DUNEDIN, Fla. - Justin Maese left an impression in his first professional season. He is poised to make another.
The 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was drafted in the third-round in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
After just eight games last year for the rookie-class Gulf Coast League Jays the native of El Paso, Tex., is ready for his first full season in the minor leagues.
“I thought this vacation was a little to long,” he said. “I was excited to come out here to a full season and now looking forward to it.”
After high school baseball, the 19-year-old had to quickly adjust playing with the pros.
“It was a huge difference,” he said.
“In high school I felt like I was in charge and had so much confidence. Coming here seeing all these players, I saw that this was some good competition and it’s a completely different game. But as you go along you just get better.”
In those eight rookie league games Maese was impressive, pitching 35 2/3 innings. He led the team in wins while recording a 5-0 record with a 1.01 earned-run average, 19 strikeouts and holding hitters to a .234 average.
Cesar Martin, manager of the Gulf Coast League Jays, was impressed how quickly Maese was able to adapt.
“Justin did a great job and he didn’t surprise me because I saw his stuff and the way he pitched was unbelievable,” Martin said. “They way he pitched look like he was pitching for a long time.”
Although Maese’s fastball can reach speeds up to 96 mph, he says dropping his velocity and getting good movement is what has made him successful.
“In high school I was trying to blow the ball past people because in high school if you throw mid-90s you’re going to get people out easily,” Maese said.
“I tried throwing a two-seam and saw great movement so I just focused on that. My velocity actually went down but with the movement it was insane so I stuck to that. Once I started seeing people ground out I stuck to that. It’s really easy outs so I always throw the sinker.”
Maese’s new pitching arsenal generated a lot of grounders, similar to Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez, someone he wants to replicate.
“Every time he pitched we started counting the groundballs,” Martin said. “He gets around 10-14 groundballs every time and I think that’s what makes him special.”