In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Mets used their sixth round selection on a high school outfielder from Pennsylvania named Joe Tuschak. Tuschak is a speedy left-handed hitter with some pop, and a talented defender. With the Rookie League season starting up today, I wanted to get this interview posted since I actually spoke to Joe two weeks ago, but was too busy to finish up the transcription.
At the time we spoke Joe was about to return from a hamstring injury that slowed him in extended spring training. With luck we’ll be seeing him starting in CF for Kingsport tonight when they open their Appalachian League season with the first game of a three-game series against the Princeton Rays. Here’s the interview I had with Joe in it’s entirety, hope you like:
Petey: We are talking today with outfielder Joe Tuschak of the New York Mets, Joe thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, how are things going?
Joe: Thanks for having me. I’m doing well, how bout yourself?
Petey: Doing great thanks. When the Mets drafted you in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Player Draft, out of Northern High School in Dillsburg, PA, how did you first hear about it, and what was that feeling like?
Joe: I first heard about it, I was just sitting there hanging out watching the draft, which was stressful enough, and I got a call at the beginning of the sixth round from Chad McDonald saying “hey” and making an offer. It was low at the time so my dad said, “We’re just gonna let it go for now so we’ll get back to you, or you can give us a call whenever, the next couple of rounds.” And he said, “well I’m not finished yet,” so he made a better offer. And that’s when I decided to become a professional baseball player after that second offer.
Petey: Yeah I noticed last year you signed pretty quick after the draft.
Joe: Yeah I agreed to it right away there were no shake-ups or anything except it had to be approved by the Commissioners Office. Which I think anything where you get paid over-slot has to go through them.
Petey: That’s right yeah. So you knew the Mets were interested in you ahead of time, did you have previous contact with the Mets before draft day?
Joe: Yes, I went up there for a pre-draft workout the Sunday before the draft. So I got picked on Tuesday and I was up there on a Sunday doing a workout for them.
Petey: At Citifield huh?
Petey: Very cool. What did you think of Citifield?
Joe: It was amazing. It was stressful, that’s for sure. It was definitely different, but I really enjoyed it.
Petey: It’s too bad that you were there on business.
Joe: Yeah, but it was fun, I enjoyed it, it was just a great time.
Petey: Nice. Is there one person you could point to, 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?
Joe: My father Frank, me and him everyday no matter what would go to the field, take BP. Throw a little, he’d hit me fly balls. Every day even if it was hot, cold, we’d just go up and do our thing. It was kind of our ritual growing up, when I was a kid.
Petey: In the final game of your high school career, at the Pennsylvania state championship, you hit a game winning grand slam to win Northern’s first State Title. Was that your biggest thrill in baseball so far?
Joe: Yes so far it is, it was pretty amazing. When we were getting ready for that season, we didn’t think we were going to go that far. We were together three seasons before we graduated and we just worked as a team. And everyday we just played the game one inning at a time, and so we made it all the way. And so when I hit that grand slam I didn’t even think it was going out. I honestly thought I just hit a fly-ball to drive in a runner. And it went over the fence and I was the happiest man on earth at that time.
Petey: You sure have a flair for the dramatic to hit a grand-slam to win the State Championship, much better than a sac-fly. What kind of pitch was it you hit?
Joe: It was a fastball up, kind of away. Just got my hands extended and just drove it.
Petey: Good man. Hey I asked Matt Budgell the other day how you were doing this camp, and he said you were slowed by a hammy. How is it now?
Joe: It’s getting better taking that also day-by-day. Getting back into games this week so I’ll be getting ready for the season to start.
Petey: Ok, so your close to being a hundred percent then?
Petey: I imagine extended spring training covers pretty much all aspects of baseball, but what things are you focusing on particularly these days to bring your game to another level?
Joe: Mostly hitting. That for me has been probably the toughest thing getting used to. Just the speed of the pitching, the hard, sharp breaking balls, and change-ups are twenty times better than what I saw in high school, I’m just trying to get into that routine of not chasing stuff, staying in my zone, getting my pitch. And just working on things like that.
Petey: Are there any specific coaches who have been a help to you with your hitting this year?
Joe: Yes, Yunir Garcia and Bobby Malek.
Petey: I remember Bobby Malek from his days as an outfielder in the Mets system. Now last season after signing with the Mets you got your feet wet in professional ball by getting into 32 games with the now defunct GCL Mets. You started modestly, hitting .204 in 108 AB’s with 15 runs scored, 22 hits, 2 doubles, 2 stolen bases, and 12 RBI’s. What was the biggest surprise about professional baseball once you got to Port St. Lucie?
Joe: Honestly, the speed of the game like I said before. The pitching is twenty times better. I think I was so nervous and stuff like that, I was forcing myself to try and get hits when I should have just relaxed and do my own thing instead of stressing and doing all that. I was over-focused I feel like, and all that was like a big rush to me.
Petey: I heard someone describe that as not letting the game come to you. How long did it take you to start to feel acclimated to the pro regimen?
Joe: It took me until we went to Instructs. Down there it was pretty tough. I mean it was probably harder than spring training. We were just grinding it out. It was only three weeks, and it felt like a long time, but we got a lot of work done in that three week period. I think they crammed a lot of stuff in there, but it was a lot of good stuff. So it all worked out, I remember and learned so much from that experience, it was probably then and there that I found out how to manage the game. And how to just be confident in myself so that when I did come to spring training this season it was a lot easier for me to understand how to play the game and all that’s going on pretty much.
Petey: Knowing what was expected of you. Was last year the first experience you had with wood bats?
