AL West

Angels Prospect Braxton Martinez on His Journey to the Angels [INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT]

This is a companion piece to the article “Angels Prospect Braxton Martinez looks back on journey to the Angels”, featuring the full transcript of the interview conducted by Ryan Falla. The length of this interview required editing to be featured in the Braxton Martinez prospect preview article, and in order publish the full interview it has been given its own separate piece.

Braxton Martinez #23

Formerly of the River City Rascals (Frontier League)

DD: How are you feeling coming out of indyball and now all of a sudden you’re in a professional organization doing as well as you are?

Martinez: My age and experience has been a big help for me, I was pretty fortunate in indyball to play with some good players who already had experience playing affiliated baseball. When I was younger I got pick their brains and learn how they went about things. The league that I played in, the Frontier League, was very competitive. Real good players. By the time I got here with the Angels it felt like another step in the right direction. I had some good experience under my belt. Being older helps too, playing more games mean you get more experience and you see more things. It was the transition with the organization here. Everyone was super welcoming and helpful, I never felt like the new guy which is always good when you’re the new guy. All the pieces just fell in the right place. I’m fortunate to have real good people around, a good coaching staff and all that. It all plays to the comfort and being able to go out and perform at a high level. When you feel comfortable you play better.

DD: It’s interesting seeing your career track go from indyball to professional minor league baseball. Tell me about how you got into indyball in the first place.

BM: I finished up college at St.Louis University, I didn’t get drafted and at that point I knew my next option if I wanted to keep playing was to play indyball. I went through some different tryouts, I tried out for a few teams in the Frontier League and nothing came about. The team I ended up playing for, the River City Rascals, just so happened to have a few guys get injured and a couple guys get picked up by affiliated teams. Lo and behold they needed a corner infielder so I went there, tried out and made the team. Luckily for me that team was only 15 minutes away from my house. I didn’t even have to leave town. It was just luck, in this game everyone talks about how skilled everybody is but you have to be really lucky too. I was lucky to have the opportunity to get my foot in the door and once I got my foot there I started thinking about how I could perform at a higher level and get picked up.

DD: It seems like after you didn’t get drafted you became more determined to make it.

BM: Absolutely, the goal for me has always been to play for a professional organization and Ialways felt like I was capable of doing that. I didn’t want to prove to anyone else but myself that I could make it happen. Honestly, in my last season of indyball I went the other direction, I kind of thought it would be the last year I would play and that ended up taking all the stress and pressure off myself. I just told myself “I’m gonna go out there and enjoy the game”. Just try to have fun and if this is it this is it.” Sure enough with that mindset and attitude I had the best season of my life and ended up getting signed [laughs]. I try to carry that same mindset now with the Angels, I feel like that’s what’s helping me be successful, just having fun without putting stress on myself. At the end of the day we’re playing baseball, I’m not in war overseas, I’m playing a game. Yes it’s a livelihood and a career, but it’s a game and if you don’t treat it like one it’s gonna eat you up.

DD:  I know you said your mentality changed in your last season in indyball, but were there any changes developmentally that helped you open up your power? You ended up in the Home Run Derby for the River City Rascals, was that just from the mindset or did the power come from something else?

BM: Oh definitely. During offseason training I definitely ramped up everything in that regard. I had the pleasure of working with a couple of really good trainers back in St. Louis. Stu Beath at Output Performance was a huge addition, he helped me get stronger and faster. Jacob Buffa and [Denton] McNamee were my other guys over at Elite Baseball. All of those guys got my body right, obviously it’s on the individual to do the work but without that layout it’s tough. I had every resource possible back home with people helping me whether it was fielding, hitting or lifting. I had everything where I was. It was just deciding on what kind of player I am, what kind of hitter I’m going to be and I had to work at that. There were some mechanical adjustments I made as far as a hitter but really I take everything back to getting stronger in the weight room, more athletic, and the mental thing. At this level everybody is skilled, if you didn’t have the skill you wouldn’t be here. The only thing that separates guys from continuing to progress is the mental game. You see some guy in the big leagues who on paper might not have the best mechanical swing but they’re still hitting .300 and there’s a reason for that. They have a good mindset and they can handle failure, that’s another thing. If you can handle the failure knowing that there is a 120 game season [MiLB]. If you go 0-4 with 4 strikeouts on Tuesday you still gotta wake up and play on Wednesday. For me as far as the power and the increase in stats it was a mindset and a familiarity with professional baseball, just getting used to playing everyday and getting used to the competition level.

DD: The mental and physical transformations seem to be a key to you journey from indyball to playing with a professional MLB organization. On that note I noticed on your Instagram that you went through an intense 75 Day workout challenge. It looked like you made a massive jump from where you were before the program to where you ended up after. Can you walk me through the process from Day One?

