Saturday, August 1, 2015

Getting to Know Astros/Hooks 2B/SS Jack Mayfield

You probably saw this picture taken during the California/Carolina League All-Star Game in June.



And, unless you are a serious fan of the Astros minor league team, you probably recognized the former #2 prospect in the Astros system (per MLB pipeline) OF Brett "Maverick" Phillips and the current #6 prospect in the Astros system 1B A.J. Reed, but you wondered to yourself, "Who is Jack Mayfield?"

Well, you won't be helped out if you search for Jack Mayfield in Baseball-Reference because the only Jack Mayfield listed played for the Amarillo Gold Sox in the West Texas-New Mexico League for one season in 1948 and passed away in 2010 at the age of 84. But upon a little digging, you will find a David Mayfield in the Astros system.

Jack Mayfield - September 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

David "Jack" Mayfield has always gone by Jack, but unless you know that you may have missed him. So it is little wonder that Mayfield continues to fly under the radar despite sitting beside two of the Top 10 Astros prospects in the All-Star dugout and subsequently getting promoted alongside those same two players to Corpus Christi within roughly two weeks of each other.

When I was in Lancaster in May, all three players were still there. I interviewed Reed and Phillips, but didn't get to Mayfield due to time constraints. But when I spoke with Lancaster Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson, I asked him who on the team he felt was flying under the radar. His immediate response? Jack Mayfield. A fan of Mayfield's versatility, Robinson said of him, "I'd go to war with Jack anytime."

In my recent interview with Hooks LHP Chris Cotton, Cotton (knowing that I was set to interview Mayfield) told me to ask Mayfield about the time Cotton got him out in the Super Regionals. He couldn't resist the little dig on Mayfield, but promptly added, "Look how he's doing now. I'm surprised I was able to get the guy out. He's a stud."

So, who is Jack Mayfield? Mayfield was signed by the Astros as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Oklahoma in 2013. After a solid junior year, the draft questionnaires came, but the call never did. More questionnaires in his senior year, but again no call. Whether or not an injury in high school that left him with a screw in his elbow scared teams off, he'll never know. But when the Astros contacted him with a post-draft offer, he jumped at the chance to start his professional playing career.

From the time he signed, one of his goals was to get to Corpus Christi. A native of the border town of Del Rio, Texas, he was looking forward to a time when his family would be only a 4-hour car ride away. Mayfield fulfilled that goal in early July when he was promoted from High A Lancaster to AA Corpus Christi, after hitting .303/.370/.458 in 66 games and making the All-Star team. Mayfield quickly made a statement at AA by going 4-for-4 in his first game and hitting a home run in his second. (He also sports a very impressive .394/.463/.577 batting line with two outs and runners in scoring position for the season.)

When I talked to Mayfield last week, he told me that he has been very impressed with everything in Corpus so far. "This place is unreal. They really try and and take care of you here. They make you enjoy the game a little bit more and everything is just a little bit better than High A," said Mayfield.

But it wasn't Mayfield's first experience at Whataburger Field. He played there in both his freshman and senior years when the University of Oklahoma played in the Kleburg Bank College Classic. According to Mayfield, "My senior year, I had a really good series here and a late home run in the eighth inning to help us win the game. They ended up giving me MVP for the tournament. I actually played good on this field so I was excited to come back."

Mayfield cites his California League All-Star honor as a big accomplishment for the 2015 season. "I started off the season really slow and I didn't even think about that. I started playing a little better and a little better and the first time I realized (that it might be a possibility was when) we were playing Inland Empire. Their third base coach (and Manager, Denny Hocking) always talks to us when we're on defense. I made a pretty good play and he (said), 'I can't wait until the All-Star ballot comes around. I'm going to vote for you a hundred times.' I looked at him and laughed, but that made me realize, 'Hey, I've got a shot at being on the All-Star team. I've just got to keep playing good and just keep my mind right.' And, eventually, I got picked," said Mayfield.

And, although earning championship rings with the 2013 Tri-City team and the 2014 Lancaster team will always rank as his biggest accomplishments to date, the All-Star nod ranks as his greatest individual accomplishment. "It was awesome whenever (Lancaster Manager) Omar Lopez let me know that I made the team." As far as playing in the All-Star game alongside top prospects Brett Phillips and A.J. Reed, Mayfield said, "It's definitely a great feeling (playing with) those two guys who are unreal at baseball (but are also) great guys first of all."

I asked him what someone who has yet to see him play could expect to see when he takes the field. Mayfield responded, "I just try to bring the same energy every game. A guy like me, throughout my career, I've had to give that little extra effort on and off the field. I'm that guy that hasn't been noticed a lot so I definitely have to make a first impression. On the field, I'd like to say that I'm a grinder that always plays the game the right way and always plays it 110%. My Dad and my brother always said, 'If you're going to play the game, give it your all.' When I make a mistake, I try to keep my head up. I try not to get down on myself when I (have a bad game). I try to stay the same person all the time. If I have a great game or if I have a bad game, I'll always be the same guy. I'm just a guy that enjoys playing the game. I try and have fun out there. I don't try and be too serious."

One of the questions I like to ask position players is what Astros farm system pitcher they would least like to face. Mayfield told me that he wouldn't be too eager to face RHP Jandel Gustave. "This year I'd have to say Gustave. I had never seen him throw like he's throwing here in Corpus. He's showing so much confidence on the mound. He has a good presence up there. He throws 98 to 100 and he throws a slider about 90. He acts like he knows what he is doing now. He looks like a bulldog up there," said Mayfield. It wasn't always that way with Gustave. Mayfield remembers a time earlier in his career when Gustave didn't always know where the ball was going. Now, according to Mayfield, Gustave spots up the ball well and has earned the closer's role in Corpus Christi.

I had originally tried to get in touch with Mayfield in the off-season after he got back from playing winter ball in Panama but that didn't work out. But I still wanted to hear a little about the experience. Mayfield's half Hispanic heritage and his travel to visit family in Mexico prepared him well for the culture in Panama which he found to be somewhat similar. As to the baseball side of it, Mayfield said, "I really enjoyed seeing how much they love the game of baseball over there. That's one of the things the kids live for." No matter what time the team would get to the field, the younger players on a junior team were already there, hitting, throwing and fielding. "Those kids were just out there having fun and that was something I'd look forward to every day," said Mayfield.

Mayfield continued, "It was a great experience. I learned a lot of things about the game. It definitely humbles you, playing over there in different countries. Makes you appreciate the game. Makes you realize how nice we have it over here."

But more importantly, the experience helped Mayfield understand where he was in his career and what he needed to work on. In particular, he felt as though he was able to take things from the experience to help him as a defensive player. "You see all these kids playing in the not so well taken care of fields ... and these kids are good over there. Just seeing that, I knew that I had some improvement that I could do. I definitely learned over there how to be just a little bit more relaxed on defense, try and get a little smoother," said Mayfield. Mayfield built on that experience going in to Spring Training and now feels more confident with his defense no matter what the position he's asked to play. Although second base is his best position, he showed that he was more than capable manning short as he did regularly for the Lancaster team this season.

Mayfield may not be well known by those who only follow the top prospects, but he has earned the respect of his coaches and fellow players as he makes his way up the ladder. He is someone who brings versatility and an even-keeled demeanor to any team. Mayfield has a simple philosophy, "I'm trying to be a guy on a team that helps them win a ballgame. I don't mind where I play. I just like playing the game. I like hitting. I like helping the team win. Any way they need me, I enjoy being on the field." And every team needs someone who can be that guy.

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Thank you for your time, Jack. And best of luck as you pursue your third championship ring in as many seasons.

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