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Interview with Arizona Fall League invitee Brett Hanewich

Halos Heaven chats with the Inland Empire pitcher before he heads to Arizona

Photo: Fernando Gutierrez

Brett Hanewich is just chilling at home in Florida, waiting to report to Arizona on September 30th. Except he’s not really chilling because he’s still getting in work. Check out our interview to learn more about this exciting prospect who is on his way to the prestigious Arizona Fall League in a few days and has nothing but glowing reviews of the Angels organization.

Hi Brett, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

No worries. I have plenty of time here. I’m just at home here hanging out before I head out to the Fall League.

Perfect. So you mentioned the Arizona Fall League. What was that like getting the call to go and who told you?

So, my manager in Inland Empire, Ryan Barba, he actually mentioned it in the dugout basically in kind of a pitcher’s meeting. I had an idea that it was a possibility that I could potentially go, but there was nothing set in stone. It was actually really kind of exciting for me. A little bit of a shock that didn’t really hit my right away but after it set in and everyone said their congratulations to me it was actually really exciting to know that I was going to have the opportunity to play in something so prestigious as the Fall League with a bunch of other great players from different organizations. And I’m so thrilled and very blessed to have the opportunity to go to the Fall League and that the Angels thought enough of me to send me there. It’s very nice to know.

it was actually really exciting to know that I was going to have the opportunity to play in something so prestigious as the Fall League

Yeah, for sure, it’s a pretty big deal. So, are there guys from other teams that you’re looking forward to playing with that are going to be on your team or a team you’ll be facing down there?

I think that everyone in their own respects, I think I’m definitely excited to play with every single player. I don’t think there’s one or two names in particular because I think everyone there is on a whole other level of talent. Not that no one else in the minors doesn’t have the talent, but the guys there that are sent to the Fall League are the best of the best. So I’m just excited to play with everyone there. Not one name in particular because I’ll be on a team with 30 other guys and I’m just excited to play with each one of them and learn as much as I can and for my own benefit. If there’s something they can teach me or I can learn from them to get every single little bit of information out of what I can when I’m there because that’s what I’m there for is to play with the best and hopefully have a good showing while I’m there.

Speaking of playing with the best, the Angels have a long history with Vladimir Guerrero and you’ll be potentially facing his son, so how do you feel about that? He’s quite the hitter.

Yeah from what I’ve seen he’s had a great year. He’s obviously a great player and comes from a great bloodline and yea there’s always guys like that who I’m hoping I get the chance to face once maybe twice or a couple times and obviously my goal is to get those guys out because hopefully one day I’ll be facing hitters like that every single day. So it’s definitely going to be a big test for me and kinda of on a more personal level and a pride type deal where I want I want to get the best hitters out. I always do, and I want to prove that I can be the best and I can compete with those guys.

That makes sense. Let’s jump back a little bit to when the Angels drafted you, what were your thoughts since you’re from Florida and I’m not sure if they were on your radar as a team you were thinking about.

I went to school out in California. I went to Stanford University, so they were a little bit on my radar. My agent is based out of Beverly Hills. I’m with Beverly Hills Sports Council and he kind of talks to all of those guys pre draft and gave me a list of teams that were interested in drafting me or have shown interest in the past and they were actually on that list. And when the draft came around, I’m sure you’ve talked to plenty of baseball guys that have gone through that process - it’s kind of stressful because you don’t know where you’re gonna go, where you’re gonna get up. If you’re gonna get drafted early or late or if you’re gonna get drafted at all. I was lucky enough to have my agent who put me in a good position for the draft, talked to these guys, knows enough guys to put me in a position where I was able to get drafted.

With the Angels, just seeing what the whole organization was, hearing different outlooks from people - friends, family, previous coaches, guys that have played in that organization all said good things. And just looking at what the biggest need was and it seemed liked bullpen arms in general - it seemed like it was a good fit and once they called it was kind of trying to agree on the signing bonus and what not but overall that wasn’t what made or broke the decision of signing with the Angels. Once they called me they were the ones that stood out in terms of how it could affect me moving up fast or slow and the fit for me was one of the better ones of the teams that were interested in me or showed interested. I was definitely excited when I got the call from them.

