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A Conversation with Catching Prospect Tyler Heineman

The Astros 2012 8th-round pick out of UCLA, catcher Tyler Heineman provided solid defense and an emerging bat in Lancaster in 2013. He's spending his offseason taking classes to finish his degree, but found some time to sit and talk with me at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Tyler Heineman before game one of the 2013 California League South Division finals.
Tyler Heineman before game one of the 2013 California League South Division finals.
Anthony Boyer

Houston Astros catching prospect Tyler Heineman hasn't always had an easy path. A four-year varsity player at Windward High School, on the west side of Los Angeles, Heineman turned down a partial scholarship offer from Harvard to walk on at UCLA, nearer to home. There, he found himself stuck on the depth chart behind Steve Rodriguez, and with uber-prospect Austin Hedges committed to the Bruins, it looked like Heineman may never get a chance as the starting catcher.

Then, in 2011, before Heineman's junior year, two things happened that changed his fate forever. First, Hedges was drafted by the Padres in the 2nd round. Next, Rodriguez was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 15th round. Both players chose to sign with the teams that drafted them, and Heineman became the de facto starter for coach John Savage's Bruins squad in 2012.

Catching Adam Plutko on Friday nights in the Pac-12 certainly has an effect on the amount of exposure a player gets, and Heineman took full advantage. In his junior year, he hit .332/.435/.389 and handled the staff masterfully in a season that didn't end until the second round of the College World Series.

Heineman and Savage discussed the draft that year, and determined that if the catcher was drafted in the top ten rounds, he'd forego his senior year of college (in which UCLA ultimately went on to become the National Champions) and go pro. Sure enough, the Houston Astros took Heineman in the 8th round - 249th overall - and signed him to a $125,000 bonus.

In his first taste of professional baseball, Heineman raked in the New York-Penn League, hitting .358/.452/.430 and winning the league batting title. Again, he handled the staff - headlined by fellow Pac-12 alumni Brady Rodgers and Aaron West - masterfully, leading the Tri-City ValleyCats to the NYPL finals.

Heineman's first full season of professional baseball was 2013, as the starting catcher for the Lancaster Jethawks of the High-A California League. The switch-hitting catcher continued to both hit and receive well, adding a bit of power to his game with 13 home runs - more than he'd hit in his professional and college careers combined. Two of them were of the inside-the-park variety.

Of course, a power surge in the California League is barely enough to make prospect evaluators bat an eyelash, and a casual look at his stat line raises some questions, with his walk rate plummeting, his strikeout rate rising, and his wRC+ tumbling by nearly fifty points in his first exposure to full-season ball.

2012 Tri-City 55 233 0 33 26 6 11.2% 5.2% .073 .377 .358 .452 .430 .421 167
2013 Lancaster 104 428 13 67 71 2 7.5% 11.0% .189 .293 .286 .361 .476 .366 119

Of course, the decline isn't exactly alarming. Heineman went from "exceptional" in 2012 to "very good" in 2013. Meanwhile, his receiving skills continued to improve, his game-calling continued to improve, and there are those 40 extra-base hits to consider.

This is a big offseason for Heineman as he prepares to move to Double-A, where he'll begin to get assimilated into the upper ranks of the catching depth the Astros have been developing - what Grantland called the "receiver assembly line" of "Stepford framers." But if his history is any indication, he's not afraid of a crowded depth chart. He's using the offseason to work on his strength and conditioning, work toward finishing his college degree, and continue to develop and refine his skills both at the plate and behind it.

I met up with Tyler at Jackie Robinson Stadium, where the UCLA baseball team had already begun practicing to defend their National Championship.

Did I read somewhere that you grew up an Angels fan?

More like a David Eckstein fan. After he went to the Cardinals, I just became a Cardinals fan. So now I'm a Cardinals fan.

Heading into your sophomore year at Windward High School, you taught yourself to switch-hit. How did that happen?

I was just messing around in the cage with my buddy, Julian. I was hitting the ball kind of hard, and it felt kind of good to me, so I talked to my dad (about switch-hitting) and he said to go for it. I talked to my high school coach about it and he said to go for it. Sophomore year was a little different, because when I was struggling a little bit in a game, say 0-for-2, I'd go back and switch to right-handed. Junior year was when I started to really do it full-time.

