The latest guest to get on base with C’s Chat is 2018 Vancouver Canadians outfielder and current member of the Lansing Lugnuts Hunter Steinmetz.
The 22 year-old Steinmetz made quite a splash in his 2019 debut. He was summoned up to Dunedin from extended spring training May 2 and belted his first professional home run in his season debut at Jackie Robinson Stadium to help the Dunedin Blue Jays knock off the Daytona Tortugas 6-2.
Steinmetz went into more detail with C’s Plus Baseball about his opposite-field home run to left off Daytona righthander Ryan Olson.
“I remember it was a guy that came out of the pen and threw me the first pitch and it was 96 and it had a lot of run on it. And I was thinking, ‘Damn! They were definitely right when they said the Florida State League is a pitcher’s league.’ That was the second guy I faced live all year in a real game.
I remember just thinking, Matt Young, the hitting coach in Dunedin. He said, ‘(Orson)’ll go outside, because he went outside the first pitch, and then he’s going to try to back you off at the plate and then go back outside.’ He did exactly that. He came right inside, he tried to back me off. I got back up on the plate and he threw the same pitch and I hit it. I mean, I heard a loud pop. I didn’t see it off the bat at first. I was looking around for it. I was just running and it just carried over the fence.”
A fan did retrieve the home run ball for Steinmetz by bringing it to the Dunedin dugout. That was the highlight of a five-game stint with the D-Jays saw that him record a pair of hits and get hit by a pitch twice. He noticed it was quite the jump going from short-season ball last year to full-season ball this year.
“A pretty big difference, yeah. You saw more consistent velo, guys who had plus off-speed pitches. It was a challenge but it was fun. I had fun with it. It was good to go in there and compete and see what guys at the next level look like and I also think it gave me a little bit of an advantage coming to (Lansing) because I got to see those guys first and then come here. There is a little bit of a drop-off from here to there but I think it was really good for me to go (to Dunedin) and see those pitchers and then get to come here and play.”
Off to Lansing
The Jefferson City, Missouri native was assigned to Lansing May 11 and has recorded a trio of two-hit games so far with the Lugnuts. His third multi-hit effort came May 23 against the Great Lakes Loons at Cooley Law School Stadium.
In that game, Steinmetz’s first-inning double scored 2018 C’s teammate Otto Lopez with the tying run before scoring on a three-run home run by fellow 2018 Canadian Tanner Kirwer. That two-out double kick-started an eventual 9-4 win for the Lugnuts. It’s that type of performance that Steinmetz wants to come up with on a consistent basis this season.
“I’m hoping to just keep the ball rolling with what I’m doing right now. Keep stealing bags, keep getting on base, keep trying to help us win. Hopefully turn this thing around and make a run at the championship at the end of the year.”
The assignment to Lansing also meant a reunion with 2018 Vancouver manager Dallas McPherson, something Steinmetz is happy about.
I’m an aggressive player. It’s good to have a coach that wants me to be aggressive. I don’t want to be passive on the basepaths. I want to steal bags, hit a ball maybe shallow in the gap and I want to take that extra base. He appreciates stuff like that. It’s good. It really helps me as a baseball player when you got a coach that pushes you to be aggressive.”
One adjustment for Steinmetz is dealing with a bigger outfield in Lansing with more room in center field, a corner monster wall in right field and video board in left and right field. Steinmetz says the different outfield dimensions is not too big a deal.
“When I was in college, I played at a Double-A field (Editor’s Note – Hammons Field, also the home of the Springfield Cardinals). I got to experience what it was like to have all the outfield grass out there. There was a few adjustments like the brick walls down the line and how it curves. I had to learn how to play balls off that because I wasn’t used to it. I had a ball roll down there, I think, game two I was here. It hit every single corner and it wrapped all the way around. It was a funny one so I kind of had to adjust and learn how to play off stuff like that. I can’t over-commit to a ball down the line because it can hit that concrete wall and go shooting past me.”
Now settling in to his first full season of professional baseball, Steinmetz is more than happy to be done with extended spring training.
“Honestly, it’s not fun. It’s everyday you’re up at 6:00 am and you’re on the field and you’re going through the full day of practice and you’ll play a game after that. It’s a grind. You have to grind it out. Your emotions can get to you a lot during that. I was frustrated that I was there and it was really grinding on me mentally but you just have to keep going every day.”
Bluefield, West Virginia was the first stop in Steinmetz’s professional career. His first game saw him draw a walk in his first plate appearance and he later drove in his first run with a sacrifice fly to help Bluefield get by Johnson City June 19. He appreciated getting his first pro experience in a small town under the watchful eye of a Bluefield institution.