In terms of speed, it does seem like Billy Eppler has been moving people up pretty fast. We love it when you guys get pushed up quicker.

Yeah, it’s definitely nice to see and be a part of it and just moving up fast as well. But I agree, it’s exciting when you move up and when you move up to a higher level you get better competition. You kind of get tested and it’s definitely nicer than sitting in one place all year and wondering if you’re gonna get moved up and wondering what the next deal is. Everyone should be excited about the Angels organization as a whole because there are a bunch of good players, a bunch of good athletes, and it looks like we’re gonna have a pretty bright future ahead of us with all the players that we have.

Photo: Fernando Gutierrez

Everyone should be excited about the Angels organization as a whole because there are a bunch of good players, a bunch of good athletes, and it looks like we’re gonna have a pretty bright future ahead of us

Tell me about your time at IMG Academy - you spent two years there. What was life like there?

Yeah, I’ll actually bring you back a little bit further. I went to a public school my first two years and then I went to IMG. I dind’t have any idea I would even go to IMG until they reached out to my father saying they wanted to bring me along and bring me on to see what I could do there and it would be a good opportunity. We looked into it a little bit more an did some research. Talked to some friends and family that have gone there and we ended up deciding to go there and it was just a whole different experience.

You went from every day going to practice for 2 hours doing the regular high school practices to that being more of a job like experience with IMG where you go to class until 1 o’clock and then your’e going out to the field right away and you’re going there until probably 4 or 5 o’clock. It was just more hands on. There was more coaching. More opportunities to better yourself as an athlete and as a baseball player which I was very lucky I had the opportunity to go there too. But yea IMG as a whole was a great experience for me. I got the opportunity to play a good amount as a pitcher and as a hitter. Obviously I’m just a pitcher now but being in high school you always wanna hit so that was nice to do too.

Even now as an alumni. I graduated in 2013 and for example I came back from this season and I had just about a month before I go back which is in the next couple of days - the 30th I report. I had a month to kinda do nothing at home so I wanted to stay in throwing shape and IMG, I called and they said yeah come on down, we’ll have some catchers you can throw to. So I’ve been throwing with them, getting help from them, and it’s nice to have that connection even now after you graduate. You got everything open to you, you can go work out, you can go throw. So that’s definitely been very nice to have, especially not having many baseball connections in terms of who can catch me because everyone I’ve played with is from everywhere in the country, not just where I’m from, and IMG is just right down the street from me.

So I have kind of a weird question that I never ask, but having a degree from Stanford is a pretty good thing to fall back on. With that kind of degree does that put a timetable on your baseball career, is that something that even comes to mind?

For me, um, I had the opportunity to go to Stanford so that was something that was life changing, life altering. Like you said I’m in the position to fall back on a degree if I need to, but the plans I have right now are to play baseball as long as I possibly can because I love playing, I love doing it, I love the relationships I’ve formed around it. Just competing. I’m 100% a competitor. I go out every day and try to make myself better. Baseball is my job and as long as I can keep playing, I’m going to keep doing that and if one day something happens whether it’s a career ending injury or there’s no team that finds a fit for me or something out of the ordinary where I would end up not playing and I’d have to fall back on that degree, that’s fine. But I do have that degree to fall back on which is really nice. But the plan right now is to make it to the major leagues and play for as long as I can.

I’m always fascinated by the minor leagues. It’s not an easy life. I don’t know if you follow the minor league grinder on Instagram. Do you have any stories about what’s it’s really like as a minor leaguer, or any funny or crazy stories you could share.

Um, I feel like the minor leagues in my opinion are pretty self, no - not self explanatory, they are very, people say these things about how it’s a grind or it’s miserable. In my experiences if you love the game, you love playing it, it’s honestly not that bad. Obviously you don’t get paid as much as you’d like but like I said, I love playing, I love the relationships I’ve formed and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. It’s a once in the a lifetime experience and it doesn’t feel like a grind when you’re in it. All the guys you are around, you have so much fun like when I was in Burlington we’d play cards almost every day before we had to go out and throw, before the game, as soon as BP is over we’re running to get a table for our card game. It’s just those little things that make the season go by faster. It is a grind on your body and just trying to recover because you are playing every single day. In college you play 56 games in a season and 25 in high school where go from that to a pro season where you go form 25 or 56 games a season to a 140 games. So it’s kind of a big jump and there’s a lot of wear and tear on the body. Not a lot of people make it through a full season healthy. Luckily I was able to do so and I think that’s a testament to my training staff. Just learning about, especially this year, how my body functions and what I need to do to prepare for the next day. Just a bunch of things to recover. So yeah it’s definitely a grind but it goes by pretty fast considering you have all these guys doing the same thing. You all have one goal.

