The San Diego Padres selected infielder Maxx Tissenbaum in the 11th round of the 2012 draft. Since he was drafted, Tissenbaum has kept a regular blog about his career and his journey through the minor leagues. In this two part series, Padres 101 took the opportunity to talk to Tissenbaum about his quest to become a major leaguer. In the second part of this series, Tissenbaum discusses the last year of his career.
Mike Phillips: What was it like to face the number one pick in the draft, Mark Appel, in a game this year?
Maxx Tissenbaum: I’ve actually faced him a couple of times in the past. I faced him after my freshman year in college in an intercollegiate summer league and then I faced him again at Cape Cod. He’s an unbelievable pitcher stuff wise. He’s got a really big fastball and can bring it up there to 95-98 miles per hour, and he’s got a huge breaking ball and really good changeup. For whatever reason, the first time I faced him I had a broken bat double and then another hit off of him. I think that kind of put it in my mind that I have his number so I’ve always kind of seen the ball well off of him. I think I had two hits off him when I faced him this year. It’s exciting facing guys like that. It’s the most enjoyable part for me, going up against guys who people sort of say you’re not supposed to get a hit off of or you’re not supposed to beat. That’s the biggest challenge, that’s the most fun.
Appel, the first overall choice of the Houston Astros, was pitching for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the organization’s Single-A Club, while Tissenbaum played for the Fort Wayne Tin Caps in the Midwest League. Tissenbaum went 2 for 3 on the day.
MP: Which of your coaches had the biggest influence on you this season?
MT: I think our hitting coach, Morgan Burkhart. He and I started to work together a couple of weeks before spring training was over when it looked the roster was about to shake down. I got out there, and there was one day in training where I went walked on all four of my at bats, but I felt like I was swinging at bad pitches and getting on base so it was like a little notch in my belt. He (Burkhart) came up to me after the game and said “We’re going to the cages tomorrow and we’re gonna get out there 7:15, 7:30 and we’re just gonna talk about hitting, what you need to do, and sort of your process.” So we get out there and he said “Okay, what do you get frustrated about when you draw a walk?” I said to him, “I felt like I was swinging at bad pitches and still getting on, and in spring training I want to be working towards my process, not working towards results.” From that point on, we had a pretty good understanding of each other. He was understanding my swing, I was understanding how he works with the hitters, and we just had a very open line of communication. He would come up to me at my locker before games and goof off with me, show me video of the day’s starting pitcher. I’d go to him after batting practice and say “Hey, what do you think of this?” Little communication like that was a huge help in my process and my ability this summer.
MP: What was like it like to play under Jose Valentin, who had a long major league career, and what kind of advice did he give you guys?
MT: Jose was awesome to play for, first and foremost. He’s a guy that loves his players, and he’s willing to go after it for his guys. His biggest challenge was, with our team being so young, there were a lot of times that he was reminding guys this isn’t just baseball anymore, it’s now a job. You’ve gotta produce, you’ve gotta be able to put up the numbers you’re expected to put up, and even though that sounds like a lot of pressure to just relax and you can’t worry about your numbers because that’s out of your control. The way that he taught us that was a little bit about managing our bodies, managing our time, managing our work, to the point where one of the things he said was “work smart and not harder”. I think that sort of resonated with me because I’ve always been a guy who if I’m not hitting I’ll go into the cage and hit for three hours until my hands bleed. Hearing that, talking about that with him he said, “That’s fine once in a while, but over the course of 140 games in a minor league season, 150 games in the big leagues you’re not gonna be able to do that every time you’re not hitting.” So all those times talking to him about how to get through a tough stretch, that was something that was really important and something that really helped me.
Tissenbaum raved about his coaches, particularly Burkhart and Valentin. Under Burkhart’s tutelage, Tissenbaum hit .277 with two home runs and 49 RBI’s while racking up 115 hits, 28 doubles, and scoring 48 runs on the year. Valentin guided the Tin Caps to a 72-67 record, which saw them reach the playoffs before falling to the South Bend Silver Hawks in the first round.
MP: I see you’ve spent some time working in the Dominican Republic this winter. What has that been like?
