Joe Biagini: Playfully Irreverent Rule-5 Blue Jay

Baseball has had its share of colorful characters over the years. Yogi Berra, Bo Belinsky, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. The list goes on and on.

Now we have Joe Biagini. The 25-year-old former 26th-round pick is pitching out of the Blue Jays bullpen after making the team as a Rule 5 pick out of the Giants organization. His personality might best be described as playfully irreverent. Biagini throws mid-90s heat with his right hand, but his quips, which come fast and furious, are straight out of left field.

Biagini shared his atypical story, and some gloriously-sarcastic one liners, when Toronto visited Fenway Park over the weekend.


Biagini on his surprising rise to the big leagues: “I think everything up to this point has been a surprise. Right now, it’s a surprise honor to get to speak to you and answer your questions. Honestly.

“When I was in college, I really wasn’t that good of a baseball player. My junior year at (California) Davis, after I transferred from a junior college, and was coming off Tommy John surgery, I had an 11.00 ERA for most of the year. Then I got it way down to 7-something by the end.

“The last day of the season, I came in to pitch and did bad. I got hit around a bunch. It was my birthday. My dad was there and he was looking at my velocity. The radar gun was off — it showed mid-80s — but we didn’t know that. We were like, ‘Ah, man.’

“A scout, Keith Snider from the Giants, came down after the game. I was disappointed — I was all mad — but he was like, ‘Hey, you were throwing pretty well out there.’ I was like, ‘Really? Are you sure you’re talking about me?’ I wondered if maybe there was a guy behind me. It turns out I had been throwing harder than I thought.”

On fixing his mechanics after Tommy John surgery: “I really started throwing harder at the beginning of my junior year. The successful surgery certainly didn’t hurt that — it wasn’t a negative reason I started throwing harder — but the mechanical work I did was more important.

“I’d been really screwed up mechanically. I was caving in my back knee. I was leaning back a lot and then pulling my head off. Basically, I was putting a lot of pressure on my elbow and shoulder. If I hadn’t changed my mechanics — if I hadn’t fixed what caused the first one — I’d have had another one.”

On being drafted by, and signing with, the Giants: “I really didn’t think I was ready to go professional. But I went to the Cape [Cod League] and somehow put together a good Cape. The Giants said, ‘Even though you think you’re not going to sign, we still may draft you.’ That’s what happened. It was pretty cool getting drafted by my hometown team.

“I hadn’t been sure if anybody would be drafting me, let alone who. It was a little bit of a surprise, but at the same time, it wasn’t out of nowhere. It was more, ‘Wow, what was the likelihood of that?’ I was still thinking I’d probably go back to school, but I got an offer that was better than I thought I was going to get. I thought, ‘Well… that’s pretty good.”

On playing in the minor leagues: “I hated it. Just kidding. No, but I went directly to Low-A. I don’t know why. Maybe there was a mix up with the paperwork? Or maybe they thought I was good-looking? So, I pitched part of a season there, did bad, and was sent down to short-season. The next year, I went back to Low-A and didn’t do very good that time, either. The next year, somehow, they gave me a shot in High-A.

“I actually did do a little better my second year [in Low-A]. I felt I was improving. At the same time, I was weak mentally. There wasn’t a lot of good stuff going on. Going into my third year, I really worked on my mindset. I made some improvements, and that’s where things started to pick up for me a little bit.”

On adopting a different mindset: “I’m not a huge cliche fan, but I can’t deny that baseball is 90% mental. Yogi Berra, you know. Honestly, it’s true. It’s so funny. The higher I’ve gotten up, the simpler my mindset and approach have been, the more mentally strong I’ve had to be. I’ve had to be in tune with the mental, because that has a huge effect on the physical.

“I used to be the complete opposite. My first couple of years, I was all about mechanics. I thought if I did all of the mechanics correctly, everything would be great. That’s what I was thinking about on the mound. Ironically, coming off the surgery, I kind of had to.

“I got into this mode where I was stuck in my mechanics. I was always thinking about them, rather than just attacking hitters. After that second bad year in Augusta, I said to myself, ‘I’m sick of this. I’d rather not play than play like this.’ It had become a mental travesty. I didn’t want baseball to not be fun, so I really challenged myself to get into the right mindset.

“I’m really close to my dad with the baseball thing — he played in the minor leagues for the Giants for a couple of years — and he’s been there every step of the way. I talked to him about it. I prayed about it. I read some books about it. My coaches mentioned it, of course, but in the end you have to take ownership.”

On confidence and aggression: “I was never like a hot-head guy. I’m actually trying to get more like that, to be honest. I’m kind of joking, but kind of not. It’s good to be competitive. Not that you want to be a jerk. But I guess I was always very low self-esteem, low confidence, negative, pessimistic, bad attitude about everything. I was taking the glass-is-half-empty approach.

“Combine that with overthinking everything… I still do that in all the other areas of my life, unfortunately. But in baseball, I’ve made an improvement on that, pretty much out of desperation. To actually tap into that simplistic, attacking, aggressive mindset — that’s kind of been my motto the last couple of years.”

On learning that he was selected in the Rule 5: “I went to a palm reader the night before, and she told me… That’s not true either. I’d actually been sleeping. It was early in the morning — we were out in California — but my dad tuned in halfway through the broadcast. The first thing he heard was, ‘Right-handed pitcher from the San Francisco Giants, selected by the Toronto Blue Jays…’ and the other guy said, ‘Can you spell that name?’

“My dad let me know. I wish I could get that kind of wake-up call every day. It would be easier to get out of bed. It was definitely a good way to start a day. It was like a shot of espresso.”

On his big-league debut and pitching at Fenway Park: “Pitching in this environment is something you picture yourself doing. For years, it’s like that, then all of sudden it’s, ‘You made the team. Hey, let’s go.’ Suddenly it’s legitimized.

“[My debut] was boring. No, not really. It was the home opener, so there were something like 50,000 people there. My family was there. I got the game ball and gave it to my dad. But the game itself… I felt something when I walked to the mound. I don’t know what it was. Honestly, the only time I wasn’t nervous was when I was on the mound, actually pitching. I was able to tap into the mindset, that comfortability, that I’ve worked so hard to attain.

“I’m not sure [what it was like pitching at Fenway Park]. I’m not sure if it actually happened or not. It might be a conspiracy, like The Matrix or something. I remember thinking to myself in between batters, ‘I can’t believe I’m out here. How did this team let me on their roster? It’s crazy.’ So yeah, it was cool. This place is kind of like the cathedral of baseball.”

On his major in college: “Finger-painting. Just kidding. I went into college as a political-science major, but changed it to communications. I kind of wanted to do media, TV production type of stuff, but that’s kind of a tough field to get into. I guess you’d know that? I took some sociology and psychology classes, too. I shaded toward those areas a little but. But I’m still not sure what I’m going to do when I grow up. Right now it’s baseball, and hopefully I get to stay here for awhile.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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An article on Biagini’s irreverence and you didn’t link this infamous video?

Biagini in a Bottle:



the Pain Broker
the Pain Broker

good article, but that was an oversight.