In your professional career so far, you've actually hit better from the left side. I talked to Joe Sclafani earlier in the year and he said you don't get as many reps hitting left-handed; do you think that's kind of the same story for you?

It definitely has something to do with that. I was also working on hitting for more power from the left side, so a lot of my reps in the cage were focused on hitting left-handed. One, because I'm going to hit left-handed more times than I'm going to hit right-handed. So I wanted to try to work on the thing that I would be doing most in the game. I think that had a little bit to do with me not producing as much this year. Last year in Tri-City, I think I did better, which was the year that I was in college and I used to take batting practice with one group left-handed and with another group right-handed, so that helped me out.

I know with D-Rob (Darryl Robinson), sometimes guys would switch off within the same group.

Yeah, it's not as many reps, but I understand. Games I would start where there was a lefty on the mound, I would do most of my BP right-handed and then vice versa if a righty was pitching.

Let's talk about that power that came out of nowhere this year. A lot of people chalk it up to the Cal League, but half of your home runs came on the road, away from Lancaster. Almost all of them were to right or right-center. Is that a developing approach, or is that something you're specifically targeting?

Early on in the year, I was still doing what I normally do, and the hitting coordinator, Ralph Dickenson, would talk to me and remind me that this is a game of big, strong men who hit the ball a long way. I was kind of confused a little bit, because I was hitting well, average-wise, at that point. I was hitting around .330 or something, but with no power. I think I had zero home runs or one home run at that point, a month and a half or two months into the season. So I talked to (M.P.) Cokinos, who's my really good buddy on the team. I talked to him about what Ralph had told me. Morgan Ensberg overheard me and he said, "Yeah, you think you're having success right now, but that success is not going to translate to the next level." So I said, "What would you like me to do?" He said, "Listen to Ralph, listen to us. You're going to struggle at first because this is something new you haven't tried." So I really worked with Ralph and with Rodney (Linares) and with D-Rob. Morgan on the side a little bit. We worked on taking a way more-aggressive hack... not really being all-or-nothing, but taking an aggressive hack and really trying to absolutely destroy the baseball as opposed to just try and make contact. Be that two-hitter that I was in college. So that's where it came from. The Astros, from higher up, said they wanted me to hit for more power, so I worked on it and I'm still working on it.

Morgan Ensberg said that success is not going to translate to the next level. So we worked on taking a way more-aggressive hack. Not really being all-or-nothing, but taking an aggressive hack and really trying to absolutely destroy the baseball as opposed to just try and make contact.

I remember Morgan during a lot of BPs, yelling "Get naked on it. Swing so hard you come out of your clothes." Which I found disturbing.

A lot of that was probably towards me. He definitely said that almost every BP. I'd be huffing and puffing after batting practice because every swing I took was probably as hard as I could swing.

The Andrew Aplin method.

Oh, Aplin loves BP in the Cal League. He takes a mammoth hack. He's great. His BPs are funny.

How was it working with Morgan, and with the rest of this coaching staff? I'm assuming you did quite a bit of work with Donnie (Alexander), right?

Yeah. I enjoyed it a lot. Donnie helped me - I probably can't even quantify it. He helped me so much with just calling a game, learning about hitters, learning about pitching to what you see. So that helped a lot. Early on in the year, I struggled with that. You can say it's from the Cal League, where guys get hits, but a lot of it was the pitches I was putting down. (The pitchers) trusted me, which is good, but I was looking back after they gave up a three-run home run or something, and I talk to Donnie about it, and he'll say, "Why'd you throw that pitch?" and I'd give him my explanation. He never says it was the wrong thing, but he'll tell me why he thinks another pitch would have been better. That helped a lot later on in the year the next time something came up. Working with D-Rob and Rodney - Rodney's a great manager to play under. He lets you do your thing. Obviously, he has rules and regulations, but if he knows that you're working hard or doing something to get better, he'll let you go. That whole coaching staff was really good. It was really nice to play my first full season with them.

How was it preparing for a full pro season, as opposed to coming out of college and going straight into short season ball?

