By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
BRISBANE, Qld. – When Maxx Tissenbaum went to sleep on Thursday night, he was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
The Canadian catcher, originally drafted by the San Diego Padres out of Stony Brook University and traded two seasons ago to the Rays, awoke in Brisbane to news that during his slumber he had been selected by the Miami Marlins in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft at the annual winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
“I woke up and didn’t know what time it was because the sun is always so bright, so I tapped my phone to see what time it was and I had 500 messages,” Tissenbaum said. “The first message that I actually saw was from Tommy Koehler, who’s a former Stony Brook guy, a big-league pitcher for the Marlins, and it said something like, ‘Congratulations on getting picked by the Fish, now come catch my bullpens.’
“I kind of thought, what? Then I looked and all the other notifications were, ‘Congratulations,’ ‘Welcome to the Marlins,’ ‘Go Fish,’ ‘Maxx goes to the Marlins,’ and I thought oh my God what just happened?”
Amidst the welcome messages and felicitations, Tissenbaum had received links to many of the different stories discussing his latest move, and after checking them out for himself, the 24-year-old got down to brass tax with Blake Corosky, his agent at True Gravity, to discuss the future.
With Tissenbaum in a very different time zone than the other parties involved, Corosky sussed out the details with Marlins Assistant General Manager Brian Chattin, and spoke with the Rays about his departure.
“The Rays talked to Blake, and I texted back and forth with the catching coordinator [Paul Hoover] and thanked him for all the work that he put in with me over the two years,” Tissenbaum said. “He echoed what Blake said, that this is a great opportunity and he’s excited for me, keep working hard and if I ever need anything to let him know. It sounds like a really good opportunity and I can’t wait to get going.”
While the native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada is incredibly excited for the new chance he’s been given with Miami, he is also extremely thankful for the time he had with Tampa Bay, completing the transition from the infield to catching after he was traded from the Padres and growing immensely over his two years with his second squad.
“I’m extremely grateful for the Rays,” Tissenbaum said. “I’ve heard since I was 14 years old that eventually I was going to end up being a catcher. For them to invest the time and effort into actually making that happen and doing it the right way, building from the ground up, whenever anybody asks about it I always say that Hoover is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had at any level.
“The way that he teaches and the way that he motivates guys and gets guys to learn what they need to know in order to play, and so I’m extremely grateful for the time that he and all the other coaches put in with me, helping along with that transition, because it’s not easy to do at 23 years old in High-A.”
Spending the most time with Tissenbaum throughout his days in the Tampa Bay organisation, Michael Johns – the backstop’s manager last year in Tissenbaum’s second straight season with the Charlotte Stone Crabs and currently his third base coach with the Brisbane Bandits, proudly presented by WellDog, in the Australian Baseball League – was happy to see his player’s progression and is sad to see him leave.
“The first year he was with us, we asked a lot of him, to learn how to catch with a new organisation,” Johns said. “I thought he did a really nice job that first year. We always thought he was going to be able to hit, and obviously left-handed hitting catchers, generally speaking, are pretty big prospects. You don’t have a lot of those guys throughout the system, and we wanted to develop a left-handed catcher, so that was pretty much our thought process.
“No. 2, he profiles better as a catcher for us and probably not as a second baseman. Once we put him behind the plate we felt like he was some sort of prospect, and that’s why he ended up having to repeat the [Florida State] League. It wasn’t necessarily that he wasn’t going to hit in Double-A, it was more that we needed him to get more reps, and the place for him to get more reps was going to be in High-A.
“Him doing that, for me as his manager, it was helpful having the veteran leadership there with him. He was having to split time with another guy and he handled it like a professional. Obviously he was a big part of us winning the whole thing. You can look at his numbers and think he didn’t hit well, but you can throw that out the window when you talk about his leadership in the clubhouse and how he went about his business. We’re going to be sorry to lose him.”
Knowing that the Rule 5 Draft was approaching, both Johns and Tissenbaum had inklings that a move could be on the horizon.
“It had crossed my mind because I knew that it was my year,” the Canuck catcher said. “I didn’t really know very much about it other than the little bit that you pick up as a fan watching the big league [Rule 5 Draft] or knowing about the big league portion.
“It was something that I sort of knew was out there, I knew it was a possibility, but I didn’t really know how it worked or what the chances were or anything. It wasn’t like I was sitting here holding my breath hoping. It was just let’s see what happens, and if it’s something that’s a possibility for me, let’s see if it works out. And it did.”
Added Johns: “We had a feeling we were going to because left-handed hitting catchers tend to go pretty quick…and then it did happen, so good luck to him and it’s good for him. It will give him a new opportunity in a new spot, and that means that someone wants him.
“It’s always a good thing when somebody wants you. Obviously he’s probably been through more in his pro career in the last four years than most professional baseball players, being traded and now Rule 5’d, so it just means someone wants him. It’s good for him.”
With the rest of the ABL season ahead, Tissenbaum is looking forward to his remaining time with the Bandits as a representative of a new organisation, and then heading to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s turning into a theme, every two years I’ve got to find a new place to play. But it’s really exciting. It’s great because of the fact that it’s a draft versus a trade. It’s nice to feel like they saw something in me and they wanted to bring me in. That’s a really good feeling as a player and something to look forward to going into camp.
“I’m really, really excited. It’s a huge opportunity. I knew going in with Tampa Bay, they’ve got so many top-level catchers. Now I’ve got this whole new opportunity where I can go in and create a name for myself free of the labels and things that have been put on me as a player. Now it’s a completely brand new slate, and starting over.”