I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about Nomar Mazara. Expecting the switch-hitting wizardry and million megawatt smile of Jurickson Profar? Don't hold your breath. Waiting for 460' homers and the nearly as breath-taking swings and misses of Joey Gallo? Nuh uh. Looking for a fire-starter willing to pop off at the mouth to any and all opponents, a la Rougie Odor? Keep waiting. Hoping for a steady-as-they-come big league corner outfielder capable of hitting in the middle of the order at his peak? Now that's more like it. That's more Maz.
Signed for a colossal bag of dough ($4.95million) as a 16 year-old in 2011, Maz never wanted for much growing up in the Dominican Republic. I was told early on that Maz was born on the "right side" of the tracks, but not to expect that to color his work ethic or desire. OK. But good luck getting a bead on Maz. He's young, and everyone will be reminded how young when he's invited to his first big league Spring Training next year at the age of 20, but he's not naive. He's wise well beyond his years. Seriously. He's a very savvy kid. Had a scout once tell me, "Mazara's the most intelligent kid in Texas' system. Not just smart, genuinely intelligent." That may explain how he's able to stay out of the limelight. It might be a conscious effort, because Maz appears intermittently comfortable with attention. More likely, his just isn't a style that draws ooohs and ahhhs. With the exception of the occasional massive moonshot, Nomar lives in baseball's subtleties. At 20. That's remarkable in and of itself. Regardless of how his game and his personality are perceived, he's not going to be able to avoid the spotlight much longer.
What do I mean when I say, he lives in baseball's subtleties? Expect him to keep his hands inside the pitch. Expect him to be able to go the other way with a ball on the outer half. Expect 4,5,6 pitch at-bats. Expect the increasingly unique sight of a 6'4" 220lb hitter who walks more than 10% of the time and Ks less than 25% of the time. He's not fast, or even quick, so expect smart positioning in the outfield and solid, if unspectacular reads off the bat. Expect a plus, borderline double-plus arm...that 9 times outta 10 will throw to the correct base. Nomar is 20 years old, but kinda not. I still love the Jason Heyward (at the plate) comp. Heyward was an everyday regular at age 20 (Nomar likely won't be), and 6 years into his career, he's posted a slash of .265/.351/.430. While Maz does posses Heyward's caliber of arm, please don't expect him to cover the vast swaths of RF as rapidly as the J-Hey Kid does. That ain't Maz.
And do me a favor. Promise me you'll defend Maz against the uninformed fan who mistakes his...mistakes...for lack of effort. His is a slower gait, and his grit isn't in your face. His passion is real though and you'll catch glimpses of it if you watch carefully. The Big Chill earned his nickname because of his calm demeanor. He earned his calm demeanor through genetics. Never too up, never too down. We'll let Profar flash his smile, and Gallo launch his Titanic blasts. Rougie can start the fights and Keone can finish them. But as for Maz? He'll just be in the lineup, hitting 5th, and holding down a corner outfield job, everyday. Quietly doing his thing and winning games for the Rangers. For a long, long time.
I recently sat down with Maz, who as you may have expected speaks English flawlessly, in an attempt to get to know the kid behind the reflective sunglasses (which he didn't take off while we spoke). I must confess that I'd tried to chat with him on the record on a couple of other occasions and was rebuffed when he just didn't feel like talking. Then, he opened up and randomly started asking me how I was doing, so I asked again if he'd like to chat and he said, "Absolutely, how about right now?" Okey dokey, let's do this:
First of all, I've got to ask about your name, Nomar Shamir Jiminian Mazara, were you named after someone?
"Well, my mother and father just liked the names Nomar and Shamir, Jiminian is my mother's last name."
When a lot of people talk about you, they mention your advanced approach at the plate. Do you think approach can be taught or is it something you either have or you don't?
"For me, when I was a little kid, I was able to see the ball really good, but I started being more comfortable in the batters box in 2012, in Hickory."
But even when you were a little kid, you had an idea what you wanted to do up there?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, and it's really hard to learn, but if you work hard everyday, I do believe you can learn it. I mean, look at Nick (Williams). You see him last year to this year? It's fucking amazing."
Rather hit a game winning home run or throw a guy out to end the game?
"Throw a guy out"
Easy? No question about it?
"Yeah, no question about it."
I know your Dad was a career military man, what branch was he in and do people tell you you're more like your Dad or more like your Mom?
"He was in the Navy. Sometimes they tell me I'm like my Dad. My Dad is more laid back. He's the same all the time."
Plans for the winter, gonna play for Licey (Dominincan Winter League team)? And was the best part of last winter hitting a grand slam off Edwar Cabrera?
"Probably, I don't know yet. (laughing) Yeah, probably the grand slam. That was amazing. Not because it was against him, but because of a huge crowd and that made it 7-2, and we ended up winning 7-6 and that was pretty cool. I put us over the top. I only played 15 games last year. Yeah, I want to play more this year, why not."
One food from America you miss most when you go home, and one food you miss most when you're here?
"From America? Chipolte. From home? Lasagna. My mom's lasagna. I mean, they have lasagna here, obviously, but my Mom's lasagna, I love it."
I know you grew up a big Pujols fan, but is there anyone who's defensive game you try to emulate?
"Hmmm, probably CarGo. The way he covers so much ground."
What's the one thing you'd tell a 12 year-old, Little League hitter?
"Probably, just go out there and don't try to do too much. Just look for your pitch that you can hit hard. Don't be afraid. Just try to go out there and have fun. Because if you are scared of what's gonna happen, if you fail, it's not gonna be like...you're playing baseball! It's fun to play baseball. Not everybody has the opportunity to play baseball. Why not go out there and have fun and give everything you got that day. If there is a pitch you think you can hit hard and you swing and hit it hard but somebody caught it- so what."
I know when you first came out you had the big high leg kick, then last year you had the toe-tap trigger and now the leg kick is back but smaller, what can you tell me about how your mechanics have evolved?
"Yeah, last year in Hickory, I started doing the toe-tap in the second half of the season. I was just doing it to the lefties only and my hitting coach, Bobby Rose, told me 'Hey, try it with the righties, why not?'. I told him 'I don't know about that.'. But one day I tried it against a righty and I crushed one ball and I said I'll just keep it going. With the leg kick, sometimes I was in front, other times I was a little late. I still got the leg kick, but I use the toe tap to control myself so I'm a little more on time."
When you make it to the big leagues: name one coach who helped you the most?
"I'd probably say Mashore (Justin- currently the hitting coach at AAA Round Rock, was with Hickory in 2013). He was with me in the AZL too. He was my first hitting coach. Some people don't like him, but I love him. To me he wasn't about mechanics, to me he was about my mind. Got me right and taught me to hit."
Name the teammate you'd most like to join you in the big leagues?
"Alfaro." [note: obviously we did this interview before, you know, that happened. The two of them were/are tight. Pour one out for The Legend]
Who do you most want to see in the stands at your first big league game?
"My parents. Both of them."
Tell me one thing about you that would surprise people.
"Like you say, I'm a chill guy, so I don't think I'm gonna surprise nobody. I just like to hang out. I don't do anything crazy. But I grew up watching a lot of basketball and I still love to do that. I'm a LeBron fan."
There you have it. The most controversial thing about the kid is that he likes LeBron James. Literally. For a kid as big as he is, and as good as he is, he's awfully low-key. Maz just wants to win, he wants to hit, and he wants to trot out to a corner outfield position in the big leagues for a zillion games. I say we let him.
(Easy power. Cleared the fence a little to the left of centerfield. Peep him spitting on that breaking ball the pitch before, tracking it into the catcher's mitt)
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!