BM: I did the 75 Hard Challenge, a guy who runs a company in St. Louis started this routine. During the whole quarantine I went in a direction with my body that I wasn’t very happy with, I put on extra weight that I didn’t need. I told myself “I’m a professional athlete now, I need to be in better shape.” What better way to do it than to have fun with it? I did 75 Hard and the way I looked at it, it was just another way to compete. It had been a year without any competition for me, without playing any baseball. I wanted to do something where I could kind of compete with myself. I changed my diet, started reading more, working out more. Of course with all that you’ll make some incredible physical changes, but mentally you’ll really figure out what’s important to you and why you’re doing what you’re doing. For me that was a cool thing to do and find accomplishment in. Obviously when you look at it 75 Days of doing a lot of really hard work doesn’t sound too fun, it doesn’t even sound like you can do it in the beginning, but when you finally get to doing it you realize you’re more capable than you originally thought. That helps a lot with the mentality you go about with in life. Baseball is hard enough so anytime you can get a mental edge on your life it’s gonna help you in this game.

DD: Can you tell me what it was like being signed by the Angels? How did that process play out?

BM: Yeah it’s a pretty funny story. The original call I got was at the very end of November and my friend back in St. Louis was getting married that weekend. I just so happened to be getting a bunch of telemarketers calling my phone, it was that time of year. So I wasn’t answering my phone cause I was at the wedding. A couple of the telemarketers left me voicemails so I stopped checking my voicemails. The following week I was taking my girlfriend out ice-skating and an unknown number called me again on my way to pick her up and I ignored the call. I thought “that same number left me a voicemail, let’s go back and check that out.” Sure enough it was Andrea [La Pointe], the Angels Player Development Coordinator, and as soon as she said she was with the Angels I hung up the voicemail and called her back ASAP. I had just started a coaching job in college so I originally thought maybe they had a coaching position. When I called back she asked me if I had any interest in playing this year [2021]. As soon as she said that I thought “Come again?!” [laughs]. She wanted to see if I had the urge to play and I told her of course. They didn’t have anything open at the time but she told me if anything comes about she’d give me a call. Two or three weeks go by and I hadn’t heard anything, I thought it was a cool phone call but at that point I wanted it to kind of get over with so I could focus on what I had in front of me. As soon as that thought left my mind my phone rang and it was Andrea offering me a contract [laughs]. It was wild and luckily at the college I was coaching at the head coach was a coach of mine when I was in college so he was super excited for me. I had to flip from coach to player really quick. It was exciting because I wanted to keep playing, I’m super grateful for that phone call. To still be around after the COVID stuff with the season getting shut down is really cool.

DD: That’s easily one of the best signing stories I’ve heard from a player. How was that coaching gig though, can you tell me more about that?

BM: So I got done with the 2019 season with River City and we had just won the Frontier League Championship. I had a good season so I figured I could just ride off into the sunset, be done and get into coaching. I had taken a volunteer assistant coaching job at St. Louis University where I played and after a few months there I got hired on at Jefferson College (a junior college) which is 45 minutes south of St. Louis, to be the head assistant there. I was only there for about a week before I got the call from Andrea to sign with the Angels. It was like “one foot in one foot out” cause when I took the job I knew that contract possibility was on the table but I hadn’t heard anything so I focused on continuing to progress in my career. It was funny cause I would be throwing batting practice to all the guys and after I’d stick around and take a few rounds myself just to keep the rust off in case anyone does call me. It was wild because I really never expected it. My first few years of indyball that’s all I could think about, getting signed. Just hoping somebody calls me. As soon as I stopped thinking about that and stopped making that my main focus is when it happened.

DD: It seems like it’s all about just focusing on yourself and everything comes together when you really get in that mindset. Let’s go back to your 2019 indyball season with the River City Rascals. You mentioned you won a championship, was that your first with any teams you’ve played with?

BM: Yeah it was. When I was in college we had won our conference tournament which was a big deal for a mid-major team, that means you progress onto a regional cause there were no automatic bids for our conference (Atlantic 10 Conference). We won one of those which was one of the coolest moments ever, but in professional baseball when I won with River City that was my first championship. Back during my rookie year in 2016 we had made it to the Frontier League Championship, made it to Game 5 which was the last game of the series. I wasn’t a starter at the time but I got to see the playoffs and be around that feeling. We got so close, we lost a 2-1 game, it was a heartbreaker. It was a phenomenal game though. I got a little taste of it and realized that winning that championship is my goal. What else am I playing for? That’s the cool part about indyball, you’re not moving up and down or anything, you have your team and you have your leagues and that’s that. If you’re playing you might as well win the damn thing. In 2019 when we won it was crazy cause if you looked on paper we didn’t have the most talented team. We were above average during the season, it was actually funny cause I’m used to being on teams that have really long winning streaks or losing streaks. I wanna say that 2019 team never won more than four games in a row but we never lost more than 4 in a row either. It was the most even-keeled clubhouse I’ve ever been around. Everybody would show up the same way everyday no matter what. If they went 0-4 or 4-4 nobody cared, everybody kept each other in check. That championship was a clubhouse thing, I had played with more talented teams in my time with River City but this team had “it”.  Everybody had each others backs.