Joe: No, I played in a local league, they call it West Shore Twilight in western Pennsylvania which is a wood bat league. A bunch of college guys come back and play in it, a bunch of ex-pros, so it was great competition that was throwing against me, and that was wood bat. From my junior and senior year, I played that all summer. So I had that as my background before I came here.
Petey: What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Joe: My favorite baseball team was the Boston Red Sox.
Petey: No kidding? A Pennsylvania boy and you like the Red Sox?
Joe: Yeah my mom went up there to run the Boston Marathon, and we went to a game and I just fell in love as a little kid. That was always my favorite team.
Petey: Huh. Your mom went to run a marathon, and she came home with a Red Sox fan. And who was your favorite player?
Joe: Carl Crawford.
Petey: There are definitely some similarities in your types of games.
Joe: Well thank you. I view myself as someone I could see being that kind of major league player, in a few years or so. With speed, a good lefty stick. He plays the game well. So just things like that, and I’ve always idolized him even when he was with Tampa Bay.
Petey: Pick another position player in camp with you these days, who has really opened your eyes. Anyone ripping the cover off the ball so far?
Joe: Yes, Brandon Nimmo. He has been absolutely raking. Bunting for base-hits, hitting doubles, hitting triples. Line drives all over the place. Just been hitting well, this whole spring training.
Joe: To start off it was a little slow, just from the off-season getting back into it, but the past month and a half, two months he’s just been ripping the cover off the ball.
Petey: Well that’s really the way you want to go especially in extended spring training, your there for so long you really don’t want to burn yourself out.
Joe: You don’t want to waste your hits that you should be getting in the season.
Petey: There you go. So to pace yourself that way is desirable, unless your in some kind of dogfight for a job of course. Which most of you guys are. (Joe laughs) How about a pitcher that has really impressed you this year in extended, and tell us what it was that made you take notice.
Joe: Yes Steve Matz. You know him right?
Petey: He was a second rounder but he was the Mets first pick in the 2009 draft. But before he threw his first professional pitch he had to have TJS, and then suffered some setbacks.
Joe: So he’s coming off that surgery and he’s been pitching great. Throwing the ball hard, locating everything. Just been looking very good.
Petey: I interviewed Steve over the winter and he was very optimistic about coming back this year, but then in the middle of extended, I guess it was about six weeks ago, I sent him an email and I said, “Hey Steve how’s your arm? How’s spring training coming.” Well he wrote me back sounding kinda down-in-the-dumps and he said he had to shut it down and go see Dr. Andrews again and he was a little concerned, but he said he was going to try it “one more time.” We all started crossing our fingers and hoping Steve was going to be ok at that point.
Joe: He said his arm was hurting him in the beginning like you said, and he just said it kinda went away.
Petey: I was hoping it would turn out to be scar tissue from the surgery breaking up, and that might be all it was.
Joe: He’s been pitching very well.
Petey: That’s great news, give him my best when you speak to him next.
Joe: Alrighty, I will.
Petey: And to finish up Joe, just a little personal info, not pertaining to baseball. What is your favorite movie?
Joe: My favorite movie? Awwww geez. I’d probably have to say Remember The Titans.
Petey: Oh yeah, excellent movie I love it.
Petey: Good choice, how about favorite musician or band?
Joe: Ummmm, I listen to all types of different genres, I would probably say I listen to a lot of Coldplay, kinda like to relax and just get my mind off of stuff. And I like a little bit of Hip-Hop and Rap, a guy by the name of Kid Ink.
Petey: Yeah I know Kid Ink, very cool. Are you going to be able to pick a song for when you come to bat this year?
Joe: Yeah but I’m not sure which one I’m going to use yet, so I’m still in the deciding process on that.
Petey: Okay, last question, what’s your favorite food?
Joe: Chicken Parmesian. I’ve been craving it since I got here, and I can’t wait to go home and have my mom cook it for me. If I could go home for just one meal and then come back, if it was that it would be perfect.
Petey: You mean you can’t find any chicken parm down there?
Joe: You can, but it’s nothing like homemade.
Petey: Oh hey I just remembered I wanted to ask you about one more player who had been hurt and is now hopefully on the mend. Last year’s 23rd-round draft pick, Jeff Diehl who had been sidelined early on in camp with lower back problems.
Joe: He went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago, and he came back and I guess they told him he needs to change positions, although I’m not a hundred percent sure about this one. He’s just been DH-ing the last couple of weeks and he’s been honestly killing the ball also.
Joe: Yeah, he’s been ripping the cover off of it just like Nimmo is.
Petey: Cause when I talked to Budgell, Diehl wasn’t even playing because of his back.
Joe: He was out for a long time, a very long time.
Petey: Yeah, so I guess the catching was responsible for putting that strain on his back.
Joe: Yeah he’s such a big kid and they don’t really see catchers of his height, so they suggested a position change for him.
Petey: That’s awesome, thanks a lot for that update on those players.
Joe: Your welcome.
Petey: Thanks again Joe for taking time out for this interview. The readers and staff at MMO really appreciate it! Have a great rest of camp, stay healthy, and we’ll see you in the regular season!
Joe: Thank you very much, and thank you for having me to do this interview.
Joe is an outstanding addition to the Mets farm system and hopefully he can stay healthy and productive in this his first full season in pro-ball. All of us at MMO wish Joe the best as he embarks on a new season, one full of promise and high hopes. Perhaps at this time next year when one discusses Nimmo and Taijeron and den Dekker, there will be another name in the mix for discussion as well: Joe Tuschak.