Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Frontier League in the summer of 2004, Justin Christian…
Q&A with T.J. Beam
T.J. Beam: I think it was pretty good. There have been a lot of critics because of my age, but people need to remember that this was my first year out of the bullpen. I also didn't start pitching until my first year in junior college, so in baseball terms, my arm is fresh. I gained a lot of confidence pitching out of the bullpen this past year, even making it up to Tampa. They [the Yankees] sent me back down to Charleston, but told me it wasn't a demotion but more so because I deserved a ring. I was able to throw consistently for strikes all year so I was pretty happy. The AFL [Arizona Fall League] was a blast. I got to play in my home state and face future big league batters. I think being named an AFL All-Star was a good way to end the year.
PinstripesPlus: What were your goals heading into the season this past year?
Beam: Well I was starting games back in Spring, so I knew I wasn't going to AA. But I thought I might begin the year in high-A Tampa and then move up to Trenton. The Yankees told me in Spring they wanted to move me to the bullpen and that I'd be going to Charleston. I was a little disappointed at first, but Charleston wound up being a pretty special team to be involved with. Our chemistry on that team was pretty amazing.
PinstripesPlus: The Charleston team struggled when you and the others were promoted to Tampa, but then got a lot better when you all returned. What was the playoff push like in Charleston?
Beam: Yeah, all us went to Tampa and we just weren't winning as much as a team. When we [Grant Plumley, Cody Ehlers, Josh Smith, etc] all came back, they [Charleston] seemed to play harder and we all started believing we had a chance to win this thing. That 21-inning loss in the playoffs was such a grind though, it was tough to overcome. The cards just fell a different way. Some people were disappointed, but I don't think it was disappointing as far as each player's development. I think it was good for everybody's career. I think we all learned from that situation.
PinstripesPlus: Has your repertoire changed any since the move to the bullpen?
Beam: I still throw my fastball in the 90-94 MPH range and a hard slider. In past years, when I was starting, I had to pace myself through six or seven innings. Now that I'm relieving and throwing only one or two innings, I can pick up my velocity. I have an average changeup, but the AFL pitching coach I had helped me get the building blocks for a really good changeup. That is a pitch that I want to throw more consistently. I don't know how hard I was throwing this year. I am just not one of those guys that looks at the radar sheet. I'm going to be going down early to Spring Training in January and work with Nardi Contreras. I want to develop a little bit before the workouts start and work on my changeup, work both sides of the plate with that pitch.
PinstripesPlus: Talk a little bit about working with Nardi. What has it been like working with him and has he helped you?
Beam: When I went down to Spring Training last year, he reviewed tapes of my pitching motion. I'm 6'7" with a good downward angle towards the plate. He adjusted my pitching motion, helping me stay tall. He tweaked things here and there. It was tough to be tall and keep the ball down in the strikezone. He helped me to keep the ball low. Nardi really helped me a lot. He's not the kind of guy to tell you that you're doing something wrong. Instead, he's the type of guy that will say 'why don't you try this?'. He genuinely wants you to learn and see you progress as a pro.
PinstripesPlus: Talk about your time in the Arizona Fall League. What was that like?
Beam: I was shocked for a few days. I was just so excited to go to the AFL and play in front of my family and friends. The Yankees told me they decided to send me there because they wanted to see me pitch against big league talent. To be honest, I was nervous every game. I was quite the hitters' league. But the Yankees told me they wanted to see me put up some numbers and I went out pitched really well. I was really happy the Yankees sent me there. I was excited to see Yankees have confidence in me.
PinstripesPlus: Now that you are on the 40-man, what are your goals heading into the 2006 season?
Beam: I want to earn a spot in Trenton. I was hoping to go to Spring Training with the big league club as a non-roster invitee, but I wasn't expecting to be on the 40-man roster, so that's great. I don't like getting my hopes up though. I just love pitching and I try to do the best that I can for the team, wherever I'm pitching.
PinstripesPlus: Your transition to the bullpen kind of came out of nowhere. What was your reaction to the news about moving to the bullpen?
