A large portion of the time--it seems, anyway--we have a tendency to look at transactions purely from an organizational standpoint. We consider the fact that players--with certain talents and shortcomings--are on the move along with other resources. When thinking in this manner, it is easy to overlook the fact that players are people, too. With this in mind, I contacted my friend T.J. Oakes who is a pitcher for A+ Modesto in the Rockies' organization.
Q: Alright, so first it's probably good if you could introduce yourself to the general public. Tell us a little about who are you and what you do.
A: My name is TJ Oakes. I have always loved the game of baseball and have been around it all of my life. I grew up around the game and followed my father to various minor league ballparks all across the country. I had an advantage at a young age being around quality baseball and learned a lot from just watching and being around the game of baseball. It also helps to have a father who is a pitching coach who may have taught me some things along the way. I am the person and pitcher I am today because if my father and his valuable teachings. I played 3 years under the direction of my father at the University of Minnesota and was drafted in the 11th rd of the 2012 draft by the Colorado Rockies.
Q: Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to talk a bit about how you went through the draft process and signing a contract. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who advised you through the decision to stay at school or leave? What were some of the biggest factors?
Honestly, it was one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make. I loved college and college baseball and was really set on finishing my degree in 4 years. Things can change fast and all of a sudden I was signed by the Rockies and left a year of eligibility on the table. My family really pushed hard for me to sign and thought it would be the best opportunity for me. I took their advice and went ahead and signed.
Q: These days, a lot of individuals criticize top arms for going to college for fear that they will be "abused" by coaching staffs. Now, in your case your father was on your coaching staff at Minnesota. Going back, how do you feel about choosing Minnesota and staying for three years?
A: Playing baseball at the University of Minnesota was the best thing that has happened to me. I not only learned how to become a better baseball player but really grew as a person and gained valuable life skills. The coaching staff at Minnesota really invests in all their guys as people first and not just as athletes. The relationships that I built with coaches and teammates at Minnesota are ones that will last a lifetime for me. There are many great memories on and off the field that I will always cherish. I really enjoyed competing for my school along with playing with great teammates.
Q: Obviously one of the biggest parts of a pro athlete's career is deciding on an agent. Who is your agent and how did you go about choosing him for the job?
A: My agent is Joe Speed from Sterling Sports Management. Joe has represented many Gopher (that's Minnesota) players in the past-- most recognizably Jack Hannahan and Robb Quinlan-- and developed a relationship with my father over the years. He is a trustworthy and honest guy which are the key traits I believe you should look for when choosing an agent.
Q: The trade deadline is a stressful time for everyone in baseball. While it would have been odd for the Rockies to trade a pitcher just in his second year in the organization, I'm sure there were other guys you've played with that were viable trade options for Colorado at the deadline. How often does the discussion of trades at higher levels come up in a minor league clubhouse?
A: It came up a few times and nothing really serious. At our level, it was mostly discussions like, "wouldn't it be cool to be involved in a trade for a big time player in the big leagues?" This would mean the club trading for you--a low A player--, them thinking highly of you, and realistically thinking you have a chance to one day make the big leagues. It was kind of neat to see certain guys in the league I played in get traded for big league players-- like CJ Edwards and Dilson Hererra to name a few.
Q: The NCAA has a rule book a mile thick, and I'm sure the Rockies have their fair share of organizational policies that they expect individuals to follow. With these boundaries in mind, what advice do you have for young pitchers who may be high schoolers or college pitchers and are contemplating entering the draft?
A: Be smart and do not do anything that will jeopardize your eligibility. Your eligibility is your main bargaining tool in negotiations to sign, and if you do something to ruin eligibility, you lose most of your leverage and have no other choice but to sign for what the team offers. I think a lot of this goes back to choosing a good adviser/agent and making sure they know all the rules to help you out.
A: I personally would never advise a high school pitcher to enter the draft and instead go to college. I think pitchers really develop in college which gets them ready for the pro game. I personally love the college game and would not want someone to miss out on that experience. Whether people like it or not, college seems to be more of a team type atmosphere where you are playing for your school and teammates as where minor league ball can get too individualized where people are focused too much on themselves and their promotion rather than what's best for the team. Also, the education part is huge too. There's only a small fraction of players in pro ball that make it to the big leagues and all the other guys are eventually going to need jobs outside of baseball. Getting a start to your education, even though it may be only two years, is huge and a lot easier to finish up rather than having the full four years of college left after baseball.
A: I loved your research on the well-hit ball theory and think it is a very good concept. Other than that, not a whole lot. We have certain organizational development techniques that we use both on the physical side and mental side of the game.
A few quick words
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A thank you to T.J. Oakes for taking the time for this interview.
Ken Woolums is the Transactions Editor at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Wooly9109