I caught up to Brooklyn Cyclones left-hander T.J. Chism the other day, and he was kind enough to answer some questions for our readers at MetsMerizedOnline.com. T.J. had some really fascinating stuff to say, and there is no doubt that he will be a pitcher to keep an eye on as he progresses through the Mets minor league system on his way to the big leagues. Here’s what he had to say:
Petey: First of all T.J., congratulations on a big year in 2011. From playing in front of the awesome fans in Brooklyn, to having a really fine season on the mound, and even helping the Cyclones get to the New York Penn League Playoffs, it must have been quite a thrill! Thank you so much for sharing a little of your time. The readers at MetsMerizedOnline.com will really enjoy reading about you, and getting to know a little bit about one of our promising Mets pitching prospects! I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday, how are things? Are you enjoying your time off so far?
TJ: Thanks a lot Pete, I had a great Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends. Everythings going great and I have really enjoyed my time home so far being around the people who love and support me all year round!
Petey: When the Mets drafted you out of La Salle University in the 32nd round of the 2009 MLB Player Draft, how did you first hear about it, and what was that feeling like? Did you know the Mets were interested in you, and did you have any idea which round of the draft you might be taken in?
TJ: When the Mets took me in 2009 I was at home listening to it on the internet while me and my dad were watching T.V. and I wasn’t really paying attention as I was a little dissappointed that I hadn’t heard my name on day 2. From what we gathered between the scouts and my agent we were thinking somewhere between rounds 13-17 by any number of different teams. So after slipping to day 3 the pressure only built and doubts started to creep in whether it would happen at all. We heard the guy announce La Salle University and me and my dad immediately looked at each other, and just hearing him say my name felt like the world was lifted off my shoulders. Within three minutes I had over 200 text messages and the phone didn’t stop ringing from friends and family that were listening, until the next day. It was truly the best feeling in the world to just know that I had gotten an opportunity.
Petey: Very cool T.J. Is there one person, a coach, a friend or family member, or even another player, who you learned the most from, or who inspired you to chase your dream of becoming a major league baseball player?
TJ: My dad, having played in the big leagues in 1979 was really my inspiration my whole life for playing baseball. Him and my mom were great athletes who would play any sport, any time of the day with me, and never pushed me one way or the other. They allowed me to play them all and naturally I gravitated toward baseball. When you grow up and hear about how great your dad was everywhere you go, it kinda creates a personal chip on your shoulder to be better then him so I always worked hard growing up to try and be the best player on the field at any given time. It didn’t hurt having big league pedigree in the blood though!
Petey: Tell us a little bit about your arsenal. What pitches you throw, at what speeds, and are you working on any new pitches moving forward?
TJ: I throw a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball which I usually work around 87-89 topping out around 91 from a 3/4 arm slot. A change-up and slider which range anywhere from 75-80 mph depending on how I feel that day. My change-up and slider really excelled when I moved to the 3/4 arm slot during the beginning of my second year. And I was able to locate my fastball alot better as well.
Petey: You had a very strong season last year playing in front of the wonderful fans in Brooklyn. Working out of the Cyclones bullpen, you and Todd Weldon shared the closer duties, and you put up some fantastic numbers, going 3-0 with a 1.14 ERA, and 6 saves. You had a 30/7 K/BB ratio, 6.0 H/9, 8.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and allowed no HR’s in 31.2 IP. Actually you only gave up 4 earned runs for the season and opposing hitters managed to hit only .179 off you. Great job, T.J.! What was it like playing in Brooklyn?
TJ: Honestly, there is no place like Brooklyn to play for guys that are just starting their pro careers. I guess you can say I was “lucky” enough to pitch parts of three seasons there even though we would all like to be at higher levels, I was truly happy to be there this year. It wasn’t too far from home so my family and friends could come any night they wanted. And the fans there are so passionate for baseball and for winning, that it makes the game fun and gets you excited to go out and play every night. But if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, if you cant pitch in Brooklyn, you can’t pitch anywhere. Those fans know the game and they’ll let you know when your doing good, and when your doing bad. I loved that!
