During Day 3 of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the New York Yankees select catcher Jackson Thoreson in the 26th Round out of St. Mary’s college in California. We had the privilege to talk to Jackson about his college experience, how he became a catcher and much more in this exclusive interview.
Ricky: What was your draft day experience like and how did you find out that you were drafted by the Yankees?
Jackson: It was pretty unreal and crazy. I was with my dad at the time and we were playing golf during the day. We had just gotten off the course and we were eating lunch and I was following the tracker throughout the round. I get a text from a friend saying congrats man, this is so cool. I was like what and then I had to look at the tracker. I found out through those guys that I was drafted. Then, I got the call.
R: Did you have any communication with the Yankees throughout the draft process?
J: Me personally, no. I am sure my advisor did. I knew they were on me a little bit but I didn’t get a call until the draft day personally.
R: Were the Yankees your favorite team growing up? If not, who was it?
J: The Yankees were not my favorite team, it’s not like I disliked them or anything. I was born in Seattle so I grew up a Mariners fan. When we moved down here to San Jose, I followed the Giants a little bit. I never really got to watch the Yankees play.
R: As you started your career, when did you first realize you wanted to be a catcher?
J: I think I was playing travel ball and I was probably 10-11 years old. I kind of always had a pretty good arm for my age. I was at that point where players start stealing bases and starting to fill out positions and it was getting competitive. One coach had me catch and it was kind of my home after that. Ever since then, I have been a catcher (first base occasionally. There I realized I could do something with catcher so I started working on it more and being the best I could.
R: Were there any catchers in the big leagues that you enjoyed watching?
J: When Joe Mauer used to catch, I used to love watching him play. He was a left-handed bat like me and he was fun catching. Watching the Giants for so many years, it has been pretty cool to watch Buster Posey and see him catch every night. Definitely been lucky to be able to watch him.
R: In 2016, you made 35 starts at first base in your sophomore year. Is first base a position that you feel comfortable playing?
J: I am comfortable playing there. I hadn’t played there until that year so I just kind of worked at it. In my freshman year, I split time with a junior. There was a sophomore catcher who got hurt. He came back the next year and he did the majority of the catching. I was able to practice with him and learn from him from while staying in the lineup and playing first. They wanted to keep me in the lineup somehow, so first base ended up working out.
R: In 2017, your home run total went up from three to nine. What was the key to your power success these last two seasons?
J: I got a little bit stronger. I think there was more intent to hit home runs more so just swinging harder. We always talk about we don’t want to just touch the ball, we want to hit the ball hard. That mindset kind of changed a little bit for me. It was not just we are trying to put the ball in play, we are going to put the ball in play and do some damage with it. It’s also the fact that I got older and a little bigger. Everything kind of helps towards that.
R: How would you describe your approach at the plate? This past season, you almost had as many walks (31) as strikeouts (34) and you got hit eight times.
J: It is something we had talked about. The year before, the walks and strikeout numbers weren’t great. My coaches and I sat down and we had to find a way to do this. It was a lot of ok, what pitches are you swinging at that you shouldn’t be? Eliminating those on a day-to-day basis whether it is through BP. Just getting a better sense of the strike zone and I tried working hard with two strikes with that approach, just getting on the plate a little bit, not changing too much other than anything close, its got to be touched.
After a while, we started noticing in intrasquad games that I was walking more and some of these approaches. We tried to make my swing and my setup with no strikes and one strike the same as it was with two strikes. That really helps.
R: Your team had four players selected on Wednesday in the draft, which tied a program record. What does that mean to you?
J: It’s awesome. I am close with all those guys (two pitchers and one of them was my roommate). It means for the program that things are getting better. We have had ten guys drafted since I have been there, so that is good for a small school in Moraga (California). We are getting better. We have an unbelievable coaching staff and every single guy wants to play pro ball. Everybody is working hard every single day. It’s a cool feeling.
R: Can you tell us something unique about playing home games at St. Mary’s?
J: We don’t have the typical Division I stadium that everyone wants to see or play in. We have some supported bleachers that aren’t there during the fall. That’s all there is for people to stand on and watch the games. When we get fans, the place is packed because it is so small. It kind of gives the team a little bit of an edge because all those schools can have anything they want and we are still going to beat them with the little bit that we have. It builds character and it’s pretty cool. You should get out there sometime.
R: Is the rivalry with Gonzaga in basketball the same in baseball?
J: I would say yeah. They are a team that is good every single year. I saw that big Daniel Bies got drafted by the Yankees and I remember facing him. They are a team where it is not like a rivalry like you hate them. The reason you want to beat them is that they are good and they are going to compete in a regional every single year. You want to go out and beat them. In basketball, it is a little bit more of a rivalry because of how back and forth those teams can be and how nationally public it is.
R: What did you take away from your time in the West Coast League (summer league) heading into this past season?
J: A lot of it was that I was the oldest one on the team. There are not that many going-to-be seniors that go to play in that league. For me, it was being able to have a training ground to be a leader for the team this year. My junior year, me and a couple of other hitters were the oldest on the team, but I don’t know if we were quite ready to be the leaders that we wanted to be. I think that year was good to learn there about mistakes we made and how we could have done better.
Taking that into the summer ball, being a leader there, playing every single day and talking to the guys, figuring out how it is going to be and go back to school my senior year and be a leader and doing everything they asked me to do.
R: You also have done some pitching in the summer leagues you played in. How did that experience go?
J: It was one game that we were playing in the Northwoods (2016) that we were getting crushed. There is a pitch rule that if you throw 35 pitches or something in an inning, the pitcher cannot come back out for the next inning. There was a kid on the team that threw 35 pitches in the eighth, so we needed someone to come out for the ninth.
I was in the coach’s ear kind of bothering him telling him I would do it. He let me go out there and do it and it was pretty fun. It was a crazy experience. In the previous season in Victoria, I didn’t pitch, but it says I pitched. But, some other guy forgot his jersey and put on my jersey, so they said it was me.
R: Have you had experience calling your own games? If not, how have the coaches helped organize the gameplan for you guys to prepare you for professional baseball?
J: I have had a little bit of experience doing that in summer ball. I would always ask the coaches in summer ball, do you mind if I do this or do you have tips for me? Just so I can learn and figure it out. Not just calling pitches, but reading swings and just paying more attention to the game.
At school, our coaches called in games, but in intrasquad, he would always let me call it and he would then talk to me about pitches saying why did you call this, when do you call that? During the season, the pitching coach is our head coach. We had a really good relationship. We would talk all the time about how we would attack hitters, why we are going to do it this way. I would just learn from him, see what he sees, and why he would call certain pitches.