Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting to Know Astros/River Bandits 3B Nick Tanielu

Since being drafted by the Astros in the 14th round in 2014 out of Washington State University, 3B Nick Tanielu has been a steady presence on the roster, first for Tri-City in 2014 and for Quad Cities this season. He was an All-Star both seasons. He has hit equally well in each of his two seasons and currently owns a .307/.355/.431 career line. He is hitting .333/.394/.522 with two outs and runners in scoring position for the season. He is hitting .317/.367/.444 against right-handers and .292/.324/.406 against lefties. As Quad Cities Manager Josh Bonifay puts it, Tanielu has been "that guy," the guy in the 3 and 4 hole who provides stability to the line-up and consistent at-bats.

I spoke with Tanielu earlier this month about his season so far, what he's working on, his not-so-serious side and the overall competitiveness of ballplayers among other things.

Nick Tanielu - August 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Of his season, Tanielu said, "I feel like it's been a great year so far. I feel like coming in this year I had to work on (my) power numbers, and I feel like the coaches here prepared me for that. They've given me the tools. I just have to execute that. And I feel that, as a team, this team's accomplished a lot. We came in. We were hot. We had a lot of guys here that aren't here anymore that were really hot, leading the league as a matter of fact. Then we lose a lot of guys and the team we have now is rolling. A lot of chemistry, a lot of guys trusting one another, trusting that they'll get the job done and our coaching staff trusts us as well."

According to Tanielu, he feels that the key to his continued development is to "just keep working every day." Tanielu knows what he needs to work on ... his power numbers, his speed, and his footwork when he's asked to play second base. He intends to work in the offseason on all of those things in addition to goals that the coaching staff will give him in an upcoming end of season meeting.

And the coaching staff will likely set lofty goals for Nick. Quad Cities Hitting Coach Joel Chimelis spoke highly of Tanielu and his season, but at the same time indicated that he expects much more from the third baseman. Tanielu understands where Chimelis is coming from. "Last year, talking to my agent after the year, he thought it was a good year. But then you go back in the offseason and you think, 'I could have done this. I could have done that.' And that was the main thing this year working with Chimelis. He tries to get so much out of you, and I think we've made big strides this year, but there's also so much more to accomplish. I think with the work he's giving me in the offseason, doing that, trying to stay healthy, get stronger, I think I can make some strides coming in to the next Spring Training. That's the plan."

Bonifay has been impressed with how hard Tanielu has worked this season in making the adjustments that Chimelis set for him, "First part of the year, he would just pepper the right side and Joel's just done a tremendous job working with him on the ability to hit balls to left field and being able to drive balls. He's just come a long way. He's put in hours and hours of focused work and it's been fun to see him."

And Tanielu is very focused. When I first saw him in Tri-City in 2014, I thought he was almost too focused and serious, but he definitely showed me his playful side during my recent visit to Quad Cities. Bonifay said of Nick, "He's really fun in the clubhouse. He keeps the guys loose. They keep each other entertained. And if you can ever get him to break off a rap, it's pretty impressive. Give him three words, he can dominate one."

When I mentioned the different sides I'd seen of him in the two seasons, Tanielu told me, "Last year was a little different. First year of pro ball, you kind of want to be serious, try to get your work done. Last year's team was playful as well but ... a lot of college guys were grinding it out. A lot of guys were tired. But this year, starting fresh and knowing a lot of the guys, it's great. You're spending every day with them. You've got to spark things up a little bit and there's plenty of guys on this team to do it with."

One of the things that Tanielu and company do to keep loose is playing hole-in-one dugout golf before games. In my experience, ballplayers make everything into a competition. Tanielu agreed, "Me and Ramon (Laureano) started that a couple days ago and now we've got a few guys on it, but honestly that's just how it is. Whatever we're doing, there's always some kind of competition going on from shooting a piece of paper into a garbage can or trying to get a baseball into a sewer unit."

When asked what Astros pitcher he would least like to face, Tanielu was expansive in his answer. "We'll start with our team. First of all, I wouldn't want to face (Ryan) Thompson just because he's a sidewinder guy and his slider's pretty nasty. We went to watch (Lance) McCullers pitch when he pitched against the White Sox. He was pretty electric. I wouldn't want anything to do with that. Last would probably be Musgrove, just because he's a bulldog up there. He's going to attack you with every pitch he's got and I think he's definitely one of my favorite pitchers to watch. I don't think I'd have a fun time in the box when he's up there."

If Tanielu couldn't play baseball, he would likely utilize his Criminal Justice major. "I'd probably join law enforcement, not necessarily be a cop, but that's always something I've wanted to do, been intrigued by. I like working with kids too so maybe a coaching career at one point but right now, it would probably be criminal justice," said Tanielu.

In asking Tanielu for something most people don't know about him, I got a two-fer, including the origins of his somewhat unusual name. Tanielu told me, "I'm a big WWE wrestling fan. I like The Rock. He was one of my idols growing up, him being Samoan and me being Samoan. It always gave me hope for Samoans to get on the big stage. Now that he's in the movies and everything, he gives Samoan/Polynesian kids hope."

It seems quite appropriate that The Rock is an idol of Tanielu's since that is precisely what he's been for Josh Bonifay and the Quad Cities team. The first word out of Bonifay's mouth when I mentioned Tanielu's name was "Leader." Bonifay continued, "He is a true leader. Leads by example. Very quiet. Goes about his business the right way. Gives you tremendous at-bats. Leads the team and really doesn't say much." A rock.

Thank you for your time, Nick, and best of luck as you head toward the postseason.

Other Recent Interviews:
RHP Dean Deetz
OF Jason Martin
1B Bryan Muniz

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