Petey: Mack Ade, over at Mack’s Mets, says you are too advanced to be pitching at Savannah next year, and he believes the Mets will start you out at St. Lucie, in the Florida State League. Have the Mets made any indications about their future plans for you? What are your goals for next season? Did the Mets give you anything specific to work on?
TJ: Well, I wish Mack was in the front office! Haha! But no, the Mets haven’t made any indications to me what their plans are and I’m sure you’ve heard the saying before “Control what you can control.” So all I can do is put the pressure on them by having a great spring training and let the chips fall where they may. If you worry too much about where your going to end up or what the future holds, you tend to lose track of the present, so I try to focus on the day at hand and pitch the best I can every time I take the mound.
Petey: Great answer! What’s the main thing you learned from this season, that you can employ as you move up the minor league ladder. What do you need to work on, and improve, in order to find success at the major league level?
TJ: I learned that it doesn’t matter how hard you throw, it’s about getting people out. Someone told me one time, “you throw hard to get drafted, you get outs to move up.” So I really worked on being able to command my fastball this year and started to throw all of my pitches for strikes in any count. Only 7 walks this year from a guy who was quoted coming out of college as “effectively wild” was a huge leap for my career. Kind of getting past that walk the bases loaded, strike out the side mentality, and really started using my fielders this year. It makes the game much easier when you use the guys behind you and don’t give the hitters too much credit, something Frank Viola taught me early on in spring training last year.
Petey: Mets fans like myself who have been around for a while remember Frank Viola very well, he was an awesome major league pitcher for a lot of years. What kind of things will you do to stay in shape over the winter? Can you describe your regimen?
TJ: I’m actually working a lot on the mental aspect as well as the physical aspect of the game this offseason. Mike Costanzo (AA – Reds) and I are working out Monday thru Friday at 6am, working on focus drills, balance drills, then we run and lift weights. So it’s been an intense off-season so far and I’m really excited to get down to spring training in the best shape of my life. Luckily my agent owns an indoor facility only ten miles from my house called Maplezone Sports and Fitness Complex with a full infield and workout area that we are able to take advantage of any time we want. It’s also where I work in the offseason, giving lessons and running pitching clinics.
Petey: Pick one teammate, position player or pitcher, that really impressed you with his play this year at Brooklyn, and tell us what it was that made you take notice.
TJ: The guy who impressed me the most was Danny Muno, and obviously his stats were pretty incredible. But just the way he went about his business every day, and his desire to play the game hard. He isn’t the biggest guy in the league but he plays like it. He’s constantly asking questions and trying to get better.
Petey: Danny was nice enough to do an interview with me a few weeks ago, and he is a really great guy. What was your favorite baseball team growing up? Your favorite player? Is there a major league pitcher, past or present, who you are similar to in style?
TJ: My favorite team growing up was the Orioles because of my dad, but quickly shifted to the Phillies when I was able to go watch them play more often, and enjoyed the major league atmosphere you get at Citizens Bank Park. My favorite pitcher was Billy Wagner because he was a little guy who threw hard and always had the game in his hands, which I loved. It’s funny because my first mini-camp with the Mets after being drafted, he was the first big-leaguer I met when he was rehabbing down in St. Lucie in ’09.
Petey: And to finish up T.J., just a little personal info, not pertaining to baseball. What is your favorite movie? Favorite musician or band? Favorite food?
TJ: My favorite movie if I had to pick one I guess would be 3:10 to Yuma, I could watch it any day any time. My favorite musician I would say is Lil’ Wayne. And my favorite food is steak and mashed potatoes.
Petey: Thanks again T.J., it was really nice of you to do this interview for the readers at MMO, and I really enjoyed chatting with you. Take care, have a great holiday season, and we’re looking forward to seeing you on the mound next year!
TJ: Thanks a lot, and it was my pleasure Pete, Have a great holiday season!
Wow, T.J. sure is an interesting guy, and he provided us with some terrific answers and insights into the progression that a professional baseball player goes through. On behalf of the readers and staff at MMO we really want to thank him for taking the time to share some of his thoughts and experiences with us. We’ll check back in with T.J. during spring training, and see if we can get some news about minor league camp. He’s definitely a great guy, and a competitor, and someone who is very easy to root for!