MMO Exclusive Interview: Charley Thurber – NY Mets Outfield Prospect
For a college baseball player with aspirations of one day playing in the Major Leagues, the junior year is the most important one to his stock in the June amateur draft. The worst thing that could happen would be to get hurt at this critical time. That is exactly what happened to Charley Thurber of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Battling untimely injuries, he fell in the draft from a top 10 round pick last year, all the way to the 39th round. There the Mets were lucky enough to find him still available after 1181 players had been taken. Much to their delight they took him with the next pick and now find themselves with perhaps one of the best late round finds in the draft. I caught up with Charley right after New Years, and he was kind enough to take the time and answer some questions for our readers at MMO:
Petey: We are chatting today with Charley Thurber, last season’s starting right-fielder for the Brooklyn Cyclones. Thanks so much Charley for taking the time to talk to me and the readers at MetsMerizedOnline.com. I hope you had a nice holidays. When the Mets drafted you in the 39th round of the 2011 MLB Player Draft, out of the University of Tennessee, how did you first hear about it, and what was that feeling like? Did you know the Mets were interested in drafting you? What round(s) were you thinking you might be taken in the draft?
Charley: First of all, it is a blessing to be able to chase my dream of being a Major League ballplayer through the opportunity the Mets have given me. It was great to hear my name called by the Mets, a moment I will never forget. With that being said, this year was one of great turmoil for me. Injuries inhibited my ability to play last spring at Tennessee. Unfortunately, these injuries dropped my stock from likely hearing my name within the top-ten rounds of the draft. I started my junior campaign with high hopes and determination, playing with and through a torn oblique and a broken right hand, which I had sustained diving back into first on a pick-off attempt. I continued to play until I took a fastball to the left wrist, fracturing my ulna and leaving me in a cast for five weeks. Thus, I was not able to show the same tools or match the numbers that I had shown in my sophomore year at UT and in the Cape Cod league. Still, I was fortunate to be invited to some pre-draft workouts, including by the Mets, at CitiField, with the goal of showing scouts that I was healthy and still looking to sign after my junior year. Fortunately, I was able to perform for the Mets’ staff in Queens and was blessed to hear my name in the draft at all after the aforementioned injury-plagued spring. So as you can understand, I’ve entered professional baseball with a little something more to prove.
Petey: Wow that is really starting out in the professional ranks with some adversity to overcome. But you have an outstanding attitude, and with that perseverance and good health, you will get to where you want to be I am sure. 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?
Charley: For as long as I can remember the only thing I wanted to do was play in the Major Leagues. I was blessed to have parents that guided me to what I love but never pushed me toward anything. So in a way, baseball was a passion of my own, and I have always been very self-motivated, but my parents have always been my biggest supporters providing for my opportunities for exposure and I can’t thank them enough for completely supporting my dream.
Petey: Great answer! You played 3 years of college baseball for the Volunteers. In college of course, you used aluminum bats, are you completely comfortable swinging wood now? You got off to a slow start once you got to Brooklyn, hitting .176 as of July 3rd. But by the end of the season your batting average was up to .271, and you were a major contributor from the beginning of July, and down the stretch run. Was it just a matter of getting your feet planted solidly, and feeling comfortable in pro ball, that helped you get the bat going?
Charley: I think it definitely took a week or two for me to get used to the grind of playing every day again, after sitting out so much this spring. Once I was able to re-establish a routine, in the cages, the weight-room, and on the field, I felt much more comfortable at the plate and in game situations. For some reason I have always liked swinging wood better than aluminum. A wood bat has always kept my swing honest and true, whereas with metal there is a tendency to try and over-swing and do too much. I think when I dropped below .300 in August, I was aware of it, and it somewhat prolonged a slump back into the .270’s but I am grateful I was able to experience both success and failure so I can learn from both.
Petey: The bio says you are a big guy, 6’4″ 220 lbs., and we know you swing from the left side, but the only time I had the chance to see you hit was when the Cyclones were at Hudson Valley on June 23rd, and although you had a 1-3 night with a single, you guys got worked over pretty good by Wilking Rodriguez and Drew Leary, and managed only a run and 5 hits in a 4-1 loss. If you could Charley, give us a scouting report on yourself as a hitter. What kind of swing you have, and is there any one, or more things that you need to work on? Has there been any particular coach that has helped you with your hitting this past season since joining the Mets organization?
Charley: I feel scouts see me as a hitter who is able to drive balls into the gaps and create backspin, while hitting for average as well. I have a simple approach to look for pitches out over the plate and drive them into the middle of the field. I am able to hit deep into counts, but I feel my power numbers would be helped by hitting earlier in the count as well. In Brooklyn, I really found success using the opposite field, especially considering the oceanic winds blowing in from right field. At times this hurt me though, because I sometimes looked to force the ball that way. This off-season my main emphases have been staying smooth and in rhythm in the box and continuing to keep my swing plane through the middle of the field. This season I was able to find great success against left-handed pitchers, and I really feel capitalizing on right-handers will help me take another step closer this season. I really enjoyed working with Bobby Malek on my hitting this summer. As a fellow left-handed hitting outfielder, Bobby was able to relate to me and helped me transition into my first pro summer. Rich Donnelly, and Frank Viola were also great supporters for me.
Petey: Are you strictly a right fielder? Or have the Mets discussed giving you some playing time at any other positions? With a good throwing arm being necessary to play RF, how would you rank your outfield throwing? What are you working on defensively going into next season? Is there a coach that was especially helpful to you in working on your defense this year at Brooklyn?
