BB: Going back to the draft, you had been highly touted coming into your draft year but in the draft you slipped to the sixth round. Were you happy to be drafted there or was it disappointing?
BJ: It was a tough collegiate year, not only for myself but for my team. Your goal as a kid is just to be drafted, but I had a chance to go high in the draft but I didn't have a successful year, and we at the University of Florida didn't have as successful a year as you would hope to have heading into the draft year. It was a tough year, it was tough time at the draft but when I found out what sort of organization I was going to play for I was very thrilled to see what position I was put in, and I couldn't be happier. It was disappointing at the time but at the same time I am getting paid to play baseball and as a kid that's a dream. It was something I was very excited about and I am still excited to say I am playing for the Toronto Blue Jays in the minor leagues. It's an honour to say I am a professional baseball player, I am not where I want to be in the major leagues, but it's an unbelievable experience.
BB: How did you find the transition to professional baseball, playing seven days a week?
BJ: It's tough, it's a grind, you have to grind every game out, every at-bat, every pitch, as a catcher you can't take a pitch off because if you do, sure enough that pitch will be in the dirt and if you're not ready for it you won't be able to block it. That's what the off-season is for, to me the off-season is to get you into shape, and during the season you try and maintain the shape you got into in the off-season. I'll never forget when I signed I told Jon Lalonde that when I was at the University of Florida I caught every game and so it won't be that tough I can catch every game in the minor leagues as well. He will remember me saying that because I remember him laughing about it a little bit, and I am laughing about it now too because it is a grind and it is tough. You have to take the off-season seriously and get ready for the next year.
BB: Last year you skipped Lansing so this was your first experience of playing in the cold. How was that for a kid from Florida?
BJ: It was cold. I am with Nike so the first chance we got I went to the Nike outlet and I bought as much cold gear as I could possibly buy. It was cold but you are cold for the first two innings but after that your body warms up and it's just like an ordinary day. The first two innings are tough but as long as you run before the game you should be OK. Then after the game when you get dressed and go outside you say did I really play in this weather? But it's part of baseball and on TV you see guys like Brett Favre play in snow and baseball in Detroit or Cleveland it can be cold so for me that just gets you ready for what could happen in the future.
BB: Last year in Dunedin you hit around .260 but walked a lot. Did that meet your goals?
BJ: Yes, I am a very patient hitter. When I am facing a very talented pitcher I am the type of guy who wants him out of the game. I am willing to go 0-3 with three strikeouts as long as he throws 25 pitches against me in those three at-bats. My goal is to get him out of that game as quickly as I can, especially if you are facing a pitcher like David Price or someone like that. I played with David on team USA and if I am ever facing him I want him out of the game.
If I tell a pitcher that a guy is patient and to go right after him, they have a real hard time doing that. I am a patient guy, I have always had that approach, you will hardly ever see me swing at a first pitch, if I do it is in the one spot I am looking for. To me I like walking, I don't mind it at all, it gets a guy on base and if we get a double or a home run and we can get two runs in. That's how I do things but up here in AA pitchers are more in the strike zone, they have more command of their stuff, they can hit any spot they want. I do have a decent amount of walks this year but the pitchers go right after you so you have to be ready to swing, when you get that pitch you can`t miss it.
BB: Have the Jays tried to change anything or are they OK with your approach?
BJ: They haven`t told me to change my approach at all. One thing I have been working on is to be more aggressive. I am a patient guy but sometimes patience gets you into bad habits. If I am in a 2-1 count and the guy has a great curveball or change-up, and he throws me a 2-1 fastball even if it`s a close pitch I shouldn`t be willing to take that pitch. I am very comfortable with two strikes on me but if I get my pitch I am looking for I have to hit it, can`t foul it off, can`t miss it, once you get your pitch you have to hit it. Last year I would take it and now the count is 2-2 and if you are facing that guy with the great curve he can throw anything at you. I want to be more aggressive but still be a patient guy.
BB: This years numbers are similar to last year except that your slugging numbers are higher. Anytime you move up a level and keep your numbers the same that is a good thing, right?
