Miami Marlins prospect Maxx Tissenbaum has led an exciting baseball life already despite still waiting for his Major League debut. He was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and was drafted out of high school by his home town team, the Toronto Blue Jays. He elected to attend college rather than sign, however. After a successful college career at Stony Brook, he was drafted by the San Diego Padres and signed in 2012. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays a year and a half later as part of a seven player deal, then selected by the Miami Marlins as part of the Rule 5 Draft two years later. A few days ago, Tissenbaum won the Australian Baseball League championship as part of the Brisbane Bandits. An interesting and exciting career so far, but Maxx was nice enough to take some time to answer questions for us all the way from Australia. Here is the conversation we had:
Since starting your professional career with the San Diego Padres in 2012, you’ve appeared in games as a first baseman, a second baseman, a third baseman, a catcher, and a designated hitter. You even got out on the mound as a pitcher in 2015. What position, if any, do you consider your natural position? What are the challenges involved with having to be ready to play in different places while other players stick to one spot for their entire careers?
“I grew up playing shortstop and second base which is what I was recruited to college as, and then drafted as by the Padres. While I was with the Padres I got the opportunity to play some games at each corner spot as a way to help out my versatility and show that I could do a lot of different things to stay in the lineup. In 2013, I went to the Padres instructional league and began my transition to catcher, and that was further solidified when I arrived at Rays camp my first year. Paul Hoover, the Rays catching coach, did an incredible job teaching me the fundamentals, drills and techniques needed to be a catcher. When I’m asked what position I play I now answer with “I’m a catcher.” I’ve never found it to be a challenge playing multiple positions, I think it actually helps because it has allowed me to stay in the lineup more. Now that I’m a full time catcher its just kind of a bonus to have in the back pocket that if somebody gets hurt and we need a guy in a pinch, I can help out and be that guy.”
You were drafted out of high school in the 43rd round by your hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays, but elected not to sign with them, instead attending Stony Brook University like fellow Marlin Tom Koehler. The decision seemingly paid off, as you were then drafted in the 11th round of the 2012 draft by the San Diego Padres. What went into the decision and how difficult was it to forego playing for your hometown team and instead play college ball for a few years?
“It was a fairly easy decision. I really wanted to go to school and get to grow up a little bit. I knew how long the odds were of making it to the big leagues as a 43rd round pick, and the Blue Jays sort of told me that they were picking a bunch of Canadian high school guys as a congratulations type of thing. They also said they thought school would be the best option for me to develop as a player.”
You were part of a multi-player trade in January of 2014 between the Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays which saw you moved to the Rays along with Logan Forsythe, Brad Boxberger, Matt Andriese, and Matt Lollis in return for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. What was that experience like and how did you find out that you were being moved? Were there any unexpected challenges involved in joining a new organization in the middle of the offseason?
“I was at home working at my offseason job as an assistant in the purchasing department at Splash International Marketing when I got an email from AJ Hinch asking me to call the front office. I called in, the conversation was brief, a la Moneyball, and the next thing I knew my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing because of all the social media response to the trade. It was extremely strange knowing that I was suddenly going to Spring Training in Florida rather than Arizona, and knowing that I’d no longer be with the group of guys I’d come to know from the Padres organization.”
The Miami Marlins selected you from the Rays in the Rule 5 minor league draft in December of 2015. Did you know that teams would be interested in you as a potential Rule 5 selection or were you surprised by the news that you’d be moving to the Marlins organization? Again switching clubs in the offseason, what do you do to prepare for a whole new team when the season begins?
“I knew that it was my Rule 5 year but I hadn’t heard anything about anybody being interested. I was extremely surprised when I got the news because the draft actually happened at around 4 am Brisbane time, so I woke up to everybody knowing except me. I had some great conversations with the front office the day of the draft and that put my mind at ease a bit, then I got the opportunity to go to a mini camp in Jupiter which allowed me to get my feet wet too.”
You did well in High-A with the Rays organization in 2014, hitting .288/.327/.399 in 86 games. Despite the numbers, you repeated the same level in 2015. Given the chance to repeat High-A, did you work on specific parts of your game throughout the season or is there too much chaos in the life of playing games every day to be able to concentrate on individual parts of your game?
