2022 Vancouver Canadians outfielder/pitcher Mack Mueller takes center stage in this edition of C’s Chat.
The 24 year-old Mueller has laid his baseball hat in a few different homes growing up. Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, he also lived in North Dakota, Germany and Texas as his father Mark worked for the U.S. Air Force.
It was in Germany where Mueller took a big step towards a professional baseball career as he was a part of Team Europe at the 2009 and 2010 Little League World Series.
At Abilene Wylie High School in Texas, Mueller was a four year letter winner where he racked up All-District Most Valuable Player honours in 2015 and 2016 honours and was an 2016 All-State Pitcher. He led to the Bulldogs to the state championship in 2016 and was named the finals MVP.
Mueller headed to Rice University in 2017 but saw limited action as a pitcher and outfielder. He transferred to Cisco College in Texas in 2018 where he hit .443 with 15 home runs and 65 runs batted and that placed him on the NJCAA Region V First-Team All-Conference and All-Region Team.
It was off to Baylor for the next two seasons where Mueller batted .286 in 23 games in 2019. His 2020 season was shaping up to be a good one as he had a .930 on-base plus slugging percentage with a team-leading four home runs in 16 games before COVID cut the season short. Mueller would graduate with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies.
The 6-foot-0, 225-pound outfielder made an impact on the community during his time in Waco as he took part in a push-up challenge against a 11 year-old boy fighting a rare disease.
Drawing a comparison to former big league outfielder Bubba Trammell from signing scout Max Semler, Mueller would make his pro debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2021 and drew a walk and hit a double in his first two plate appearances in Tampa May 4. That was the start of a five-game hitting streak and a seven-game on-base string. He drilled his first home run and had a game-winning triple in the 10th inning in Lakeland June 11. Mueller enjoyed a perfect night at the plate by going 4-for-4 with a walk against Bradenton July 31. He finished the year with 21 extra-base hits, including five homers, along with 38 RBI and 15 stolen bases and had an on-base percentage of .320.
Mueller has also had his moments with the Canadians in 2022. His first Northwest League home run came as part of a 3-for-4 night with a walk in Hillsboro April 28. Another 3-for-4 performance with a double and two RBI came against Everett April 6. He went 2-for-3 with two walks and drove in the winning run to spark a comeback win over the AquaSox at Nat Bailey Stadium on Mother’s Day May 9. That day, Mueller was supposed to have the day off but was a last-minute replacement for Garrett Spain so Mueller’s Day Off was really Mueller’s Day On. He then ended the month of June with a home run and a walk against Spokane June 30.
Mueller has also made three appearances on the mound for the C’s and also received a couple of at-bats where he was announced as the pitcher at Nat Bailey Stadium. In his third appearance, he got the save after going 3-for-4 with a walk and an RBI in Hillsboro June 23.
C’s Plus Baseball chatted with Mueller during the team’s homestand in the middle of June. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
C’s Plus Baseball – You were with the Baylor Bears. What was your experience like with them?
Mack Mueller – After my freshman year at Rice and then I transferred to a junior college, Baylor just felt like home and it was great atmosphere. Great guys, the way that coach Rod (Steve Rodriguez) recruited a great group of people and great character really helped me make that decision. The team was just fun to be around,
CPB – What led to you to making the switch to Baylor?
MM – It was a little bit of everything. Mainly money concerns with my freshman year and stuff like that. My Dad also deployed for my entire sophomore year so moving to a junior college closer to home definitely helped out my Mom, helped out our finances and everything like that and it was just it felt like the right decision.
CPB – How did get started playing baseball?
MM – I don’t think I can remember that. It’s been so long. My uncle (Scott Wright) played professionally and played in the Reds organization for a number of years. So it probably that had a little bit to do with it. And it was just something that I always wanted to come back to and I fell in love with it. I played a bunch of different sports, hockey, I tried basketball, was terrible at it. Played a little soccer, some football early on, but once I got to high school, it was all baseball which at the discretion of head coaches in Texas with how big Texas high school football is, they weren’t pleased to see somebody of my size not playing football. So that was a difficult conversation for the first couple years of high school but I think it all made sense in the end.