MT: Its completely different. I had been down there once before with the Canadian Junior National Team and that trip we spent the ten days that we were down there, we were in a resort on the beach and it was kind of drive up for the day, come back and hang out on the beach, play volleyball, play mini golf or whatever else there was in the resort. This time, we got down there and we stayed in our Dominican complex and we were about an hour and a half southwest of the capital, living there in dormitories where there was about 20 American guys and 30 or so Latin American players. The complex was so different from what we’re used to living in here, its two beds and a closet that’s it. No TV’s, the internet was pretty shotty, it would sort of come in and out, there were two TV’s in the entire complex and there was one bathroom upstairs and one downstairs and everything’s in Spanish. We’d do everything we had to do and it was just practice and play, and after that it was like its 2:00 in the afternoon, what are we gonna do for the rest of the day. A lot of us went down to the beach, which was a 15 minute walk away. We’d walk down there and just hang out by the beach, sort of pass three hours come back for dinner and wake up and do it all over again.
Tissenbaum was one of several prospects invited to the Padres’ instructional complex in the Dominican Republic. Tissenbaum would spend 24 days working on his craft in the Dominican. While he was there, he was asked to learn a new position.
MP: The Padres have asked you to learn how to catch this year. How big a transition has that been for you?
MT: It was crazy. I’d always had it in the back of my mind that it would happen at some point. I’d heard it from scouts and coaches since I was probably 15 years old, you know “Maxx you’re not fast enough, you’re not big enough and you ought to think about catching.” When we had that discussion, they told me you’re gonna go in the winter and that’s when you’re gonna learn how to catch. I sort of put it in my head “Okay, that’s what I’m doing” but then actually getting down there and seeing my locker not with all the regular players but on the wall where all the catchers are and seeing a bag of catchers gear in my locker, it really did shock me even though I knew it was gonna happen. The first couple of weeks down there was a whole lot of learning since I’d never done it before. There were a lot of things coming at me about receiving, about positioning, about calling, working with pitchers, and I think I’m lucky in the fact that I lived in the game so much growing up that some of it was easier to pick up than a guy who just sort of was asked. It was a ton of work just trying to figure out how to get into a good position to receive, a good position to give a target to the pitcher, how to sort of stay behind the guy that’s swinging but still get enough momentum to throw a guy out at second base. It’s a lot of work.
MP: I see from your blog that Detroit Tigers’ Manager Brad Ausmus has helped you acclimate to catching. What have you learned from him?
MT: He was down there for close to a week. He came down sort of halfway through, but the thing that surprised me that he was telling me was slow everything down. I felt like having all that gear on me and being in a squat for the first time for an extended period of time I was moving really slowly. I was trying to do a lot of different drills barely just throwing down to second base, but I felt like I was sitting and waiting for the ball to come to me. He said “I’ve watched enough catchers, you’re just lunging out at the ball. You’re trying to rush everything. Just slow down. Trust that what we’re telling you is the right thing to do, the right way to do it and just let your body do it, don’t force it.”
MP: Which major league player (past or present) do you compare yourself to?
MT: That’s a tough one. I feel like I share a lot of similarities with (Dustin) Pedroia. Obviously he’s one of the best in the game but I think that the way he plays and the way I play are very sort of emotional. He plays a team first game, that’s sort of something I’ve always focused on. I’m not a guy who can just go out and put up flashy numbers, flashy sort of stats on a sheet. I’ve always had to do the little things right. In college I was speaking with our coach about how everybody didn’t know how to bunt, I was never a guy who was afraid to put one down to try and beat it out. If it ended up being a sacrifice, that’s fine too. I think he’s a good comparison in that way, kind of the guy who has the dirtiest uniform at the end of the night.
Tissenbaum has been working hard this winter, and if all goes according to plan he will begin 2014 with the Padres’ High-A affiliate, the Lake Elsinore Storm. While it’s not clear yet where he will be playing, Tissenbaum does have a clear goal in mind for the next season.
MP: Last one. What are your goals for the upcoming season?
MT: I’m still trying to develop what they are, but I think that the number one thing for me is to develop a better mental approach to the game. Looking back on this year and looking at my numbers, I was way up and way down month to month. Physically I’m going .320, .220, .320, .220, and I know that during those stretches when I wasn’t hitting it wore on me mentally. I was really down on myself. I was pressing, trying to get a hit. That’s something that my parents have talked to me about, my coaches have talked to me about. That’s the number one thing for me. Not having a certain idea of whether I’m gonna be playing the infield or catching full time kind of makes it difficult to come up with an on field goal, but I think that having a better mental approach and sort of working on mental training will help me with whichever position I end up playing and will help with my hitting too.
If you want to follow Maxx Tissenbaum’s exploits this season, check out his blog at www.canadianbaseballnetwork.com/authors/maxxtissenbaum.
Interview conducted and article written by Mike Phillips.
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