After two great seasons at Oklahoma State, pitcher Jon Heasley decided to take the jump to professional baseball after being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 13th Round. He started his professional career playing for the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League. He finished the season pitching in 12 games, had a 5.05 ERA, and 35 K/16 BB in 50 2⁄3 innings pitched. Jon took a little bit of time to do an interview last Wednesday discussing his first season in professional baseball, the future of Oklahoma State baseball, and the Royals organization.
Joel Penfield: What was it like hearing your name called on draft day? How difficult of a decision was it to forgo the rest of your time at Oklahoma State?
Jon Heasley “It was a dream come true, something I always dreamed about as kid was getting the opportunity to play professional baseball. It was definitely it was not an easy decision either you know, especially being a sophomore I had two years left. Ultimately, it came down to me talking to my parents, and you know you can’t guarantee anything so it’s not really an opportunity that you don’t want to pass up on when you get the chance. I could’ve gone back to Oklahoma State and maybe have gotten some more money, but at the same time that isn’t guaranteed, and with it being my dream to play professional baseball, I figured why not take the opportunity while I got it. My agent and a bunch of other people have told me how good the Royals are with pitchers and developing pitching, so that added to the decision to go ahead and take it. At the end of the day, I’m really happy with everything and made the right decision, it’s been an awesome experience so far.”
JP: What was the biggest adjustment you made from college to rookie ball in Idaho Falls?
JH: “In college, it always seems like the top part of the lineup is really solid, and then once you get down to the 7, 8, and 9 hitters they are more defensive guys who can’t hit quite as well. That’s what I noticed pretty quickly, is that there are no holes in the lineup anymore. You’ve got to execute your pitches, and if you make a mistake, they’re usually going to capitalize on it. One thing I’ve noticed is at each level from high school to college, and then college to the professional level, the margin for error gets smaller and smaller, and that will continue to as I move up and my career continues.”
JP: Did you face any former Cowboys? If so, how did that go?
JH: “We played against one, actually there’s two on Ogden. One was a pitcher and one was an outfielder, but I never got to face the outfielder. The pitcher came in a couple times against us. I think one time he came in with the bases loaded and threw one pitch and got a double play to get out of it. When that happened, I wasn’t quite sure who to cheer for. But yeah I never faced Jon Littell, never got the chance to pitch against him, but I think he did well and had a good year. Reza Aleaziz was the pitcher, and I believe he had a good year as well.
JP: How do you feel about the future of the Oklahoma State program? Who are some names to keep in mind for this coming season?
JH: “I honestly think they’re going to be pretty good, especially with pitching, they have a lot. I think Jensen Elliott is going to be the go-to guy. He was a Freshman All-American, missed most of last season with Tommy John, but came back at the end of last season and looked like he didn’t skip a beat, so I think he’s going to be the guy. Parker Scott is another kid that missed most of last year, actually most of his freshman year as well because of two surgeries. He’s one of my good buddies so I’ve talked to him and it sounds like he’s doing well, so he can get back into his shape, he was a legit arm out of high school, could’ve been drafted out of high school, so he’ll be fun to watch as well. I’m not sure what they are going to do with the starting rotation because they have so many options. Offensively, they still have Colin Simpson as the power guy. Michael Neustifter will be good for us again. All three outfielders return, besides Littell, but Carson McCusker, Cade Cabbiness, and Trevor Boone look to be the guys, it’ll be really fun to watch.”
JP: If you had to comp yourself to a pitcher in the big leagues, who would it be?
JH: “Actually I was talking to a guy about this, he’s a scout from the Marlins. He played with the Nationals and he told me I reminded him of Tanner Roark. I went and watched some of his videos and I could definitely see it. So if I had to say who my comp was that’s who I would say. We have similar delivery and arm action and stuff like that.”
JP: The Royals loaded up on college players, mostly pitchers, in the draft this year, how do you feel about the state of the organization?
JH: “I think the future is definitely bright. I know I’ve heard Kowar and Lynch have been tearing it up in Lexington, Singer obviously got shut down for a little bit, but from watching him in college he’s the real deal. I know (Kris) Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan were a couple bigger name guys in Idaho Falls, Bubic was fun to watch pitch, and Bowlan was my roommate so we got pretty close and he is legit too. We’ve definitely got arms for sure, so the future is definitely bright there. The position players following that, guys like Matias and Melendez, and those kinds of guys, I think the future is definitely bright. (Kyle) Isbel was with us in Idaho for a short time before he got called up, and he’s fun to watch too. I definitely think there are some weapons in the system, it’s only a matter of time before they make their way up.”
JP: Isbel is probably my favorite guy in the system right now, he’s legit.
JH: “He’s incredible, hitting and defensively. He covered ground and made plays like I’ve never seen before.”
JP: In Idaho Falls the ball flies so I was interested to see what he was going to do in Lexington, which is still pretty hitter friendly but then he goes and hits a bomb in his first at-bat there.
JH: “We saw that and we were all just laughing like that was no surprise. He just kept raking the whole time. “
JP: Have the Royals introduced anything new to you pitching wise?
JH: “No, I’ve stayed pretty much the same. I know Paul Gibson was up in Idaho for about a week and we talked about a couple things like my offspeed pitches, like trying to tweak my arm slot a little bit. I felt like I kind of drop down on my changeup a little bit, so we talked about working on moving that up a little bit. Then, really just trying to keep my front side closed, but I think this first year they just let us throw and see how we work. Then by the time we get back in the spring it will be more about if there are adjustments that need to be made we’ll do that then.”
JP: What do you think you bring to the organization that separates you from the rest?
JH: “I feel like my mental toughness is something that’s always separated me from others throughout my whole career. I mean, perseverance and stuff like that, I’m not going to back down from anything, I’m always going to fight. I’m a big time competitor, it’s what I love to do and it’s why I’m still playing baseball, I love pitching and I love being in control and being out there competing. I think it’s just my competitive edge and my mental toughness that separates me from the others. I’m excited to see where it takes me.”
JP: Who is an under the radar guy in the organization right now that might not be talked about too much?
JH: “Probably, I mean J.C. Cloney I guess he’s been talked about a little bit this year. But he had a silent 9-0 record and a sub-2.00 ERA to start off the season in Idaho Falls before he got called up to Lexington. He’s not going to blow you away with high velocity or anything, he’s got upper 80’s to low 90’s. But it seemed like I was on the game chart every time because I started the day after him, so I was in the stands for most of his outings, and it was crazy to watch him pitch. He located better than anyone I’ve really seen, and just kind of changed speeds with his changeup and cutter, it was fun to watch, he was just dicing guys up the whole time.”
JP: What do you like to do when you aren’t at the ballpark?
JH: “I actually just got a new set of golf clubs, so I like to play golf and look forward to play some more of that during the offseason. Hang out with friends, family, and just relax. That’s pretty much it, play some video games, or spend time with friends and family and enjoy doing that.”
JP: Last question, if you could go back and watch one moment in baseball history in person, what would it be?
JH: That’s a good one. After yesterday and seeing all the 9/11 stuff, George Bush throwing out the first pitch and all that, that would have been incredible to be a part of. Just to watch that and how that brought the whole nation together when he threw out that first pitch, and the World Series against the Diamondbacks would be cool to watch as well. That would be special to be at.”