For New York Mets prospect L.J. Mazzilli, it wasn’t enough to be focused on the game. He wanted to be more focused in his every day life.
At first, quitting social media was a decision brought on by thoughts of feeling disconnected from the moment. But he quickly realized that his career focus was also improved.
"It’s so modernized in society, in every workplace, and it was just too much for me," Mazzilli said Wednesday, before a game with the St. Lucie Mets. "It was tough for me at first, because I was seeing everyone around me up on things I wasn’t. Baseball is the type of thing where you want to be on top of your own brand. But I was just totally attached to my phone. I’d be working out in the gym and checking it, instead of focusing on what I needed to be doing. I feel freer without that distraction."
In the age of players sharing every detail of their lives on Twitter, particularly minor leaguers looking to connect with fans who might not know much about them, resisting social media is rare. But it’s likely not surprising to those close to him. He was known for his baseball intelligence and discipline, long before the Mets drafted him. It was at the University of Connecticut that he truly emerged from the shadow of his father, Lee, who’d played in the majors for thirteen years, including six with the Mets.
Young Mazzilli finished his collegiate career with the Huskies 2nd all-time in hits (295), with 92 of them coming in his senior year. His .354 batting average led the team and was selected all Big East first team for 2013. The Mets drafted him in the 4th round (he was previously drafted by the Twins in 2012) and the media blitz began. His father was not only memorable for playing with the Mets, but for his local Brooklyn connection, as well as his post-playing career in the booth for SNY, as lead analyst.
Mazzilli appeared unfazed by the attention, remaining even-keeled, and fully embraced his legacy. He channeled his quiet intensity with a singular focus from the start of his time playing for the Brooklyn Cyclones. Cyclones then-manager Rich Donnelly once commented that Mazzilli began asking questions about how he could improve after his first BP with the team.
In 70 games with the Cyclones, Mazzllli hit .278/.329/.381 and was selected to the mid-season New York Penn League All-Star roster. He spent the winter working out at a facility in Florida, following a Mets-approved plan that combines every area of physical health..
"I worked with Jason Reilly on lifting so I’m stronger at my position, nutrition, and just getting proper rest. He helped me get where I want to be physically. They know how to help you achieve more power, agility, and speed. I haven’t missed more than three games this year. I credit them there. It was big for me."
Through a combined 130 games between Florida State League and South Atlantic League, he hit .302/.363/.442 this year, with 79 RBI, 11 home runs, and 45 walks with 81 strikeouts in 500 at-bats. He also has 25 stolen bases this season, compared to just three in 2013. His relative production has been excellent, with a wRC+ of 122 in Low-A and 134 in High-A.
Mazzilli has good speed and defense to remain at second base, with a smooth and balanced compact swing that allows his to make solid contact. He projects average power, probably 10-15 home runs per season, but he could still develop a bit more. More importantly, he needs to continue to develop better plate discipline, and make more consistent contact. He's a bit of a free swinger, something he worked a lot on in 2013, and said he's continued to focus on improving in 2014.
The complexity of keeping it simple is a trick players have to pull off every day. Mazzilli’s noted patience is intact as he approaches the next phase of his career, and works at that simplicity.
"I’ve had ups and downs this year, but I’m learning to manage my body and mind. At the plate, I have more of an idea and I’m sticking to it. It’s about trusting your ability, because confidence leads to success. Bad or good, you have to turn the page, which makes the game more enjoyable and helps you get more out of each game. That’s really what I’m figuring out now. I’m learning how to be a professional on and off the field, and getting that routine down. I know more of who and what I am as a player."