And a funny story, I would say in Burlington, I’m sure you’ve heard that during the beginning of the season the weather is not too great over there. So first, I wanna say the first full month you either had rain, snow, most of the time it was snow. I think we played like 7 games in the first month of the season and it was miserable weather. And we had a certain amount of time off and everyone had to go through. As a pitcher you don’t want to take too much time off and the field is covered in snow, you have the tarp on the field, you can’t take it off because it’s still snowing and coming down pretty good and all the pitchers go out, put on our turf shoes, and go out in the parking lot and do our full activation and warmup in the parking lot then go and throw out in these parking lot lanes we have in Burlington right in front of the stadium. But it’s in the parking lot and we’re throwing 120 feet. You see guys putting their hands to their mouths, trying to warm up, trying to get moisture to get a grip on the ball. You see a guy miss the ball and they are searching in the snow for it. It’s just kinda funny where you’re out there looking at all these guys who are just covered in big jackets, beanies, trying to stay warm and just get their throwing in a snow storm basically.

Yeah you didn’t have to deal with that in Orem because you start later, right?

[laughs] No, no, everywhere else is really nice weather. When I went to California it didn’t rain once every single day I was there and it was hotter than anything. I think the hottest it was there was like 115 degrees at one point. It was crazy but it was definitely nice to be able to play every day and not have to worry about a rain out or snow for that matter.

So you’ve pitched in three different leagues, three different stadiums now. How do you feel about the lopsided ballpark factors with Orem more hitter friendly, Burlington is a litter more pitcher friendly. How do you adjust to that, and what was it like to pitch in Orem to start in such a hitter friendly park?

To start I would say for Orem, I liked pitching there. As a pitcher you try not to factor in what the ballpark is. You try to focus on what you can control because if you’re gonna pitch at the highest levels you’re gonna have ballparks that are crazy. You’re going to pitch at every single ballpark. Especially as a reliever that throws every day or every 2 or 3 days. So you gotta do your best that you can to take out that mental aspect because you can’t control it. You gotta just go with the flow. For me it’s more of how the mound is taken care of and every single place they’ve had great mounds. Whereas some of the stadiums for other teams they may not have great facilities or may not take care of their field as much. The Angels have done a great job with each affiliate and taking care of them. But like I said, you can’t control certain elements. It’s obviously a lot nicer to pitch in a more pitcher friendly park that a hitter friendly park but I hadn’t really noticed a huge difference in terms of my results because my successes and failures have been based off my preparations and everything in my control. If I’m getting behind a hitter I’m going to probably give up, I’m either walk him or give up a hit if I’m starting behind rather than getting ahead of a hitter. So that’s something I tried to focus on more this year was focus on getting ahead to eliminate the amount of failures I would have.

Just looking at straight stats from Burlington to Inland Empire you had a pretty dramatic change. Did something change or click for you this year toward the second half of the season?

I want to say weather was a big impact for that but honestly I can’t really say that was because I felt good in both situations. Whether I was throwing in the cold or not, your body still ends up getting pretty loose as you go and you start warming up. But just the mentality of the whole process. Last year in Orem my mentality coming out of college was a little different. I was just throwing just to throw I guess and not really bearing down and focusing on hitter to hitter and pitch to pitch making small adjustments. But yea, I would say that about getting ahead of falling behind. I’ve kind of learned, especially in Orem, and even back in college I learned that when I had success I was getting ahead of hitters. So first pitch strikes. If it wasn’t a first pitch strike then 2 out of the first 3 for strikes. You got some situations where you go 2-0 and 3-0 and you get lucky enough to get out of it but the law of averages says if you keep doing that it will balance out.