A lot different. When I was in Tri-City, there was a grace period of about three weeks where I had to get used to playing every single day. I sort of struggled with getting my body ready, mentally and physically, to play every day. So after that half-season, I realized what I had to do. Going into the offseason, I had a lot of ideas about what I needed to do to make sure I was ready to go every single day. If you put your mind to just taking it one day at a time and being the best you can every single day, on a daily basis, and not looking towards the future or the day before you're super tired or super sore and thinking you won't be able to play tomorrow... if you just stay in the present moment, I think it helps a lot.

Did the Astros give you a plan for the offseason, or are you free to work on what you want to work on?

We have end-of-the-year meetings. All the coaches met up with us and told us what we needed to work on. Offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We also have a strength program that we have to follow. I follow that, but I also work out with my trainer in Venice, Pro Camp Sports. That helps me a lot. They mostly did NHL hockey players. Chris Chelios used to work out there, Sidney Crosby. All those big name guys.

And Tyler Heineman.

Yeah, exactly. Not NHL, but they had some major leaguers there, too. Their big thing is mobility and functional movement. Making sure that you're really strong, and that you're also very open and that you're very flexible.

For your defensive skills, did you talk to Vince Coleman at all as far as tips for catchers? I know he works with the baserunners, but what about the other side of things?

Yeah, a little bit. He'd always joke that I'd never be able to throw him out. I'd like to try.

Now. He's fifty.

Definitely now, yeah. But even in his prime, I'd like to try. Just like I'd like to try throwing out Billy Hamilton or Delino (DeShields). He gave me some tips, but it was more watching when he'd give tips to us as baserunners - especially when he'd talk to Delino because Delino is our best base-stealer - when he would talk to him and pick his brain about how he tells them to take their jumps, take their leads, what they looked for, both in a catcher and in a pitcher. His leg time. When he brings his hands. His set time, how long it takes him before he pitches, if he gets into a pattern. Stuff like that. There's all these things I try and learn about to give me a better edge. He would've talked to me if I'd asked, but I never really asked. Just tried to pick up information when he'd talk to Delino.

Yeah, you went from six stolen bases in eight attempts in 2012 to two of five this year. So you were listening, but...

Yeah. Yeah. I was listening, exactly. I didn't really attempt to steal very often. A lot of those were hit and runs that they either pitched out on or it was a bastard pitch or I got caught in space. Definitely gotta work on that a little bit, because I'm a little faster than those numbers say.

Well, two triples. Two inside-the-park home runs. As many as George Springer. I was there for one of them. You did not look like you were gonna make it.

No. That was weird. I'd never had an inside-the-park home run in my life. Not even in Little League or anything.

Rodney was really excited on that second one. You were two feet off of second base when he gave you the signal. Not long before, he'd sent Luis Alvarez on the same play and Luis ran out of gas. You didn't run out of gas.

Yeah, once he sent me, I only had about 120 feet to go. I just tried to make it as fast as possible. I have all that time afterwards to try and breathe. I have a chance to get an inside-the-park home run, which doesn't happen very often. Especially for someone like me. So I might as well give it everything I've got. I couldn't breathe for the next half-inning, but it was worth it.

Let's circle back to Kyle Smith's debut. Luis caught that one; it didn't go so well. Kyle's second game is on the road in High Desert. Offensive environment. He hadn't gotten out of the first inning in his first outing. You'd given up thirty runs the day before. He's got to be psychologically damaged by the Cal League at this point, but he goes out and throws a two-hit shutout. You're catching him for the first time. How do you get him ready for that? What is that experience like?

You just have to do your best. It's a learning thing for me, too. I really liked working with Brady (Rodgers) and Aaron (West). I worked with them in Tri-City. I know those guys from the Pac-12, too. So that helps. But working with Kyle, especially in the bullpen sessions and in the bullpen before the game, you have to figure out what's working for him. What was working for him that day, especially, was his location to the outside half of the plate against righties.

That's where he lives, right?

Lives there. Absolutely. When he's on, that pitch can't be hit. And his curveball is very good. So those two were both on, and his changeup was actually pretty good. He never used to throw it when he was with the Royals, so it was a little bit of a pitch in progress. And it looked good to me in the bullpen, so going into the game, it makes my job a lot easier. He has his location on his fastball, he can throw his curveball for a strike or throw it in the dirt, so it's just a matter of what pitch I want him to throw, and he's going to execute it.