CPB – What did you play in football?
MM – I played quarterback in middle school, and then I played my freshman year, they had me at the tailback position.
CPB – I got to ask about hockey. How did you get started in that and how long did that last?
MM – I was born in Oklahoma City and then we moved to North Dakota for five years when I was a kid. So ages two to seven or eight and naturally in North Dakota, hockey’s really big. So I played in North Dakota and then I played hockey in Germany as well for a little while, but it was too far to commute for practice and stuff like that. And it was something that was kind of on the back burner.
CPB – Forward or defense?
MM – I have no idea. I don’t think you really got positions at that age at six or seven. You just kind of throw them out there and it’s like pee-wee soccer, you just run around and you skate around and try to find the puck. That’s all it is.
CPB – You didn’t have a favourite NHL team?
MM – Not really. Except for football. My parents being from Wisconsin. The NFL is the only (league) that I really follow and have been following the Green Bay Packers. Everything else, it’s just a general whole following of the sport. So I knew the big players at the time and kind of fell out of it. After that, baseball took over.
CPB – No favourite major league team growing up?
MM – No, I followed just all of baseball, all the best players as far as I can remember. It was just the generalization of, the highlights and who was doing well. And once I got more serious into high school, that’s when I started to follow some of the better players and in figuring out what I can pick up from them.
CPB – Did you have a favourite player or like anyone’s style (of play)?
MM – I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one guy. I think there’s a little bit that you can take from everybody. Little bits and pieces because everybody’s their own person. So there’s no way that I can be just like Mike Trout or just like Aaron Judge. Those guys are different kinds of baseball players but there are little tidbits of things that I can take from them to either help myself as a person and a player.
CPB – You wind up with the Toronto Blue Jays. How did that all break down for you?
MM – The area scout Max Semler had followed my career from my freshman year to my sophomore year at juco and then with a commitment to Baylor. He wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to get me to sign yet from junior college going forward. He was with the Mets at the time, then with the Blue Jays. My senior year, we established a rapport and had some conversations. And then with the shutdown, the draft got a little weird and a little interesting but I got the phone call and it was a no-brainer.
CPB – How did you manage to get through COVID?
MM – It was tough for everybody obviously. Early on, it’s the fear of the unknown. We don’t really know what the virus is going to do. We don’t know how long it’s going to take a toll but I think I got through it just about like everybody, you just wait and see. And once everything starts to ease up, things got a little bit easier. Being fortunate enough to live in Texas where things relaxed a little bit sooner, maybe possibly than they should have, but being able to still continue training and doing what I needed to do to get ready.
CPB – You make your way to Dunedin last year getting used to the grind to pro ball. What did you learn about season number one?
MM – For me, I think season number one was big as a part of how do I take care of myself as a professional baseball player? How do I learn to be a professional in this game? Take care of my body, the way I need to interact with fans and media the way I need to and carry myself on the field the way while also learning some things about myself and the way I play. What do I do well at the game? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What needs some work? What needs extra work? Things like that take over in your first season and it’s just really learning how to play. But once you’re in and used to it and comfortable, then it’s more of, into year two now, how can I adapt to the game and the things that are out on scouting reports and how can I understand the game a little bit better and find a way to get just that little bit better every single day.
CPB – How have you enjoyed playing in Vancouver so far? The crowds are quite different from Dunedin anyway.
MM – Quite different from Dunedin I think is the best way to put that. But it’s fantastic, I love playing up here. It’s weird when we go to other ballparks because it’s quiet. It’s been really refreshing to play in an atmosphere that what I imagined felt like college baseball and I think it’s even better for some of the Latin guys on the team and some of the the high school guys on the team that didn’t get to play in front of these crowds when they were in college or early on in their minor league careers. So I think the atmosphere that Vancouver fans bring to the ballpark is really beneficial for everybody and closer to a big league experience than other parts of the country.
