Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Interview with C Tyler Heineman

Drafted out of UCLA by the Astros in the eighth round in 2012, C Tyler Heineman immediately made his mark playing for the Tri-City ValleyCats in 2012. Heineman hit .358/.452/.430 with 14 doubles in 55 games on his way to winning the New York-Penn League batting title. He drew 26 walks to only a dozen strikeouts, and he swiped six bases himself while catching 41% of opposing base stealers. A catcher with a good arm that can also hit, doesn't strike out a lot and can steal an occasional base? Be still, my beating heart!

Tyler did this interview with Baseball Life 365 a couple months back that has some great background information on him. I tried not to cover the same ground when I "talked" with him via email. Here's what he had to say (edited for clarity only) ~

WTH: Did you know that the Astros were interested in you before they drafted you in the 8th round? Had you heard from other teams? Did you think your lack of playing time prior to your junior year might lead to your being undervalued in the draft? (I ask this because one site called you the most underappreciated catcher in college baseball.)

TH: I received interest from all 30 teams via questionnaire or talking on the phone to scouts or both. So I knew the Astros were interested in me, but I felt like they were not one of the top teams interested in me. I talked to about five other clubs every week leading up to the draft so I thought one of those teams was going to draft me. I am not sure if my lack of playing time led me to be undervalued in the draft. I would like to say 'yes' but who knows! I wouldn't change my road to getting drafted at all because I loved playing for UCLA and Coach John Savage. Learning from him and the other coaches for three years really helped my growth tremendously as a ballplayer.

WTH: Were you aware that you were in the running for the NYPL batting title? If so, how did you handle that pressure?

TH: Yeah, I knew that I had one of the best batting averages in the league. I didn't know what my average was, but when I would get interviewed after games they would tell me that stuff. I didn't really take it as pressure. More of a challenge to see if I could go out and continue to hit well game by game. By focusing one game at a time and one at-bat at a time, it made me not think ahead five games from now or how the other top hitters in the league were hitting that day. So, no pressure, just tried to take it one game at a time and make every game a season in and of itself. What I mean by that is if I go 2-for-4 in a game, I'm hitting .500 on the season. Not bad. Then it starts over the next day. Makes every day and every game interesting. Helps me not waste at-bats.

WTH: For Tri-City, you hit .333 vs. LHP and .366 vs. RHP. Have you always been that consistent from both sides of the plate?

TH: I usually feel more comfortable when I am hitting left-handed. But ever since I got to pro ball, the extra batting practice that I was allowed to take enabled me to switch off and hit more right-handed than I was used to doing in the past. I was a natural right-handed hitter in high school until I decided to try and switch hit when I was a sophomore.

WTH: The 2012 Tri-City team was stacked with good pitching. What was the best part and the most challenging part in working with that staff? What are the biggest challenges for you overall as a catcher?

TH: Everyone on our staff was great and really fun to work with. I would say the best part was knowing that almost every guy had more than one good pitch that could get guys out so it made calling a game pretty fun. There weren't really any challenges working with the staff in Tri-City. I really enjoyed every pitcher and I learned a lot from them and I hope they learned some things from me as well. The biggest challenge for me as a catcher is tough. But again, I think of each thing like a game that I try and get better at each time I do it. I really enjoyed calling my own game for the first time since high school. It forces you to think multiple pitches, sometimes even hitters ahead. And that part of the game is extremely fun and addicting. But I love every bit about catching there is. I don't think there is any position like it.

WTH: What surprised you most about playing professional baseball? What was the best part of the season for you?

TH: Nothing really surprised me. I knew a lot coming in just by asking friends of mine how it was that were drafted before me. So I wasn't surprised. One thing that I had to get used to was playing everyday as opposed to four times a week. Those three extra games make a difference and really make you focus on eating right and working out the right way in order to feel good later on down the road. The best part of the season was the playoffs. Just as a whole team striving for one goal and pulling for each other, it is a really good bonding experience.

WTH: Which pitcher from the Tri-City team would you least like to face in the batter's box?

TH: Wow, that's a tough one. We had a ton of tough guys. From Travis Ballew and [John] Neely out of the 'pen to [Brady] Rodgers, [Aaron] West, and [Vince] Velasquez in the rotation. Even Kenny Long before he got promoted. I would have to say Vince Velasquez though. He has an electric fast ball and I think it would be real fun to face him. Plus we would always joke around with each other about me facing him.

WTH: Was there a player or pitcher on the team that you just enjoyed sitting back and watching?

TH: Probably Preston Tucker and M.P. Cokinos. I loved watching Tucker take BP. Just the way the ball came off the bat and had so much back spin and [how it would] fly out of the park on a dead line was fun to watch. I just loved the energy Cokinos brought out on the field every day. He has so much fun on the field and you can tell [that].

WTH: Who on the team made you laugh?

TH: Again, I would have to say Cokinos and Tucker. Tucker was my roommate so we had some good times together. But any time you came into the locker room, you would look around for me or MP and you would see us together laughing. Almost every time.

WTH: What are you doing in the off-season? How are you preparing for the full season grind?

TH: Training hard with a personal trainer making sure my body is ready to go for the full season. I am learning so much about how to prepare the body the right way by nutrition and stretching before and after competition that I believe will really help my game. And just coming back as strong as I possibly can be.

WTH: Can you tell me something about yourself that most people don't know and might be surprised to hear?

TH: I am a pretty good artist. I took AP art in high school and I did really well. I try and draw things so they look as close to the actual picture or object as possible. A photorealist. Not very many people know that about me.
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It doesn't take a photorealist to draw the conclusion that Tyler Heineman has a very bright future in the Astros organization.

Thank you for your time, Tyler, and the best of luck in the 2013 season. I hope to see you play in person very soon.

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