That's a thing that's always sort of interested me about catchers. You do an All-Star game or a showcase and you don't know these guys. How much time do you have to work with them before that?

Not much, but it's good and bad. With someone like Brady who I know has very good location, and he trusts what I like to call, and we both have a similar idea of what we're going to do, it can make you a little bit comfortable sometimes. When someone like Kyle Smith that first time, who I don't know, it keeps you on your toes. That can be a good thing. You don't know how stuff is going to break that first inning or two that you're catching him, because you haven't seen it in a game situation. So that's a little bit different. But if you take it as a challenge and try to work together to be the best that you can as a team, that eliminates the fact that we're working together for the first time. Especially after the first inning. If he has a successful first inning and he doesn't shake you off, you're getting on the same page. Kyle doesn't like shaking off, which is good. Some pitchers do, and it's fine. It's just the way they are as pitchers. I'm learning that as a catcher, you have to know who your pitcher is, and there's different expectations for different pitchers.

If a pitcher shakes off a call, are you re-thinking the entire sequence moving forward?

No. I used to, but then Donnie would always tell me, "Don't look to the future. If we throw this pitch in this situation, as a setup pitch, we can throw this pitch next. Don't look to the future. Just pitch to what you see." So let's say you throw a fastball to the inside, see how he reacts. If he backs up, if he takes it like he's ready for that pitch, if he swings and he's really early, if he's on time or late... base the next pitch off of that and off of your knowledge of him as a hitter, which is nice in the Cal League because there's not that many teams, so you know a lot of the guys.

So how do you prepare for a game or a series when you haven't seen a team before?

You go off of scouting reports from previous years. If they were in the Cal League, Donnie keeps notes. We usually have a meeting before games on hitters. The order, how many lefties, how many righties, how many switch. Who's been doing the best this year. If you've never seen someone at all, you can look at numbers. That's what Coach (John) Savage does. Walks, strikeout ratio. If they have really high walks and really high strikeouts, they're probably not very aggressive. They're taking a lot of pitches. If they have high strikeouts, low walks, they're probably really aggressive and they chase a lot. Low walks, low strikeouts, pretty good discipline probably, but they probably swing early in the count. Things like that can help you determine what pitch you want to throw in what count.

What if they're Nolan Fontana?

He's weird. It's not like he'll take a pitch right down the middle. If you throw a pitch down the middle, he'll hammer it. He's a special player. He's got a great eye, and he really knows how to work the strike zone. I honestly don't know how I'd pitch to him. I'd probably try and throw a pitch a little bit off the corner or on the corner, because he really stays in his zone unless he gets two strikes. He'll only expand his zone - and really only to the strike zone - once he gets two strikes. You have to find what he's not looking for that day and try and exploit that.

Luckily, you don't have to call against him.

Exactly. Hopefully not. Hopefully we're on the same team for a long time.

Can you tell me some of the differences between the New York-Penn League and the Cal League?

Competition's a little bit better, for both hitters and pitchers. (In the Cal League) more pitchers throw their offspeed stuff for strikes. Usually, in the New York-Penn League, they had pretty good fastballs. Sometimes their curveball was good, especially the guys coming out of college. They had pretty good secondary pitches, coming out of a major D-I school. It seemed like everyone had command of some kind of offspeed pitch, so they could throw it in a 2-1 count or a 1-0 count in the Cal League. That took a little bit of getting used to. But it's good, because early on, when I was trying to hit for more power, I was fooled on tons of changeups. It makes you work on staying balanced. Every difference causes you to learn a little bit more and get better.

There are some people that are just absolutely naturally-blessed beyond anyone else. I realize that I'm not like that, so I try and be the best that I can by soaking up all the information that I can and trying to work harder than everyone, in my mind. Every day just trying to get better.

One thing about you is that, over the course of the year, I watched you adjust and add a piece here, add a piece there. Over the course of the full season, you only got better in your approach, from my perspective. Is that something on which you pride yourself?

