“Bluefield was one of your typical small baseball towns. Mostly everyone who came to the games knew who you were and either cheered for you when you did well, or booed when you weren’t on top of your game,” said right-handed pitcher Tucker Jensen after just finishing a successful season with the Bluefield Blue Jays.
Jensen finished the season going 3-1 with a 3.83 ERA, starting in eight of his 12 games. In 49 1/3 innings pitched, he allowed 21 earned runs while striking out 42 and walking 10 for a WHIP of 1.115. This was a drastic change from his first season in Bluefield in 2011, where he went 0-2 with an 11.12 ERA. Jensen stated he worked hard to have a turnaround season in 2012.
“During the off-season I really took my performance to heart,” he said. “I had to change and work on so many things in order to become better. I worked my butt off learning how to throw a slider, worked on my curveball, became stronger, and I lost 20 pounds. I made sure I came back to Blue Jays camp in shape and a better pitcher.”
He added, “During extended spring training, I was constantly doing early work with Vancouver pitching coach, Jim Czajkowski. I focused on fixing my mechanics and sharpening my off-speed. After my first start in Bluefield everything just clicked and my mechanics were smooth; I was locating my fastball, I was changing speeds. I was throwing my slider for strikes, and just pitching to contact.”
Despite finding success in his second attempt at Bluefield, Jensen was asked if he had other hopes of making it to a different team, as it was originally rumored that he would join the Vancouver Canadians after extended spring training.
“I believe anyone’s answer would be, ‘who wouldn’t want to play at a higher level?’ But no, I didn’t prefer to play anywhere else,” Jensen responded. “Being on Bluefield allowed me to be around two great coaches, Dennis Holmberg and Antonio Caceres. I learned how to play the game the right way under Holmberg. He also showed me how to be a professional on and off the field.
“Caceres helped me work on a lot of stuff in the bullpen and helped me really sharpen my off-speed. If I wasn’t pitching in a game, I was in the dugout and majority of the time we were talking about pitching; how each hitters swing was, how to throw to the batters, or what pitches to throw.”
The success Jensen found in Bluefield did allow him to make his first high-A start for the Dunedin Blue Jays at the end of the season. While the 23-year-old took the loss and lasted only 4 1/3 innings, he still admitted that it was a great experience and was thankful to be closer to his hometown so his parents could come to watch him pitch.
“Though I didn’t do as well as I wanted, but I learned a lot from being there,” Jensen said. “The hitters are a lot better than rookie ball. You have to get ahead and throw any pitch in any count. I fell behind at times and they hit me.”
Despite learning a lot from facing a higher caliber hitters, Jensen said he also learned a lot from playing alongside major league players, as J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and David Cooper were all rehabbing in Dunedin while Jensen was with the team.
“My locker was right next to Brett’s so I saw him quite a bit,” Jensen said. “Brett, J.P., and David were just normal guys. They didn’t treat anyone any differently than they would with the big league team. They were laughing and fooling around with us. J.P. was there the most. He is really nice and really funny.”
Tucker (and the MLB gang) stayed in Dunedin during their playoff fun where the team fought hard but were unfortunately defeated in the semi-finals. When asked about the atmosphere during the playoffs, Jensen indicated that it wasn’t as intense as one would originally presume. “Sure, it’s the playoffs and you’re in it for the ring. However, you can’t press or do anything different than what made the team successful during the season. You got to treat it like another game, do all the little things, and make fewer mistakes than the other team.”
“There was disappointment both from the players and the coaches,” he said. “The team had been grinding out the FSL heat all year making the opportunity to play for a ring happen. The Tigers were hot at the time and executed when needed. We played hard and that’s all you can ask for, but the Tigers happened to come out on top.”
With the season over, Tucker reminisced on his season as a whole. He discussed that he was happy overall with the progression he had made, especially considering he changed his arm slot in the off-season.
“I was straight over the top last year. It wasn’t working well with the slider so I was dropped down to a ¾ arm slot. It isn’t as easy as it sounds,” he said. “As a pitcher you have to repeat your delivery and I couldn’t do that for majority of the season. I had to constantly work on it doing drills everyday trying to develop muscle memory. At times I would drop too low causing some pitches to cut or rise. It wasn’t until about mid July did I finally get comfortable with the arm slot and throwing all my pitches.
“As the season went on I started feeling stronger and my pitches were tighter. It’s a lot of hard work. It took me a whole year to finally throw a slider the right way. My pitch repertoire is sinker (86-87MPH), 4-seam (87-90MPH), curveball (75-78MPH), slider (78-82MPH), and change-up (80-82MPH).”
Despite finding success throughout the season, Jensen mentioned that he will continually be working at becoming a better player. “I want to get stronger,” he said. “I took off weight last year and this year I want to add some muscle mass. I also want to add velocity to my fastball and further improve my slider and curveball. And finally, one big thing I’m going to be doing is working on improving my control.
“I want to be able to spot up any pitch: my sinker, slider, curveball, and change-up. I want to become an overall better pitcher.”
Having now completed two successful seasons with the Blue Jays organization, in closing Tucker was asked to reflect on some of the positives and negatives of being a baseball player.
“Some of the wonderful aspects would be the people. The people you meet and friendships you develop. Majority of the friendships you create during baseball will stay with you forever,” he said, adding, “Another aspect would be autographs; I mean who wouldn’t want to feel wanted when fans have your cards and want you to sign it. The best part is that I am playing a game I love and the bonus is I’m getting paid for it; I worked 40 hours a week in the off-season and it wasn’t any fun which motivated me a little more for the season.
“Yeah, sure there are some bad aspects to the game. You get paid a little amount, sometimes the food is bad, the long bus trips, and the daily grind in the life of a minor leaguer. However, what would you rather be doing? How many players would kill to be doing what I am doing? You have to really appreciate baseball to be grinding it out.”
Jensen mentioned that one of the low-lights of the career is having a teammate traded. “It wasn’t easy when Joe Musgrove and Kevin Comer were traded to the Astros. Being around them every day, playing baseball with them, hanging out with them, and then all the sudden they are gone for good the next day.
He further talked about the benefit and detriment of being traded, specifically for a player with the Blue Jays organization.
“I like playing with the Blue Jays. That being said, it would be a lot easier moving up in the minors in another organization. If you look at the rosters, we have so many good players and a lot of high picks. There is so much potential in the Blue Jays organization which makes it hard to advance. Although, if a team trades for you, that would only mean the new team wants you and were worth giving up the other players for which would be pretty cool to say.”
Despite it being hard to advance, players still find ways to be promoted throughout the season. When this happens, Jensen told JaysProspects that the atmosphere doesn’t change a lot as players are comfortable either way.
“It is a business and there will always be people coming and going,” he said. “You have to be happy for the person moving up. It means he is doing well and his opportunity is here to perform at the next level. All the guys are such nice guys that when you get called up, there is no hostility. They all welcome you and are comfortable with you. Don’t forget that most of the players get to know one another spring training.
“Your work ethic has to stay constant. You can’t let call ups or call downs dictate how you play. You have to play every day hard and show the coaches and organization why you should be next call up.”
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