When it comes to my MLB career I haven’t really thought too far down the road, but the short term goals I have are to come to the ball park every single day and work really hard to be the best player I can be. Whenever my career’s done, I want to be thought of as a guy who worked his tail off, gave it all he had to be successful each and every day and someone who really enjoyed everything there is to experience about the beautiful game of baseball.
I grew up in a big baseball family where my dad had been my coach all throughout my life and even when he wasn’t my coach growing up he was the high school coach, so he would always show up to help out. My dad was a huge influence for me when I was growing up in North Carolina and encouraged me to get involved playing baseball; in fact, he was my high school baseball coach.
Having my dad coach me in high school created a scenario where people on the outside looking in could have said that I was playing this position or that position because my dad was the coach. So I worked that much harder to make sure whatever playing time I received or position I played was earned because I love to work and compete.
My dad was the high school coach until I was a senior and after that he decided to discontinue his coaching career to be able to follow my college baseball career.
Early in my baseball career I played a couple different positions, however, catcher was my main position and I played there up until my freshman year of high school. When I was moved out from behind the dish, I played shortstop throughout my four years in high school. The summer prior to my freshman year of college I transitioned to third base and played there a lot while beginning to really learn the position.
I was always successful in high school yet the recruiting process wasn’t very kind to me. I talked to a few Division I teams and had quite a few of them say no and turn me down. There were a couple Division II walk on offers on the table and also a money offer from Mars Hill College in North Carolina. Then, suddenly out of nowhere Western Carolina offered me a Division I walk on spot. I knew I wanted to play Division I baseball and felt like I could really compete at that level so it was decided, I was going to Western Carolina. Western Carolina was not considered to be one of the more recognizable college baseball programs but I knew I would have the opportunity to play against strong D-1 competition and would get some good exposure to possibly further my baseball career.
The lack of Division I offers never really discouraged me or put a chip on my shoulder, I just wanted to compete day in and day out. I wanted to play against teams like Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee and play against the best players in the country.
Coming into my freshman year as a third baseman there was an upper classman who held the position, so I decided to compete at first base and eventually won the starting job. Freshman year started off really well yet would provide a few struggles along the way and my body wasn’t used to playing a 60-game schedule, which I’ll admit feels extremely short right now considering the length of the major league schedule.
A big step for me during my freshman year that helped prove to myself that I was ready to really compete at this level was when I had gotten a couple hits in the spring off of a few pitchers from our program that had gotten drafted the year before. All of that early success was enough to earn myself not just a start on Opening Day my freshman year but I was the cleanup hitter batting in the four spot in our lineup!
My sophomore year provided a few struggles but I was able to get through it and hold onto my starting spot on the team. As I entered my junior and senior years, I took over the responsibility of being one of the veterans on the team and ended up having two really, really strong seasons. In addition, my senior year I had the privilege to be named one of the team captains and really took it upon myself to lead our team on and off the field.
I always led by example. I’m not one of those outspoken leaders who get in people’s faces and yells or anything like that. But I was really excited about the opportunity to lead our team and set a good example for the younger guys in the program. I took a lot of pride in making sure they knew what it would take to be successful in our program, that if you work hard you can compete at a high level and what it meant to be a Western Carolina Catamount.
I wanted the respect of my peers as a leader, not someone nobody liked to be around. In reflecting back on my college career I think I achieved that. For example, I would always make it a point to go out of my way to hang out with the younger guys on the team when I was a senior because they’re going to be the future of the program and you want to make them feel comfortable. Still to this day I’ll have guys who I played with text me questions about what they should or need to do.
It truly wasn’t until the end of my senior year that I thought I may have an opportunity to get drafted and play professionally. I had one San Francisco Giants scout talk to me and filled out an online questionnaire for the Houston Astros, other than that I had no other interaction with any other teams or scouts. Draft day for me was really low key; I was helping my dad coach an AAU Travel Baseball team and talking to the high school kids when I received a text message from my girlfriend at the time. She told me that I had been drafted by the Astros in the 33rd Round, 977th overall in 2013.
After draft day it was time to go to work. I wasn’t discouraged by getting drafted 977th overall, I viewed it more as an opportunity to continue to do what I love. As far as my Minor League career goes, I made every single stop – seven in total – the previous two years and actually really enjoyed my Minor League experience. Out of those seven teams I played for I received three championship rings, which helped make the experience that much more enjoyable for me. What I also found enjoyable was the level of competition that I played against. I played and competed against some of the best players in the world throughout the Minor Leagues and absolutely loved it.
Before Spring Training began this year I played in the Dominican Winter League, which was essential to my growth as a player. I felt that the additional swings I was able to take and at bats that I received really helped keep my swing consistent and refine it heading into the spring. In addition, the competition level was high and the pitchers I faced were very good, throwing hard, locating their pitches, they all had extremely good stuff.
You could begin a game facing a left-hand pitcher who can locate all of his pitchers and as the game progresses you could end up facing a right-handed pitcher who throws 98 mph with a sharp slider. The biggest hurdle facing that level of competition was that I needed to learn how to make in-game adjustments when facing different styles of pitching every game.
Coming into this season I was a non-roster invitee and saw an opportunity to compete for a spot on the Major League roster with the Astros, much like college, at first base. The chances of me making the team weren’t the highest to say the least but my goal was to come into Spring Training prepared, ready to work hard and be the best player I could be. The Astros hadn’t really seen me play all that much so I wanted to show them that the skill set I possessed was one that was going to help this ball club win baseball games. When it was all said and done I had impressed enough of the staff to warrant a roster spot at the Major League level of the Houston Astros. I was obviously thrilled that all my hard work and perseverance had paid off.
Approximately a third of the way through my first major league season things are going great. I’m taking everything in stride, trying not to get too up or too down through prosperity or struggles. My mindset is to do everything I can to help this team be successful and do my job day in and day out. When the struggles come for me offensively, I like to go back and watch video of my at bats to see the pitches I’m swinging at. I study my approach in certain counts in terms of swinging at pitches that are in or out of the strike zone. For me, I feel that I’m most successful in at bats when I’m patient and disciplined at the plate swinging at pitches within the strike zone.