Yeah, definitely. I love everything about baseball. The working out part, getting to the field early, all of it. I love it, so I'm trying to soak up as much information as possible. I know that I'm not an absolute elite player that doesn't need to do anything. There are some people that are just absolutely naturally-blessed beyond anyone else. I realize that I'm not like that, so I try and be the best that I can by soaking up all the information that I can and trying to work harder than everyone, in my mind. Every day just trying to get better.

Defensively, have the Astros worked with you at all on pitch framing and mechanics behind the plate?

Our catching coordinator, Mark Bailey, he said that he likes the way that I receive pitches. They don't really say framing, they say receiving. I worked with Morgan (Ensberg) on receiving pitches better, and he liked the way I received pitches, too. The thing that I try to get better at is not trying to make things look like strikes, but more just trying to not lose the borderline pitches that should be strikes. Sometimes you can get a borderline pitch that should be a strike on that day, but you catch it wrong and (the umpire) balls it. You don't want to lose those borderline strikes - those pitches that can help your pitcher. Instead of going to a 2-1 count, a very good hitter's count, you want to get to that 1-2 count. Developing the ability to catch the pitch the way it's supposed to be caught. You're not trying to trick the umpire. The umpires are trying to do the same thing that we are. They're trying to move up. So if you think a pitch is a strike, you don't say "That's a strike" to the umpire. You say, "Hey, I thought that was a pretty good pitch. What do you need me to do? Did you see that as well as you could've? Is there something that I need to do better?" And they'll tell me "Yeah, I saw it really good." Okay, then it was a ball. Or "Yeah, I got blocked a little bit by you. You had a little bit too much movement." Okay, that's great. That's good constructive criticism. So on that same pitch in a different situation, say with bases loaded on a 2-2 count, if he throws that exact same pitch, I have that in the back of my mind, so maybe we can get that as a strike because I did something different. Nothing that the pitcher did. Same pitch.

So as you're getting to know the umpires through the course of the season, you're learning how to catch those umpires, in a way.

Yeah. You know certain umpires. What their zones are. Some umpires have bigger zones than others. Some have more consistent zones than others, especially in the minors. In the major leagues, watching on T.V., those umpires are pretty good. Even with the pitch trackers and all that. They're very good and they're very consistent. But it definitely helps to know the umpires. Knowing that a guy gives a little bit more off the outside corner, you can use that. You can exploit it. So when you throw a fastball outside in an advantage count, you can set up off the plate a little bit more, so when he hits that target you can get it as a strike.

One of Lancaster's highlights this season was obviously the Hallock and Cruz no-hitter, which Ryan McCurdy caught. Were you out there talking to Ryan when he would come in?

It was great playing with Ryan a little. He moved down when I got hurt to help us out, then he moved back up to Double-A. I tried to pick his brain as much as possible. He's very smart. He's a very, very smart catcher who knows what he's doing. Has a very good plan. It's really, really nice to talk to him about pitch-calling and about catching in general. He studies the game a lot. He's needed to, because in pro ball he's never been a frontline catcher, so when he gets his opportunities, he needs to be prepared. So someone like me, who I guess is the designated starter at my level, I can learn a lot from him. I should be doing the exact same thing that he does. Even though I catch more games, to give our team the best chance to win, I should be doing the exact same thing that he does. So he helped me go into games with a better game plan. So for the month and a half or two months that he was (in Lancaster), if I gave up a hit in a certain count, I'd go up to him and say, "Hey, what would you have thrown in that situation?" Sometimes he'd say the exact same thing that I had called, or he'd say he would've called something different, and give me his reason. So just having more of a veteran guy helping you out, especially developing pitch combos, is huge.

In the beginning, M.P. (Cokinos) was your backup before they pulled him off of catcher, and then Luis Alvarez came in. At the end, Ricky Gingras came in. Ryan was the one guy who was probably more experienced than you.

I really enjoyed working with every catcher. Trying to learn from them, and they can learn from me. Trying to make everyone better. That's what we did at UCLA. Stevie (Steve Rodriguez) was the starter before me. The more he pushed me to get better, and the more I pushed him, the better we both got. I really enjoy that aspect of learning from other players. Players who are successful at what they do. Ryan is very successful at calling games. Ryan is a successful catcher. What does he do? Why does he do it? (Jason) Castro in the big leagues for us. I talked to him for a little bit when I was up for two or three games during Spring Training. Just trying to learn everything you can from the guys who are successful, or who are starting to make it, is a big deal, I think.