It was a very very small, small town. Not a lot of people. It was 100 percent just baseball there. There was no distractions off the field, nothing, just baseball. And you also had a very, very good manager in Dennis Holmberg – a really, really great guy. For my first pro experience, I’m glad I got to go with Dennis for that because he’s very understanding of young guys experiencing the pro stuff for the first time. I think he realizes that a lot of guys, they will screw up at some point because it’s all new.”
As far as the living arrangement went in Bluefield, Steinmetz was perfectly content.
“It was like a little apartment complex in which you’re staying, there’s four guys to an apartment. I had a lot of fun with that because I lived in a house with two other guys at my college and it was fun. You always had someone to hang out with, you always had something to do.”
Bluefield and Steinmetz would part ways when the 5-foot-9 outfielder was promoted to Vancouver June 28 – a development that him off-guard.
“I was pretty surprised. I didn’t know it would happen that quick but I’m very grateful I got to experience Vancouver. That was a very, very fun place to play. It’s an atmosphere. I’ve been to some of the college parks that bring out a lot of fans, Vancouver’s right up there. For like my second pro stadium to play in, I mean, it was pretty crazy.”
“For my first game, I hit three or four balls really hard and I didn’t get any hits. I know I was really frustrated after that, especially game one. It kind of helped me that whole season. I didn’t really have a good season last year. It kind of helped me to dig down deep and force myself to compete. Even if I’m not getting hits, just compete in at-bats. I think all the stuff I worked on last year is really starting to show up this year too.”
One highlight for Steinmetz was a two-hit game in Everett July 6 that included a walk and three stolen bases.
“That was just one of those days, you show up to the park, your legs feel really good and it’s just that confidence level. You steal the first one, it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s steal the second one.’ Then you steal the second one, it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s steal the third one.’ It just kind of keeps going. As you keep going, your confidence level keeps boosting up so I mean, I know I got it in me and that’s what I’m trying to show this year is more of that.”
Playing time in the outfield for Steinmetz was at a premium for Steinmetz as he had found himself in a rotation with 2018 second-round pick Griffin Conine, Tanner Kirwer and McGregory Contreras.
“It almost kind of lit a fire in me. You don’t expect yourself as an 11th round pick to kind of come in and sit on the bench. It kind of lit a fire and that carried through the offseason. I worked really, really hard in the offseason. I have really, really high expectations for myself this season. I’m just holding myself to a higher standard than last year on the field and just making sure I work hard every day.”
The off-season saw Steinmetz focus on a few areas in particular.
“In the off-season, my goals really were to work on fine-tuning my swing, taking out those little things that might keep me from performing my best. We wanted to work on keeping my barrel from dropping that little tiny bit in the back which would make me pop up a lot of balls. One of my goals was just to stay really flat through the zone.
Another one was to work on my arm strength. That one was tough. Where I’m from, it snows a lot in Missouri so it was kind of hard to get outside and throw long toss a lot so I had to go to my college’s indoor (facility) and throw a lot.
Some of the things you can’t really get a lot of work in on in the offseason like stealing bases and all that stuff, you can’t really do a lot of work. So you kind of just have to take steal jumps. Like imagine an invisible pitcher in front of you and take a steal jump off him, stuff like that, but I really wanted to focus on getting stronger too so I put in a lot of work in the weight room also. At this point, I’m just trying to maintain that through the full season.”
Steinmetz does not concern himself too much with analytics but there are a couple of things he pays attention to.
I just try to really not to focus too much on the analytics. The only thing I’m really worried about analytically would be my on-base percentage. Am I getting on base? Hard-hit ball percentage is something we focus on a lot with me. We wanted to increase that because the more consistently you hit the ball hard, the better chance you got to get a hit, a guy make an error, stuff like that, get on base. So those are really the only two things analytically that I look at. I try not to get too deep into it.”
2018 MLB Draft
It was a waiting game for Steinmetz when it came to hearing his name called at the 2018 draft. The suspense finally ended when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him with their 11th round pick at the recommendation of scout Dallas Black.
“We were kind of expecting something on day two. Then we had some teams call and say they were going to take some seniors because, you know, they overspent on some guys which, it happens. Actually I didn’t really have any contact with the Blue Jays besides way, way before the draft. And then I think day three, it was probably like 8:30, my agent called me and said, ‘Hey, the Blue Jays are taking you with their next pick.’ And I kind of said, ‘The Blue Jays? We haven’t even talked to the Blue Jays!’ I liked the area scout a lot and he said he wanted me in the org really bad. It was good to hear that, that a team wants you. Yeah, it was really cool. My parents, they were laughing, the only team that’s not in the United States is the one I get drafted by but I think it’d be pretty cool to be in Toronto.”
Two National League East clubs had initially expressed an indication that they had their sights sets on Steinmetz.
The two teams that I really, really thought that they were going to pick me up was either the Phillies or the Mets. Those were the two that were heavily in contact and that they kind of said the same thing, you know, senior picks until day three. And all of a sudden, the first round of day three, the Blue Jays call. I mean it was a little bit of a mix-up but I think it was really fun at the same time.”
