Thursday, June 11, 2015

Getting to Know Astros/Grizzlies C Tyler Heineman

I've always enjoyed talking with C Tyler Heineman on my various minor league trips, not only because he's smart and has a dry, quirky sense of humor, but also because of his honesty. He cuts to the chase and will give you his honest assessment on a wide variety of topics. It's refreshing since some ballplayers are very caught up with their images. With Heineman, what you see is what you get.

I had hoped to speak with Heineman when I was in Corpus Christi in early May, but I ran out of time so I was thrilled to hear that he had received a well-deserved promotion to Fresno just before I arrived later in the month. With the AA Hooks team, Heineman had a .318/.383/.400 slashline to go with a 54% caught stealing rate in 22 games. Since his promotion to the AAA Grizzlies team, he has boasted a .394/.412/.455 batting line over 9 games, but hasn't really had his arm tested too much yet; he has only had one baserunner attempt to steal on him so far. He is hitting .337/.387/.408 as a left-handed batter and .350/.409/.450 from the right.

Tyler Heineman - May 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Historically, Heineman has always been a strong offensive performer, but his numbers at Corpus Christi in 2014 were somewhat lackluster. I asked him about why he seemed to have struggled in 2014 and about his 2015 turnaround at the plate. Heineman said, "I was just getting used to splitting time I think. Last year was my first year splitting time and trying to do that in AA is a tough thing to do. In Tri-City and Lancaster, I basically played five, six times a week and had one off day. That was a bit of an adjustment. With [2014 Hooks Manager Keith] Bodie last year, I was trying to focus on defense and pitch calling and working on my ability to handle a game behind the plate. Some of the time I chose to go into his office to talk about pitch calling and managing a game as opposed to hitting in the cage so I think that had a little of a carryover effect. This year, I just tried to stay within what I'd normally try to do as opposed to try(ing) to be something I'm not and just go up there and compete."

Does he feel that extra worked helped him behind the dish? "Absolutely, the information (Bodie) gave me for defense was invaluable and he really cared about getting me better with putting the right fingers down and managing a staff, managing a game. I really appreciated that and I think it helped me a lot. Going to the big league camp last year for the first time, being with Murph [Catching Coach Jeff Murphy], who's here now, and doing early work every single morning before camp started really helped me kind of hone my skills defensively and just make sure my blocking was consistent, my throwing was consistent, my receiving was consistent," said Heineman.



Switch-Pitcher Pat Venditte - May 2015
Photos by Jayne Hansen

While I was in Fresno, Heineman got his his first AAA hit, an experience that he is likely to remember for a long time as he got it off switch-pitcher Pat Venditte who has since been promoted to the A's and whose unusual career spawned this much-mocked headline. When asked about the experience, Heineman told me, "I was a little nervous going up there to the plate. I was asking Robbie [Grossman] who is also a switch hitter about what to do. He (told me that Venditte would have to) declare so I walked up there left-handed and he put his glove on his right hand to throw left-handed so I'm going to switch over to the right side and it got me a little rattled but it was definitely nice to get that first hit out of the way. They made the rule [that Venditte was required to declare] because of him. It's called the Venditte Rule or whatever."

While at Corpus Christi, Heineman shared catching duties with Roberto Pena who is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) defensive catchers in the minor leagues. Of their friendly rivalry, Heineman said, "Every time that we caught, we tried to be better than the other guy, but in a friendly kind of way. If I throw someone out, I'll ask for the time I threw him out on, what the clock was. And whatever it was, say it was a 1.94, the next game if Pena throws a guy out, it will be a 1.91 or something. We'll bicker back and forth at each other. It's just friendly kind of competition that helps us both grow as players. And I think he's outstanding behind the plate and I think he's going to be a big leaguer for a while. I love playing with him and I'm glad that he's going to be able to play every day down there."

My final question to Heineman ... has it hit you since the promotion to AAA just how close you are to the majors? "I think it hits you a little bit. For me, it was spring training. Going to the big league camp and just realizing what you see on TV is really not that different from what you're used to playing at. It's just a more consistent level of baseball than AA and AAA. You kind of realize that you can play with them, you're able to stay up with them and be with them and it gives you the confidence that one day if you were called upon, you can do your job and don't have to be scared about it. Being in AAA, seeing a bunch of guys like Barry Zito and a lot of big leaguers ... it kind of hits you that, wow, you're extremely close. I try not to think about it as much as possible, just try to do the best I can and help the team win that I'm on now."

Heineman will help any team that he's a part of win. He will make any team that he's part of better whether it is at the plate or behind it.

Thank you for your time, Tyler, and best of luck as the season continues to unfold.


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Other recent interviews:
1B Jon Singleton
LHP Bryan Radziewski
1B A.J. Reed
RHP Joe Musgrove
3B J.D. Davis
LHP Albert Minnis
SS Carlos Correa
RHP Tyson Perez

You can find more on virtually every player in the Astros minor league system in the 2015 Houston Farm System Handbook available on Amazon for download to your kindle, iPad, laptop, desktop or smart phone.

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