You caught Gerrit (Cole), I'm assuming, during practices.

Yeah, I never caught him in a game, but I caught him in practice. I caught Trevor (Bauer) in a game a couple of times. Adam (Plutko) I caught a little bit my sophomore year and obviously a lot my junior year. Nick (Vander Tuig) and all those guys, I was their catcher.

So of the pitchers you've caught, whether it's those guys or guys in the Astros system, what do you like from a pitcher? Whether that's pitch quality, or "stuff" that you really like.

Someone that can throw a changeup in any count. A changeup's a great pitch. That's the main thing that (John) Savage harps on - being able to throw a changeup. You're not going to pitch at UCLA unless you can throw a changeup in any count you want. For a strike and also as a pitch below the glove that gets a swing-and-miss or a chase. Catching in UCLA and then going into pro ball, you have a good gauge on seeing it in college for a program that really harps on it, and then going to pro ball where there are high school guys who haven't developed it yet, because they never needed to. So you have an appreciation for the guys who can. But really, working with any pitcher who's willing to work with you and tell you what they like from you. Someone who has good communication skill and tells you what they like and what they want you to do. Someone who will tell you what they don't like, or ask you to do something different. Set up a little earlier, set up a little later, turn your glove a little differently.

Is it hard to remember that for all of those guys?

It's easier because... say they tell you in-game and you make a mid-game adjustment. You have all those reps during that game. So maybe some pitcher doesn't tell you, but someone else does and you end up changing it... the next time you catch, you may subconsciously do that exact same thing, and the problem's fixed.

Is it difficult to work with Spanish-speaking pitchers? Do you speak Spanish?

I don't speak Spanish, but I'm a lot better than I used to be. That's one thing I try to learn. I talk to Luis (Cruz) a lot. I talk to (Carlos) Perdomo a lot. (Luis) Alvarez. Roberto Pena in Spring Training and instructs, and obviously Jobduan Morales. I try and learn as much as I can from them. I ask them questions. Roberto - and Carlos Correa - are probably the most fluent English speakers. So I can ask them questions, like "How do I say this to, say, Juan Minaya?" who doesn't speak English as well. Still understands it, but doesn't speak it as well. So I ask them how I would say "You have to get your hand out and throw the ball to the ground." Something like that. And they'd tell me what I need to say. So then I'd remember it, so now I can say it anytime I want.

What if something comes up in-game?

Sometimes they do. But they're mostly the same. You're opening up, or you have to get your hand out, or hold the runner a little bit more. Your leg time's too slow. Stuff like that. All those little pieces that come up, they're usually the same.

How many times did you strike out Matt Kemp this year?

I don't even know. A lot. A lot. I'm gonna say eight? Six? A lot. I know he didn't get a hit against us.

I was in the stands and West is over there with Velasquez, charting pitches, and they kept asking me "Is he gonna be here tomorrow?" They all wanted to pitch to him.

Well, yeah. One, it helps your confidence facing a big leaguer. But also, just facing guys that have been there and done that, they have sort of a different look to them. A swagger that a lot of the guys in the minor leagues don't have yet, because they're working towards it.

Like over-eager puppy dogs.

Exactly. And those guys are the mature full-breds.

So which of the pitchers you've caught might surprise us? Who maybe Astros fans are a little bit low on.

I don't really read the blogs, so...

Fair enough. Well, Velasquez is near the top of the list. Foltynewicz. Appel, but you haven't caught him yet.

No, but I faced him in college. David Rollins is very good. Ballew, Dufek, Kenny Long. All these guys are different in their own way, but I'd probably say someone to be really excited for would be... it's so difficult...

I don't want to make you choose one and somebody gets mad.

No, it's not that. Are you guys high on Brady Rodgers?

He would be a good answer. People like him, but he's not in that "elite level" conversation.