Beam: It was kind of shock really. I was a little disappointed at first, but then told myself that things happen for a reason. It was a new job for me and because I had never really been a reliever before, I knew they weren't going to throw me into Tampa. I liked starting because I'm a big fan of preparation. But I remember what it was like when I was starting, so when I moved to the bullpen, I didn't want the inherited runs to score. I just didn't want our starters' runs to score and that is the way I approached each game.
PinstripesPlus: Now that you're in the bullpen, do you see yourself more as a setup guy or a closer?
Beam: I don't have the overpowering fastball like most closers, you know, hitting the high 90's. I guess I see myself more as a setup guy, mostly because that was my role on Charleston setting up for Mike Martinez. I would assume my role in the organization would be more as a setup guy.
PinstripesPlus: Well we didn't include you in our Top 50 prospect rankings, only because of your age and the level you pitched in. So in that regard, you're underrated. Who in your opinion are other underrated prospects that you expect to have good Major League careers?
Beam: I think Mike Martinez is a very good pitcher with great stuff. Grant Plumley is an amazing infielder. He's one of the best shortstops I've ever played with and he gives you 110% out on the field. Those are the two that come to mind.
PinstripesPlus: Of all the Yankees' positional prospects that you've played with, who in your opinion has the highest upside?
Beam: Tim Battle has the most potential of anybody I've ever seen, let alone played with. He has a little work to do, but he's already come a long way. With his hitting and the way he plays the outfield, you know he's a special ballplayer. But considering where he came from, you have to put Justin Christian up there too. Going from Auburn to SW Missouri State to the Independent League to the Yankees, he's special too. His ceiling is unbelievable. I haven't seen anybody play harder than him, ever! His uniform was always the dirtiest and he was just dead tired at the end of the every game.
PinstripesPlus: Among the Yankees' pitching prospects, who has the highest upside in your opinion?
Beam: Phil Hughes is an amazing pitcher and he clearly has the most potential. He's very mature. Even though he's one of the youngest pitchers in the system, mentally, he's one of the oldest pitchers I've ever seen. I wish that guy could stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, he could be a real dominant pitcher.
PinstripesPlus: I'd like to get some of your thoughts on some of the other Yankees' pitching prospects. What are your impressions of Matt DeSalvo?
Beam: He's just an exceptional pitcher. He's a very smart kid, on and off the field. He's athletically very quick and he has one of the best changeups I've ever seen.
PinstripesPlus: What about Steven White?
Beam: Whitey's a character. He's been through a lot, but he has pitched very well. He throws hard and has a great curveball. He has a plus fastball and he can locate it. Whitey just throws so effortlessly out there, he looks like he's playing catch when he's pitching.
PinstripesPlus: What are your thoughts on Jeff Marquez?
Beam: He's got the best 2-seamer I've seen and he throws a really hard curveball. He's another young mature guy that really knows the game.
PinstripesPlus: What are your impressions of Christian Garcia?
Beam: Garcia's got as much talent and as high a ceiling as anybody in the farm system. I think he believes he's fulfilled that high ceiling already, but there's so much more room for him to grow. I don't think he doesn't see just how high his ceiling really is. But he's willing to learn out there, so that's a plus.
PinstripesPlus: Brett Smith?
Beam: Smitty goes by his own plan and it works out for him. He just knows what he needs to do to get the job done. He just does it his way. I'll tell you what though, he's one of the great baseball statistics minds you'll find. I always joke around with him that he's Peter Gammons' successor.
PinstripesPlus: What are your thoughts on Tyler Clippard?
Beam: He's come a long way. He's always been dominant. In years past he had the great curveball and then this year he had a dominant changeup. That shows you that he's always improving.
PinstripesPlus: Some people don't believe the Yankees have a good farm system. What do you think of when you hear comments like that?
Beam: It makes me upset to hear people say the Yankees don't have prospects. They are a great organization. I mean, we wouldn't be making the playoffs all over the minor league levels if we didn't have a good farm system. They make trades involving prospects so I think a lot of people think they don't have anybody left. I really do think though that we have a really good minor league system.
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