BJ: High school baseball is a blast because your hitting coach doesn`t know that much and you are out there just swinging the bat. Once you get to college it starts getting mechanical so when I came to the Blue Jays they took the mechanics out of it and just said hit the ball like you know how to hit it. It really relaxes you as a hitter and I owe a lot of credit to our hitting coaches, Kenny Joyce and Dwayne Murphy. In spring training I worked with Gary Denbo, they make you feel relaxed and let you hit like you know how to hit. I am not a home-run guy so I am not trying to hit home runs. The credit for my hitting, I am not hitting great but I am hitting better than I would have last year facing the pitchers we are facing, they got me in the right position for where I am today.
BB: What things do you need to do to get to the major leagues or is it just "stay the course"?
BJ: To me the biggest thing is, if you look at a major league guy and a minor league guy the major league guy is more consistent. When I was in the Jays clubhouse in spring training I was in awe because you couldn't tell from looking around if a guy went 0-4 or 4-4, they had the same mentality, he was the same person. He didn't have a huge smile if he went 4-4 or an upside down smile on his face if he was 0-4, they kept the same personality. The guys that let it get to them in a tough spot are less successful, the guys that keep the same mentality and stick to their approach when they are struggling, those are very successful hitters. That's one thing I learned up there and I am trying to do down here.
BB: You talked about catching all the games in college, who called the games in college?
BJ: My freshman year my pitching coach called the signs, my sophomore year he called it the first half, I called it the last half and then my junior year it was the same way, back and forth. I love calling my own games, it's to the point where you want to be on the same page as your pitcher. It's tougher in the minor leagues because you have a lot of pitchers that are trying to develop stuff and you use stuff that you normally wouldn't use but from a development standpoint you want to develop the pitch make him feel confident with it. It's not a bad part of the game but you are helping the guy get better for the future.
BB: With respect to calling a game this year versus last, do you have to change patterns or is it the same?
BJ: I like to stick to the guys strength. If it is a big situation, if we are going to lose the game we are going to lose it on his best pitch that day. It could be his fastball, it could be his curveball but we are going to lose it on that pitch. In AA from high A hitters in AA are a lot smarter, you cannot pitch a guy the same way. You can't throw him the same sequence, they will recognize it. If you look in the dugout at a high A game most of the guys are not paying attention to what the pitcher is throwing the other hitters. If you watch in a AA game all of the hitters are watching every pitch that's thrown to the hitters to try and recognize what the pitcher is trying to do to them. The hitters are a lot smarter and more disciplined.
BB: Ricky Romero has great stuff, he needs to get it in the right place, right?
BJ: Ricky is so talented and Ricky is a guy we love to have on the bump every day. He wants to win more than anyone else on the field, he will do whatever he can to win the game. Catching him is very easy, it is easy to get on the same page as him, he doesn't realize how good he is, I wish he could face himself and that could make him understand how tough it is to hit against him. He has such dynamite pitches that sometimes he tries to do too much, sometimes he gets in his own way. I love catching him, he is a bulldog, catchers love that. If a hitter hits a home run on a good pitch next time I will throw him the same pitch and say F-you to the hitter and say do it again. Ricky is not afraid to do that, I love catching him, he is a great guy. Once he realizes how good he is, that's when things are going to start falling for him.
BB: Brandon Magee seems to always have one inning in a game that goes south on him. Is there anything you can do as a catcher to help him out?
BJ: I always give Magee a hard time, I call him Magoo. Magee has had some tough luck. He has great stuff, we stick to a game plan and every inning we go to the dugout and see what hitters are coming up and we talk about those hitters. With him you have to keep him on the same game plan we had going into the game, don't let him change the game plan. He is a great pitcher, he has been very unfortunate this year, there have been several games where he left with the lead and we couldn't hold it for him. When he is "on" the hitters aren't there, it's tough for him because he is succeeding but on the game sheet he has a loss. I tell him he succeeded but the hitters weren't there for him, sometimes it's the other way around. Brandon is a very easy guy to catch, as long as he sticks to the same game plan we had going into the game he will be very successful.
BB: What about Robert Ray tonight?
BJ: I caught Robbie last year in Dunedin. I hear he has added some pitches and his command is a lot better but we will see and have some fun. I am looking forward to catching him and see what happens.