DD: How did you do in those playoff runs?

BM: The playoffs are only two rounds, just four teams make it. We played against Evansville, they were the best team in the league record wise (57-39 record in 2019), they had some really talented players and are coached really well. We swept them. After we swept them we were feeling hot, I was thinking “this is gonna be fun”. We ended up playing Florence in the championship who were actually our rivals. Of course we respected them and they respected us, but when it was game time all we wanted was to kick each others asses. As far as my performance goes I did okay, I hit third in the lineup and if I didn’t have my best game I had no doubt in my mind that our 7-8-9 hitters would step up and do something big. That’s how we won, Game 3 we were down 1 run in the 9th and our 8 hole hitter comes up and hits a HR to tie it up and then our 9 hole hitter hits a HR to walk it off. A guy who hadn’t come close to hitting a HR all year walks it off with a bomb. Guys were stepping up in different spots. Our left fielder was on a different team to start the season, he got released after a really bad start and we picked him up cause we had a guy get injured. He ends up winning playoff MVP. Dude goes off and tears it up. I give all the credit to those guys. It was a team effort all the way through.

DD: Now that you’re in the place you are now, looking back at where you’ve been, what is in your mind right now?

BM: I’m 27 years old and I think the next closest guy to me in Low A just turned 24. I have way more experience than any of the guys I’m playing with, but I love it. I’m looking at them and seeing them having success or seeing them fail and seeing the emotion coming out of them, I’m realizing that was me at one point. Having an 0-4 game the night before and thinking the world is gonna end. But you have to realize that you have a game today, so who cares? Being able to have all the experience I have and help out with the guys I’m playing with now is the coolest part for me. Playing with guys who have never went to college and are talented like I’ve never seen before is awesome. It’s cool to see guys like that at a young age be so good at this game. I’ve always been a late bloomer, I’ve never been a guy who could roll out of bed and get 5 hits that day. It always took me some time. But it’s really cool to play with guys that are so damn talented and so young too. They’ll ask me questions and it’s cool to tell them I’ve played at these different spots through my life, I’ll tell them I graduated high school when they were in the sixth grade [laughs]. That’s the coolest part for me is being able to share experience and help guys not take themselves too seriously. Don’t take yourself too seriously, that’s what I always tell them. No matter what, if you go 4-4 and feel like you’re the man the next day might humble you really quick. If you have a really bad game and go 0-4 the next day you  might play like the best player on the planet. You can only learn that through experience.

DD: So you see yourself in a bit of a mentor role with the guys?

BM: Definitely. That’s what I try my best with. I’m not one to fool myself, I know I’m not the most talented player on the field on any given day. I feel like the reason I’m still able to play is from the mental side of things. It’s a hard game and anybody can be good at showcase stuff like hitting BP and fielding ground balls but when it’s bottom of the 9th and you have a crazy situation up how are you gonna handle it? Are you gonna panic or are you gonna do what you know how to do?

DD: You’ve had a lot of experience in the game, you’ve had a lot of stuff to think about in terms of how to get better and how to get to the next level. Right now what do you see for yourself in what you can do to get better and go to the next level?

BM: For me it’s just taking in all the information I can. I might be older but you’re never too old to learn something on any day. When you’re playing against guys at a super high talent level all you can do is go out there and play it out, figure it out on the field. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of games under my belt, I’m pretty aware of my strengths and weaknesses, so for me it’s about seeing how my strengths match up against who I’m facing and just going out there and competing. As far as a skillset I try not to focus too much on thinking I need to hit more homers or run better on the base paths or anything like that, I just think about performing, going out there ready to perform and do my job.

DD: All you can do is focus on being consistent with what you’re good at.

BM: Exactly. Some guys will think they need to do more of that or more of this, but all you need to do is what you’re able to do and you have to do it consistently every day. If you end up having a bad day? Forget about it, go on to the next one.

[End of Interview]

Ryan Falla

Ryan began his work covering the Angels in 2011 for Monkey With A Halo before moving on the Halo Hangout where he began covering the Minor League Inland Empire 66ers, working with athletes such as Jared Walsh and Patrick Sandoval. In 2019 Ryan was credited by the Athletic for being the first to report on the Patrick Sandoval call-up, this news break being possible thanks to an inside source who gave Ryan the break on the story. In addition to writing with Diamond Digest, Ryan Falla also covers the Dodgers Low A team, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, for Dodgers2080

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