Yeah. Well, to me, he's very polished. You can say the Cal League's a hitter's league, so his numbers didn't really do as well. But according to what (Jeff) Luhnow said to us in the meeting when he was in Lancaster, about what they look for in pitchers from the Cal League - strikeout-to-walk ratio, walk percentage, hits per nine, flyout-to-groundout ratio, stuff like that - for me, Brady is really up there in that. His strikeout-to-walk ratio... he's not going to have dominant strikeout stuff, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is always going to be great. His flyout-to-groundout ratio is always going to be good because he has a very good two-seam fastball and he loves to throw it. He has command and a refusal to lose. In big situations, he's very determined to beat you in any way that he can.

When the pressure is on, Brady Rodgers is very good. Once he figures out to take that into every single game, even when the pressure's not on at all, I think he's going to be really special, and he'll surprise a lot of people.

I saw his first playoff start.

Exactly, so there you go. Playoffs, same thing in Tri-City. When the pressure is on, he's very good. Once he figures out to take that into every single game, even when the pressure's not on at all, I think he's going to be really special, and he'll surprise a lot of people.

Three final questions. First: M.P. Cokinos is awesome, right?

He's awesome. We've been friends since Tri-City. He's a competitor. There's nothing you can say that makes you dislike him. Anyone that knows him, it's really hard to dislike him. Everything he does, he works hard. Works very, very hard. He absorbs a lot of information from people. He's playing other positions. He never played outfield before. Left field. DHing is very hard. So even the little quirky things he does when he's DHing - running back and forth from the bathroom...grabbing some food...

I heard about that. The constant bathroom trips.

It's unbelievable. It's one per inning, at least. Everything he does makes you like him more. He's a good dude, and he's a very loyal guy. He's a good friend, and he's good. He's a good baseball player.

He's turning into a really great hitter.

Yeah, he is.

After they moved him to first, I liked watching him field bouncers off of his chest like they're pitches in the dirt.

Yeah, see? It's awesome. Little things that he does. It shouldn't surprise you, because he does it all the time, but every time he does, it makes you laugh. And you're not laughing at him, either. It's like, you're not a first baseman, and something takes a nasty hop and you're just gonna body it up. No one does that, but he does.

I once described him once as the guy who reminds you why you love baseball.

That's very good.

(Aaron) West had two questions for me to ask you. First was tell me about the Post-It notes.

Oh, gosh. That was good. I got hit in the jaw early on in August. I was having problems with it. I got an X-Ray and nothing showed up. Two and a half weeks later, I got a CT scan because I thought I might have a root fracture. I had a lot of stuff going on with my teeth. Turned out I did have a fractured jaw that they missed. So I played with a fractured jaw; that's why I changed to a hockey mask from August on, because I wanted to play instead of sit out. That day, when I found out my jaw was fractured, I went home and went into my room and I get freaked out. Super freaked out. My whole room is covered in Post-It notes. Completely covered in Post-It notes. And I'm freaking out. I turn around and I see West filming me, cracking up. It's like, "Dude, could you not pick a better day to do this?" But they didn't know that I was going to get the CT scan and find out my jaw was fractured.

And they couldn't postpone the Post-It notes.

I thought it was funny. But I picked them all up. Took me twenty-five, thirty minutes to pick them all up. And I dumped them all in his bathroom. He wouldn't even clean it up; he made his girlfriend clean it up. So Aaron, if you're (reading this), you're a mean guy.

Next question, also from West: How good a pitcher would you be if they'd let you pitch?

Unbelievable. Okay. Gosh, put me on the spot. I said something early in the year, that you should be able to control your fastball. Something pretty arrogant. You should be able to control your fastball more times than not, so that throwing a fastball in a certain count in a certain location should be like your bread-and-butter. Say it's a 2-1 count and you have to throw a fastball outside, you should be able to throw it within two to three inches of where you need to throw it, because that's what you work on. So I said something like, "Dude, my accuracy is great. If I was on the mound, I could throw it where I need to throw it." They all gave me crap for it, of course, and looking back I'd give myself crap for it. You know, I don't think I'd be a good pitcher. I don't think I throw hard enough. I threw three innings in the Northwoods League between my sophomore and junior year, and I didn't throw nearly hard enough to be a relief pitcher. And my arm was not feeling good after that. So I have a lot of respect for pitchers. The toll it takes on their arm. After I pitched, I couldn't go and catch for three or four days afterwards. My arm was throbbing.

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