“I was back in Port Charlotte to get more time behind the plate. Being so new to catching, the Rays told me that I would get the best opportunity to play more defensively there, so I repeated the level. I focused on trying to clean up my blocking and receiving so that I could show I can be an everyday catcher.”
You’ve always shown excellent plate discipline, with 111 walks and 117 strikeouts throughout your minor league career. In fact, in two of your four seasons, you walked more than you struck out. What is it about your approach or your swing that you think helps you make a lot of contact with the ball? Is it something you work on improving or just a natural part of your game? As you move up the minors, you’ll undoubtedly face tougher pitchers. What do you plan to do to adjust to better control and sharper breaking balls?
“It’s something I’ve always been good at. I grew up watching John Olerud of the Blue Jays and he had a very simple, short, compact swing that I copied. Having that approach of being short and not worrying about power always allowed me to have good bat on ball skills. As I’ve matured as a player I’ve learned to be comfortable hitting with two strikes, which takes off some of the pressure of being behind. During my time at Stony Brook we spent countless hours working on our two strike hitting and as a result we had something like four of the ten hardest players to strikeout in the NCAA.”
You’ve played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League for the past two seasons. What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between the minor leagues and the Australian League? What are some things that are different that people might not realize?
“The major difference is that unlike the minor leagues this league has a huge variety in experience levels. Some guys are first year rookie ball players, some are mid minors prospects and some have MLB playing experience. It’s an incredibly diverse league with guys from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan as well as the Americans and Canadians and of course Australians.”
The Perth Heat have won four of the five Australian Baseball League championships, with the Canberra Cavalry’s 2012-2013 win being the only interruption. Are the Heat viewed as an “Evil Empire” by fans in Australia, like the New York Yankees of the late 1990s? Why do you think they have been so successful up until having a rough year this season?
“They are absolutely the evil empire of Australian Baseball. They have a lot of really high level Australians which is a huge bonus. They’ve recruited well and had big time import players come in around mid year to be a boost for them, so their winning formula has been their core of Aussies and add a few big name bats mid year.”
Your team, the Brisbane Bandits, earned the number one seed with a 37-19 record, six games better than the second place Canberra Calvary. The Calvary lost to the Adelaide Bite in a three game series, sending the Bite to Brisbane for a three game championship series. The last game your team played was on January 24th. How do you prepare for a crucial series despite 11 days in between games? Are there things you do differently that you wouldn’t be doing during a shorter gap between games?
“We’ve had a whole bunch of practices since the final games, and we’ve developed into a team that can get its work done without formal stuff scheduled. We have lots of guys who are extremely self motivated who get to the field on days off to work, and who really encourage the others to do the same. Obviously we have a bit more recovery time so we are able to lift a bit heavier and train a bit harder than we would if we played every day but it’s pretty much trying to keep our own individual routines.”
You had a blog that ran as part of MLB.com/blogs in which you would update your readers about your journey through the minor leagues. What inspired you to create the detailed updates and what kind of interactions would you have with followers because of it? The teams you played for were obviously aware that you ran a blog, given that it was on MLB.com, but were you ever given pointers or guidelines regarding what to cover in your writing?
“The blog was the brainchild of my mom and sister. My mom said it would be cool to journal about my experiences, but I never kept up with it. My sister said I should try and blog to see if the interaction would make me keep it going. I loved that aspect of it and that’s why I kept it going as much as I did. It was awesome to answer questions through it and to explain how this job isn’t just about the millionaires on TV every night. It was meant to not only be a record for me to look back on, but also to humanize the pro athlete to the fans. I always had people within the organizations making sure to tell me not to post anything too specific like our bunt plays or signals but it was more a way just to open up this world to people who aren’t inside of it and are interested.”
Thank you to Maxx for taking the time to have this conversation, and a huge congratulations to him and his teammates for winning the Australian Baseball League Championship in the time since we spoke. You can follow Maxx on Twitter @8_Maxx and keep an eye out for him at Marlins Spring Training in Jupiter, Florida.