CPB – I wanted to ask you about one game, it was a Sunday afternoon. You were not in the starting lineup, but then you got pressed into the starting lineup and had a great day at the plate. What do you remember about that day?
MM – It’s always being ready. I learned last year after a couple days where you’re scheduled to have an off day and it’s easy to check out of the game and not really be able to focus on your work or want to get anything done and just give your body a break. But finding that balance of how much do I need to do to be ready to play should that opportunity come up and just taking advantage of those opportunities. Coming into the year, not expecting to play six, seven games a week sometimes. I’m more of a role player. I think just enjoying every time that I’m on the field has been the best part for me.
CPB – A couple of times, you’ve been pressed into pitching, I don’t know how you prepare for that, but for the most part you did quite well. What was that like pitching on the mound here at Nat Bailey Stadium?
MM – A little nervous at first but I like to think of it as a win-win situation because not having pitched in a while—I pitched all throughout high school and into my freshman year of college so it’s not that it was that foreign of an opportunity for me competing at some kind of higher level in pitching, not comparable to professional baseball by any means—but still some kind of higher level and having an understanding of how the pitchers think, having conversations with them. It was a win-win. I go out there and I do well and everybody’s happy or I go out there and just barely get the job done and that works too because it’s an emergency situation that we needed
CPB – Last time, Alex Nolan unfortunately got injured. That was just kind of out of the blue but how did that all develop? How did you first find out, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re gonna need you to pitch?’
MM – I talked with Brent (Lavallee) the manager a couple innings before that we were short on arms for the day. So it was at least in the back of my mind that, ‘Hey, you might be going out there for the top of the ninth anyway.’ And then Nolan went out to warm up and I was like, okay, ‘So today’s not the day.’ I went back out to the outfield and then it was an easy switch over. Brent has done a great job of giving me some kind of expectation of, ‘Hey, this might be happening’ and not giving it to me on short notice. So there’s a little bit of a switch that needs to go on but it’s fill up the strike zone, throw it over the plate and do the best I can.
CPB – I noticed basically all your pitches were around 85 to 88 (miles per hour). Basically nothing too fancy, just four-seam fastballs more or less?
MM – Yeah. Just throw it as hard as I can. I found that the first time I went out there and in catch-play, if I tried to just put it in there, floated in there, like some guys that go in there, I would not have been able to find the strike zone. I found it easier to throw with a little bit of effort with my arm care and everything I do getting ready to play out in the outfield would take care of everything else for me,
CPB – Afterwards, you ice it down for the arm care. Talk about how much maintenance you have to do after you’ve been playing in the field and then you have to pitch on the mound.
MM – We’ve gotten on a little bit of a plyo ball routine something that I’m not unfamiliar with. I do it during the off season to build some arm strength, always trying to keep that part of my game and use it as some kind of advantage as an outfielder. So building some arm strength during the off season and doing that kind of stuff isn’t an unfamiliar thing for me. It’s just finding the time to fit it in with the position player schedule and what we do day in and day out. And so being able to find that schedule over the last couple weeks definitely helped. I was way less sore this time than I was the first time. That’s definitely played a role into being able to do that at a higher pace.
CPB – Final question. What are your goals for 2022 and beyond?
MM – My whole goal for 2022 and the whole goal for my entire career has always been how good of a baseball player can I be? Whether that’s the level of a really good college baseball player or the lower levels of the minor leagues or even a big league or a Hall of Famer, how good can I be personally as a baseball player? What level that ends at doesn’t matter to me. It’s just knowing that I did everything I could throughout my time and this opportunity to be as good of a baseball player as I can and learn as much about this game as I can.
- Uniform number – Wore number 50 at Baylor and number 27 with Dunedin
- Twitter – @MacKenzieMuelle
- Instagram – @mackenziemueller27
- Walk-up Music – “Banana (Belly Dancer)” by Akon
Thanks a million to Mack Mueller for this instalment of C’s Chat and to Tyler Zickel for setting it up.