Connor Justus is a 22 year old shortstop prospect currently playing for the Burlington Bees. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2016 MLB draft out of Georgia Tech. He slashed .344/.465/.430 in Orem last season before moving up to A ball where he struggled initially. He ended his season in Burlington with a .230/.345/.309 line and hit .355 over his last 10 games.
I had a phone chat with Connor Justus and if I were scouting my first impressions based solely off a conversation, I would say Justus is incredibly polite, well mannered, has a strong faith, a passion for the game that is infectious, is constantly learning and questioning, and never takes a single moment or opportunity for granted. These are all pretty good qualities you want in a professional baseball player.
Halos Heaven: What was the process like signing with the Angels and joining the organization last summer?
Connor Justus: It was unbelievable. Incredible. It’s a lifelong dream you think about when you are a kid. All that time and effort becomes totally worth it.
HH: What about signing with the Angels specifically - did you have a team you were hoping to play for? Where you a fan of another team before?
CJ: I grew up near Atlanta so was a Braves fans. But the Angels are just a great organization to play for. I went into the draft with an open mind and as the draft got closer it was more about baseball than any specific team.
HH: You entered the draft after your junior year. What was your major and do you have plans to finish that?
CJ: Business major. I do plan to finish my degree and I only have two semesters left. I’m taking the classes when I can. I plan to finish up after those 3 years of hard work. A degree is forever.
HH: It was reported that you wanted to pay your parents back for money they gave to help you with school but they didn’t want any part of them. Who ended up winning that battle?
CJ: They did. They have always been so very supportive of me and not allowing me to take on any extra burdens. They have never made it about more than anything other than supporting me and my dream and I’m very lucky to have them as parents.
HH: When did you know you wanted to be a pro ball player? When did you start playing baseball?
CJ: The first word out of my mouth was actually “ball”. I can remember all the way back to throwing a ball with my dad in the backyard so it’s really been a lifelong dream that I’ve had every since I could pick up a baseball. I know that this game doesn’t owe me anything and I make the best of every opportunity God has blessed me with.
HH: Your hitting really broke out your junior year and last year in Orem. Did you change anything in your approach?
CJ: The whole mental side of the game and focusing on what I was trying to do. My mentor Jay Hood has been awesome, as have all the coaches at Georgia Tech. It’s about understanding that it’s more than just going up to the plate to hit. Understanding launch angle or when is a good time to try and get guys in. It’s about trying to be a good teammate first and not worrying about my stats - something my fiancé, Sidni has really helped me understand. All the work and preparation is going to come together the way God wants it to.
HH: What was the biggest challenge moving from college to pro ball?
CJ: Definitely the speed of the game. It gets faster as you move up, and trying to adapt as quickly as possible. It’s the same game you’ve been playing since you were 6 years old, just a lot faster and with more responsibility. Really just trying to handle the baseball side when you are on the field and the business side when you are off.
HH: How as the move from Orem to Burlington and the adjustment to the level of play?
CJ: Again, the speed of the game. That’s what separates guys is how quickly they can adapt. Getting moved up and struggling was one of the best things that happened to me and learning how to adapt and have the right mindset that goes with that. It’s about being a level headed, consistent player that will ultimately have a great career in this game.
HH: Do you have a favorite city or ballpark so far?
CJ: That’s a tough question. I don’t know. I really like South Bend which is a great facility. I played there after I just moved up and it was an overwhelming experience playing in front of so many fans. It was pretty amazing. It may have been more about it being my first game after moving up than the specific stadium though.
HH: What about ballpark factor? Orem is very hitter friendly and Burlington not as much. How do you as ballplayers handle that?
CJ: We try not to think about it. In the end it’s the same swing and the same game no matter which park you are in.
HH: What are the best and worst parts about being a minor leaguer?
CJ: The best part is obviously playing the game for a living. You hear the horror stories, but it’s really not that bad in the minors. If anything I would have to say the long bus rides, but there’s really not a bad side to it. It’s all part of growing in your career.
HH: What is the longest bus ride you had?
CJ: Twelve hours through the night from Orem to somewhere in Montana. It doesn’t feel that long though because you are enjoying it and are with a bunch of brothers who have the same goal as you.
HH: You may not answer this since you are pretty diplomatic, but is there a player who blew you away in Orem?
CJ: So many guys with just a really strong work ethic. We all pick each others brains and feed off each other. If I had to say someone, I would say my roommate Jahmai Jones. He is wise beyond his years and I love the motivation and passion he plays the game with. It is really fun to feed off him with him on base and being up to bat and watching him steal second then having the chance to drive him in. Matt Thaiss too. We were rivals in college since he went to Virginia. Being on the same team was great and having the chance to share memories and talk about those games where we played each other.
HH: How did and are you preparing for the upcoming season?
CJ: A lot of weight room work. Speed work. Defense. You get that itch early but you need to give yourself a rest. I worked out at Georgia Tech this off season and had the same to be around guys like Matt Wieters and Shane Robinson. It was overwhelming at first when you realize you are right there with them putting in the same work. I got to ask questions and learn from them too.
HH: And you are heading down to Arizona on Thursday? You work out right there in Tempe?
CJ: Yes. And we work out on the back fields. I’ve been there twice already for mini camp and instructional ball but this is my first spring training and I’m really looking forward to it.
HH: Do you have any idea which team you’ll be playing with to start the season?
CJ: I don’t know. I’m just going to spring training to work as hard as I can and will work with wherever they stick me. The work never stops and I’m looking forward to it.
HH: Do you have any goals for this year?
CJ: Just continuing to grow every day and learn to be able to impact the game in away that major leaguers do every day. I want to be an impact factor that they have no choice but to move up. Wherever I fall at the end of the year is where I’m gonna be. At the end you will be where God wants you to be and that’s the biggest thing.
HH: Do you have any pre game rituals or habits? Any superstitions like many ballplayers have?
CJ: I’m a big routine guy. I have my things that I wear but I’m more about being consistent and the energy I bring to the field every day. I think that goes farther than having a superstitious attitude. But I do have routine stuff like when I take ground balls I take 10 to the glove side, then 10 to the backhand side. It’s about building a routine that works for you.
HH: Do you have any favorite players on the team that aren’t named Mike Trout?
CJ: [laughs] Andrelton Simmons. He is so fun to watch defensively. He actually worked out a few times at Georgia Tech and I got to talk to him and ask questions. I saw him play growing up since he was on Atlanta. Kole Calhoun too. He is such a firecracker. I hope to bring that kind of energy to the field every day like they do.
HH: What are your hobbies outside of baseball?
CJ: We have a little beagle named Yoshi that rules the house. Being with family and spending quality time with them is important. I love being outside in general. The dog park, hiking, shooting hoops. I spend a lot of time with my fiancé, Sidni and we just got our engagement pictures done yesterday
HH: Do you have a wedding date planned?
CJ: Yes, January 6th, 2018.
HH: Okay a fun fantasy question to end things with. 2019 World Series. Tie game, no one on base. Bottom of 8th and 2 outs. You are facing Clayton Kershaw. How do you approach the at bat?
CJ: Obviously it depends on how he’s been pitching me the whole game and what he’s been doing. You can’t protect the entire zone so I’m going to look for something over the plate that I can handle. Maybe try to drive something into the gap or just get a base hit and hope someone can bring me around. He’s got a great curve so I don’t want to see that.
HH: Thank you so much for your time Connor. Hopefully when you make the big league roster you’ll do another interview with Halos Heaven.
CJ: You’re welcome. And absolutely. Thank you so much and we will see you around.