After a highly impressive first season in pro ball with the Brooklyn Cyclones, second baseman LJ Mazzilli is continuing the process in instructional league.
Mazzilli's season was both a success and a difficult learning experience. Near the end, he wasn't feeling like he was at his strongest. The Cyclones missed a playoffs spot, despite an excellent run down the stretch. But those negatives don't sum up the entire season. They're only a part of a larger story: Mazzilli showed he belonged. He proved that the attention paid to his being the son of former major leaguer (and Met) Lee, was also just a part of his story. What shined was his ability to learn and grow, to play consistently, and carry himself in a way that belied his lack of professional experience.
He admits, however, that there was a point when he needed to rest.
"When we didn't make the playoffs...it was kind of a refreshing breather," he said from St. Lucie, Florida, where he arrived just a few days ago. "I was tired at the end, both mentally and physically. I needed that between the season and instructs to take a break and reflect."
The Mets 2013 4th round pick (out of the University of Connecticut) in the June MLB Draft finished the season as one of the top hitting players in the league. His 76 hits were 5th in the New York Penn League, leading the Cyclones with the best overall average (.278) and games played (70). He hit his stride in July, getting 38 hits, 9 doubles, with a .736 OPS.
"I didn't finish the way I wanted to. It all started to get to me at the end."
The playoffs run was a mix of fits and starts for the team as a unit. There were injuries to key players (Jared King, John Mincone), and starting pitching that was hot and cold. But the point of that level is to work through and push through when everything is tough.
As an individual, Mazzilli learned what he needed to do to be successful, even when it was going wrong or just wasn't easy.
"Having a good consistent daily routine. I learned that. Confidence-wise, I felt I belonged. I was among some of the better hitters in the league, and sometimes I gave pitchers too much credit. I'd think they'll blow it by me, or something. But you have to have self-confidence in the box. Believe in yourself. Having confidence there makes a huge difference."
He describes his instructs plan as fairly general, with an emphasis on pretty much everything.
"It's the total package: swing, swing path, defense, the mental side. We have meetings every morning."
Short season is the woodshop, where all the pieces are in their rawest form. The building process is dusty and dirty and lots of labor and hitting the nail in the wrong spot. The mistakes and work can hurt. But Mazzilli understood that, as any good player will. He knew what he needed to take from shop class.
"It's just learning how to play everyday. Learning how to get the best out of yourself, whether you feel good or not. I learned I had to be at my best everyday, and that meant seven or eight days a week, if it meant we had to make up a rained out game [in a double-header]. You have to learn how to stay positive when things aren't going well and stay that way when they are."
His consistency was crucial to the Cyclones success, regardless of whatever he was feeling. His at-bats, even when not productive, were smart. He exhibited a solid approach throughout the season. He was also able to get that base hit when it was needed, or make plays that were routine and not so routine.
Coming through at the plate, he said, comes down to two key factors. They were his lessons learned.
"Work ethic and confidence is key to being consistent."
You can follow LJ Mazzilli on Twitter @LJMazz24
Also, the Mazzilli family has established the Fred L. Mazzilli Lung Cancer Foundation. Learn about the screenings offered here: http://www.nym.org/For-Patients-and-Visitors/Our-Services/Comprehensive-Lung-Cancer-Center.aspx?utm_source=Homepage&utm_medium=Feature-Panel&utm_campaign=Free-Lung-Cancer-Screenings
LJ was also recognized on this blog as one of the best players in the league (3rd overall)- http://www.highheelsonthefield.net/my_weblog/2013/09/2013-new-york-penn-league-awards.html