From Burlington to Inland it wasn’t I would say even a huge adjustment, it was just kind of bearing down and sticking with what I knew and that was really just the mental side of attacking hitters, getting ahead. But yea, Burlington was definitely a good experience for me to pitch in different weather, different environments and having a first full year with an affiliate was good for my experience leading in to Inland Empire. It was a good change.

Do you have a favorite pitch that you throw?

My fastball is my favorite pitch. The coordinators always tell me how I have a different type of fastball. Not really sure what that means per se down to the nail but they say I have a different fastball. It’s definitely my favorite pitch to throw. I like throwing my changeup a lot. I really like throwing a lot of pitches if I can locate them all. Especially if they’re throwing for strikes, I can get ahead of them, it makes my job as a pitcher a lot easier because it throws hitters off.

What part of your game do you feel like needs the most work or that you focus on more?

Definitely, seems like we always come back to this, is the command. Like I said before, all my failures come from walking guys, from throwing pitchers with runners on base, getting behind hitters. It’s going to happen but I can limit those, whether it’s limiting walks, getting ahead, throwing a smaller amount of pitches in an outing. A small amount of pitches per inning which always comes back to command. Commanding the zone with all three pitches. Just staying consistent with small things that I can control like my release point, my mechanics, just everything to stay consistent and repeatable. That’s when I have the most success. So just finding a groove with that and finding out what I need to do to have that every single outing is definitely a thing I’ve been working on and worked on a lot this year and definitely improving and going the right direction.

Are there any big league pitchers that you look up to and if so, why?

Hmm, let’s see. I’ve been told, or people have said that I guess I either look a lot like John Lackey of I guess I remind them of him. I’ve heard that from multiple people. So John Lackey would be one of them. But other than that I wouldn’t say there’s any one particular pitcher. I try to, when I watch baseball games, I try to watch pitchers and see and try to learn what I can do from what they are doing out on the mound. Not to emulate what they are doing because everyone has their own different style of pitching but I try to learn what I can. I will say I kinda throw a little bit like a combination of Jordan Walden and Carter Capps. Which we actually faced Carter Capps this year and I know Jordan Walden was an ex Angels guy so people say I throw like him sometimes.

And Carter Capps too?


You don’t have that same hop on the mound though do you?

No, no. His is a lot more exaggerated but apparently mine, I have a tiny little jump in my motion apparently. I don’t feel it when I throw. People just say oh you throw a little bit like Jordan Walden or something.

Have you had many interactions with Billy Eppler and if so what were those like?

Let’s see, so in spring training he came to talk to us just as a group but there really wasn’t any interaction there. There were a couple times once or twice where I was in Inland and we just ran into each other. Like he would go through the clubhouse or walk through the hall leading up to the clubhouse and I would shake his hand and he would ask how I was feeling and how I’m doing but not too many one on one interactions like me sitting down and talking to him or anything like that. Apparently my agent is pretty close with him so I guess he talks to him a good amount.

Is he at many of your games? I actually went to one of the games and ran into him in the stands there. I don’t know if he’s watching you guys often.

I think sometimes when, especially if there’s a big league rehab he definitely comes to the game. They don’t usually tell us if he will come to the games like “Billy Eppler is gonna be at the game” or one of the coordinators is gonna come to the game. When the coordinators are in town the just show up and you see them in the clubhouse or dugout and it’s like “oh hey, I didn’t know you were coming”.

Last question, this is the fun one we ask of everyone we interview. Five Guys or In N Out?

I have to say Five Guys, 100%. I don’t see what the big deal about In N Out is and it might be because I’m from Florida and not from California. A lot of people probably won’t agree with my answer but I definitely like Five Guys better because of the french fries. I love the french fries.

It will raise some controversy for sure.

[laughter] Yea.

I’ve talked to Mike Trout and he’s finally warming up to it so maybe you’ll come around.

I’ve only had it a couple times so I think maybe a couple more times it might take for me to warm up to it.

Alright, that’s all I have. I really appreciate your time.

Yeah that you for calling, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Good luck. Hope to see you out there. I’m going to be out there in a couple weeks myself.

Oh yeah? Nice!

Thanks again, have a good rest of your day.

Thank you, you too.

You can find Brett on Twitter @bretthanewich