
AHP: Did you pitch to someone, like David Ortiz maybe?
JH: No, I did not pitch against a big leaguer.
AHP: Do you already know where you are going to play next season or will this be decided after spring training?
JH: These things are usually decided during or after spring training, but if everything goes well, I hope to get out of Rookie ball during this year and play for the Single A team.
AHP: Ok, Jennell, thank you very much for the interview. Best wishes for next year and hopefully we can get together again for another interview with you as a major league.
JH: Thank you.