The 24-year-old former UConn star was a first-half South Atlantic League All-Star, batting .292, with a .363 on-base percentage and .428 slugging percentage in 66 games with the Savannah Sand Gnats. He was promoted to advanced Single-A St. Lucie at the mid-way point of the season and proceeded to post even better numbers in the Florida State League, with a .312 batting average and 26 extra base hits in 64 games.
His impressive performance earned him an opportunity to get his feet wet in Triple-A Las Vegas for the final two weeks of the season. Although he didn't play much for Wally Backman's squad, it was a valuable experience that Mazzilli feels will assist in preparing him for what's to come in 2015. In fact, L.J. believes that brief experience made him realize that he belongs at the higher levels.
Now, he's getting the chance to play in the Arizona Fall League with other great minor league talent. What is he working on to become a better hitter and second baseman? How much does his father Lee, a former big league outfielder and member of the 1986 World Series Champion Mets, help him in his pursuit of reaching the major leagues? L.J. tells us in this weeks Minor League Q&A.
Brender: How has your experience at the Arizona Fall League been so far?
Mazzilli: It’s been great. I’m learning a lot and getting to see a lot of good talent and play with a lot of good guys. I’m definitely enjoying myself out here so far.
Brender: What are the things you’re working on while in Arizona, and what do you want to get out of the experience?
Mazzilli: I want to perfect my approach at the plate, which I kind of figured out this year. I think it’s going really well on the offensive side. I think the biggest thing I’m working on out here is the defense at second base. Slowing things down and simplifying ground balls.
Brender: You split most of the season between Savannah and St. Lucie, and got a little bit of time at the end of the year in Las Vegas. Did you feel like you accomplished everything you set out to do?
Mazzilli: Yeah, I definitely think I had a great year, personally, but I also think it could have been better, which is exciting to think about going into next year. I think, as a whole, I played solid defense and I hit solidly, but I know that there are adjustments I can make going into next season that can make me play even better and have an even better year.
Brender: What did you get out of the experience of spending the final couple of weeks of the season in Triple-A?
Mazzilli: I noticed that everyone there was professional and they’re always talking about the game, whether it be in the clubhouse, on the bench or on the field. Everyone had an approach offensively. They always talked about the opposing pitchers, helping each other out. The biggest thing is really just executing in situations and slowing the game down, making it very simple. I also noticed that I belonged, too. I didn’t think I was overmatched at all or not ready. I definitely thought that, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve always set out to do.’ I realized I can handle it. Just have to keep working.
Brender: Would you be disappointed if you weren’t assigned to Triple-A to start 2015?
Mazzilli: No, it doesn’t matter. If you’re in Double-A or Triple-A, you’re really just a call away, depending on how you’re doing. The competition is really the same at both those levels. Just a little more experienced at Triple-A. So for me, no matter where I go or start off at, I just want to be able to make all the adjustments that I’ve learned this year and perform at whatever level it is and hopefully go up from there. Maybe end up in New York somehow.
Brender: Did you have to make a lot of adjustments when you were promoted from Savannah to St. Lucie?
Mazzilli: Yeah, this is a game of constant adjustments and constant adjustments of feeling. Every day you have to trick yourself into believing and feeling you’re at the top of your game. When I went from Single-A to High-A I noticed a big change in movement from pitchers. There’s a lot of sinker-ball throwers and two-seam throwers and they like to come inside. In A-ball they didn’t really know how to pitch inside yet. So, that was an adjustment for me, but I made that adjustment. I learned to lay off pitches that were sinking in and look for pitches that were out over the plate until I got down two strikes. I ended up taking off from there.
Brender: Do you feel your best position is second base and what are you working on to improve your game defensively?
Mazzilli: Absolutely. I feel I can be a very good second baseman. I know the wrap on me is whether I can be a plus defender. For me, really, it’s just a matter of being consistent. I’ll have days where I’ll show I can possibly be a Gold Glover and then I’ll have days where people question if I can play second base. I just have to find a way to slow things down, which I did this year, and stay consistent. I think next year, knowing when to eat some throws, try to force a play, a double play, knowing a situation with a runner whose trying to come into the bag, little things like that will help me.
Brender: If there was one thing you need to improve on to be ready for the major leagues what would it be?
Mazzilli: It’s the entire game. It’s really just perfecting L.J.’s game, sticking with L.J.’s game and L.J.’s plan. I’m speaking in third person because I can’t try to be anyone else or be anyone that people project me to be. I really have to stay within because I think that is going to be god enough if I can perfect that.
Brender: What are your first memories of baseball as a kid?
Mazzilli: My first memories were when my dad was the manager of the Tampa Yankees. I was born the year that he retired in 1990. He was the manager in Tampa and I was in elementary school and I went down there to stay with him for a couple of months. He would take me to the field every single day. That’s when I started throwing baseballs around, running around on the field, shagging baseballs near Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson before they were famous big leaguers. Looking back at that, I was pretty lucky kid to have those experiences.
Brender: How much has your father pushed you as you attempted to get into professional baseball and does he push you now?
Mazzilli: I don’t think push is the right word. I think support is a little better. I wanted to be a lawyer when I was a little kid, then the next thing I wanted to do was basketball, then football. Once baseball was my final decision I think he was so glad. Every single day, he’s with me, talking to me and helping me. I would say he’s a really good mentor. The biggest thing with him is to really believe in myself because he believes in me more than I do. That means a lot, considering he played in the major leagues for over a decade. His opinions really stick with me. He always says that I’m a better hitter than he was. He’s worried about me trying not to do too much and just trying to do what I can. He’s my biggest supporter.
Brender: Since you mentioned your first baseball memories involved being around the Yankees, were you a Yankees fan growing up?
Mazzilli: I was. I was a big Derek Jeter fan. I got to go in the clubhouse a couple of times when my dad was the first base coach with the Yankees and be around all those Yankee legends. I was really fortunate to be able to do that.