Charley: I feel that I am versatile enough to play all three outfield spots although I likely profile in a corner. Right now I prefer right field because I love helping the team with my arm and I feel comfortable there after playing there for the majority of my college years. I consider my arm to be very strong, and I believe the organization does as well. In fact, my arm is probably my most developed tool at the moment and I do feel that it profiles well in right. I was able to save some runs with it this summer. Bobby Malek and Jack Voigt were great instructors for outfielders this summer and in Instructional League. I definitely picked up a lot from each of them and I am continuing to work on all facets of my defensive game in my jumps, routes, footwork, and throwing accuracy. But in the end, I am willing to play anywhere to advance, even pitch!
Petey: A 6’4″ lefty coming out of the Mets bullpen throwing gas? How’s your off-speed stuff? Haha! Your first professional homerun was a huge hit for your team, a 2-run shot in the 4th inning off Bryan Mitchell, in a 12-5 playoff win against the evil Staten Island Yankees on Sept 9th. You had a monster day, going 3-6 with the dinger, 3 runs scored, and 2 RBI’s. Way to go Charley! Was that your biggest day on a baseball field so far?
Charley: That was an awesome day for me! We had such a strong batting order this summer and a different person stepped up every day for us. In this game, I saw the ball well and was able to get some good hitter’s pitches because of the great hitters around me. Hitting my first pro home-run was a great feeling! Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull out the series. A tie for my biggest moment was playing in the All-Star game this summer after a rough spring. But this was definitely a special game that I’ll always remember as well.
Petey: You grew up in Elmira, NY. What was your favorite baseball team? Your favorite player? Is there a major league player, past or present, that you think you are similar to in style? Or someone that you can see yourself playing like someday in the majors?
Charley: Growing up my favorite team was the Mets! My favorite players were Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero. Now I try to model myself after Josh Hamilton, but my former coach, Ash Lawson, always tells me I remind him of Paul O’Neill. To me I really want to be my own player and if I can be mentioned in the same sentence as a big leaguer in a few years, it doesn’t matter who, I’ll take it!
Petey: What are your goals for next season? And how do you prepare over the winter, can you describe your workout regimen? What do you like to do during your time off for fun and recreation?
Charley: Next season I feel I can improve my OPS. In doing so, I can produce more runs for my team from both the batter’s box and on the bases. As I said earlier, I look to capitalize more on right-handers this season as well. This off-season I have been back in Knoxville, TN, at UT, working out with Herman Demmink of 3D Performance. We have been going through intense workouts focused on explosion, power, fast-twitch speed/quickness, and durability. I’ve had the pleasure to be working alongside a number of my former teammates from UT who are also in the professional ranks, including fellow Met and Volunteer, Blake Forsythe. We are enjoying working with a number of current major leaguers like Joe Nathan, Nate McClouth, and fellow Tennessee Volunteers Chase Headley, Mike Lincoln, and Luke Hochevar. Herman has a thorough, cutting-edge program and I look to come into this season the strongest, fastest, and healthiest that I’ve ever been. For fun, there’s nothing I enjoy more than just being around my family and friends.
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.
Charley: We had a great team so it is hard to just choose one. Danny Muno obviously was an amazing hitter winning the batting title; Richard Lucas had a great year as well. But as a fellow outfielder I’d say Travis Taijeron had some huge clutch hits for us including a big walkoff home-run. Overall, we had a fun team to play on, and a strong batting order to hit in. Oh, did I mention we had some great pitchers too? I’d like to give everyone credit!
Petey: Don’t worry I’ll save a little ink for the pitchers in my next article! Well, to finish up Charley, just a little personal info not pertaining to baseball. What is your favorite movie? Favorite musician or band? Favorite food?
Charley: My favorite movie would be hard to narrow down but I would say The Dark Knight. Right now I can’t stop listening to Zac Brown Band, but while I’m working out Wale’s ‘Ambition’ album is second to none for me. My favorite foods range from to salmon and grilled chicken to Oreos, of course.
Petey: Thanks again Charley for taking time out for this interview. The readers and staff at MMO really appreciate it! Have a very happy, and healthy New Year, and we will be looking forward to seeing you in spring training!
Charley: Thanks Pete! Happy New Year to you as well. Thanks for the support and effort you all put into New York Mets Baseball.
I don’t know about you, but now that Charley has gotten his feet wet in pro ball, I am really looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish with a full season of long-season ball next year. That’s all it will take for him to start shooting up the prospect charts. He’s a great guy and definitely a player to keep an eye on in 2012!
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About the Author: Peter Shapiro
The first time I went to Shea was not for a Mets game, it was for the Beatles concert there in August of '66. My first Met game was '67, a guy named Salty Parker was the interim-manager then. My first pennant race was 1969. As a 12 year-old that summer and fall, I managed to get to the park for 3 games. The first was the beginning of the Miracle which actually started on Tuesday July 8, 1969 with a day game against the Cubs. I was there a lot in '73. I saw games 3 & 5 of the 1973 NL Playoffs against the "Big Red Machine", from the upper deck behind home plate. It was from there that I witnessed the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose, and the mayhem that ensued. And that sweet victory in game 5! I saw a couple of WS games at Shea that year against that legendary Oakland A's club. I was there in 1985 for every single game Dr. K pitched including his two 16 strikeout performances, and the day he one-hit the Cubs on an infield single and the Mets won 1-0. I loved being a Met fan in those days. Hopefully we are once again preparing to emerge from the darkness.
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