Steinmetz was happy his family was present during the big moment.
My parents were there, my sister, my now-fiancee was there, her parents were there, a little bit of her family was there. It was early but we did some celebrating.”
The celebration was short-lived as Steinmetz had to make tracks to Dunedin, Florida.
“I thought there was going to be a little time period where we were just going to chill out at home because I had just played a full college season. I got drafted on Wednesday and Dallas, the area scout, said, ‘You’ll be here Friday. You’ll fly out Friday morning.’ I was like, ‘I guess I better start packing’ (laughs).
I had to pack some stuff up, I headed out and had a little mini-camp, which was cool, and got to meet all the other draft guys that signed and everything else too. I just kind of got to see what the Blue Jays were all about with all the practising and all that. I’d say it was probably three, four days of that and they just said, ‘Hey, you’re going to Bluefield’. I was like, ‘Hey West Virginia. Never been. New experience. Let’s do it.’ And I left the next day.”
Missouri State University
Making the ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 plays once is quite an accomplishment but making it three times is something else as Steinmetz gained quite the reputation with his play in the outfield during his time with the Bears.
My first one was my freshman year. I made a catch against Kansas. I remember I just was sitting in my dorm room. We had ESPN on, it was after the game. We go back, we turn ESPN on, probably ordered a pizza or something. The Top 10 came on and it was just kind of scrolling through. I’m sitting with my phone and the next thing you know it pops up on our field. I’m like ‘What is it doing on our field?’ All of a sudden I hear my name and I’m like, ‘Seriously? I just made Top 10?’ It was something.
When I was a little kid, I was always the kid that made the diving catches and so I wanted to be on the Top 10 one day. I get to college my first year and make it. Then in my sophomore year, I made it too and then in my junior year, I made it too and it was just really cool. Every time, it never got old.”
Looking back at his college career, Steinmetz says he’s proud of the fact he improved over his three-year stint.
I just say my progression through all three years. Progressively, I got better every year and that was really good for me to see. I hit .300 all three years so it was good. Every year I got better at competing against better pitchers so that’s really what stands out to me is my ability to compete every year.”
Another proud moment for Steinmetz was seeing a number of his teammates being selected in the MLB draft.
“All three years, I think in my freshman year we had six, my sophomore year we had five or six again and this last year we had three. It’s cool to see guys that you play with get drafted. I’m really happy for all of them. At some point, maybe I’ll run into them, maybe not, depending on where they play. I’m happy for every single one of them. I hope they do well.”
Even though they were not teammates at Missouri State, Steinmetz was welcomed into the Blue Jays family by former 2015 C’s pitcher and Jays first-round pick Jon Harris.
He messaged me the day I got drafted and said congrats and all that stuff. I finally ran into him at spring training this year and we talked about Missouri State baseball, if they were going to be good this year, stuff like that. We always run into each other at the complex talking about baseball and everything else so it was cool. He’s a good guy.”
Height Doesn’t Measure Heart
In his Twitter bio, Steinmetz is a believer of HDMH, the catchphrase of 2012 C’s righthander Marcus Stroman.
He plays with that fire and I kind of feel like sometimes I play with that fire too. He’s one of those guys that brings energy every single day. You can see it when he’s on the mound. I mean, he’s a smaller guy too and he just plays with that chip on his shoulder. It’s really fun to watch.”
Stroman was one of two Blue Jays players that Steinmetz was able to meet during the fall instructional league.
It was cool. Honestly, when we were sitting during instructs, sitting in the training room recovering and I saw him sitting there. I didn’t even recognize him without a hat on. I just thought he was someone else rehabbing and someone goes, ‘Oh, there’s Troy Tulowitzki and Marcus Stroman.’ Of course, all the new guys get up and kind of congregate towards them and start talking to them and stuff. It was cool to talk and just like listen to them.”
Growing up, Steinmetz points to a former Red Sox legend and a current Red Sox star as players he enjoys watching.
When I was really young, I always loved David Ortiz but I can’t really compare myself to him. One guy I watch a lot, I look at what he does at the plate and stuff is Andrew Benintendi. Lefty hitter, kind of the same stature. He’s a guy that’s got a lot of power so I just kind of try to see like what he does at the plate, what pitches he’s looking to hit, stuff like that.”
When asked to describe himself as a player, you could say Steinmetz considers himself to be a battler.
Somebody who is going to grind out at-bats. I’m not going to be an easy out. When I get on the bases, I’m going to try to take every base I can. In the field, I’m very, very confident with my defence. I don’t really have any problem with that. Overall, I’m just an aggressive player. I’m going to force you to make a mistake before I do.”
Thanks a million again to Hunter Steinmetz for participating in the latest C’s Chat and to Lansing Lugnuts play-by-play announcer Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for arranging the interview.