From top prospect status, to having his left arm completely rebuilt, to completely dominating the past two seasons in Triple-A, it’s been quite a ride for Chuck James of the Minnesota Twins. Despite being passed up a few times for a promotion early this season (largely due to 40-man roster status), James has remained very positive in his outlook and has performed admirably at both levels.
Chuck took the time to talk about pitching for his hometown Braves, copperhead snakes, and social media with UDR’s Brandon Warne after Francisco Liriano’s near no-hitter last Sunday.
Brandon Warne: Chuck, I have to ask you first and foremost: Why Minnesota?
Chuck James: It was just opportunity. It just felt like they had a lot of moves last year in the bullpen, and it felt like I had a good opportunity to pitch well and maybe get a shot to come up.
BW: You were already in tow when they signed Dusty Hughes. Did anything really go through your mind regarding competition or anything like that?
CJ: No, I don’t think players really look at that too much. Once you sign with a team, it’s just kind of ‘show, up, and the rest will take care of itself.’ I just try to look at it as “I’ve got to throw the ball and do what I can do, and the rest will take care of itself.”
BW: I chat pretty regularly with Sloane Martin and Matthew Coller, who are both Rochester Red Wings folks, and we talk frequently about the situation in Rochester, like the roster fluidity. What’s it been like to see all kinds of guys shuttling back and forth, and what it’s like in the clubhouse when you see different guys come in and out every day?
CJ: It’s good, especially if you’re down in Triple-A. You kind of look at it like, so many guys are coming up and getting that opportunity. So, it’s just a matter of time before you maybe get yours. It was actually pretty cool to see that many guys that were moving, and so many guys that they make spots on the 40-man for. For me, I wasn’t on the 40-man, and to know that this team wasn’t scared to take a guy that wasn’t on the 40-man was awesome.
BW: With Twins fans perhaps not really familiar with you, you’re a former top prospect who pitched for the Atlanta Braves and had a pretty nasty arm injury. Can you talk about first the arm injury, and then the comeback from it?
CJ: Yeah, I guess it probably started the second half of 2007. I started having some shoulder problems, and it just kind of escalated. I went on the DL a couple times, had some MRIs, and nothing really showed up. I did a whole rehab in the offseason, and came into ’08 and kind of picked up where I left off. The shoulder was still bothering me a good bit, and by the end of ’08 it got to where I couldn’t pick up a baseball anymore. They were going to go in and just do a cleanup, and told me it was going to only take 30 minutes. I came out four and a half hours later, and had a slap tear in the labrum. I had pulled the labrum off the bone, they had to take out the bursa sac, and I had a tear in my rotator cuff. The whole thing, pretty much. Then Atlanta released me. I just kind of rehabbed on my own, and did what I could to try get myself into the best situation to try to get back to where I am.
BW: That’s pretty staggering, as you’ve gotten all your velocity back and still have a good feel for everything it seems like. To kind of segue into the next question, you’ve always had a knack for strikeouts, especially in the minor leagues, but you don’t really dial it up. You get it up there at 89-90. What is your secret to getting guys to swing and miss at your offerings?
CJ: (Laughs) I have no idea, just lucky I guess. I just throw it and hope for the best. If they swing and miss it, great. If they don’t, hopefully somebody will catch it behind me.
BW: Last year you spent the season in the Washington Nationals system, and you had a great year there, too. It has to be asked: Why didn’t you get the call with them? Reviewing the stats showed that you were about as good there as you’ve been in Rochester this year.
CJ: Well, obviously I’m the wrong guy to be answering that. But just based on it being my first year back last year, on behalf of the Nationals they took it real well with me. For being my first year back, we were going to treat it like a rehab year, so I didn’t get overthrown or anything like that. They did great with that. They were just so deep and had so many young guys that were in line, so it was a better fit for me to sign here when we did this offseason.
BW: This is your first year in the Twins organization, so can you talk a little bit about what separates the Twins organization you’ve ever been a part of?
CJ: Well, it’s in the American League. (Laughs) I mean, it’s baseball. Everywhere you play, you usually run into a bunch of good guys. This clubhouse has been awesome. Obviously, the opportunity is great. I’ve never really been in a situation where I wasn’t on the 40-man or something like that, but just from all the players that I’ve talked to, this organization has such a good rep for taking the better guy. If you’re doing well down there, they’re not scared to make a spot on the 40-man. That was big for me. Once you’re off that 40-man, it’s hard to get back on. So, you want to put yourself in the best situation where you’ll have a shot.
BW: Yeah, sort of a culmination of all your hard work. I’d like to jump to the lighter side a little bit. I read that you worked at Lowe’s for a few offseasons. Is there a story there?
CJ: Well it actually was not Lowe’s that I worked at. I have a buddy I grew up with and we played a lot of ball together, and when I was coming up through the minor leagues I always worked with him, and they owned a place called Help-A-Home, which subcontracts out of Lowe’s. So it was just something to keep me busy in the offseason.
BW: Some people know about a roof dive right before you were drafted. Can you tell a little bit about that?
CJ: It was a bad decision. It wasn’t an impossible dive or nothing like that, it was just one of those things where you’re in the wrong place and wrong time. I went to jump in the pool, and I actually hit a rotten spot in the roof when I went to jump off, and I didn’t quite make the pool. (Laughs)
BW: I also read you were bitten by a copperhead. Obviously there has to be a story there too, right?
CJ: (laughs) I mean, that kinda is the story. We were just at a buddy’s lake house. It actually started my second year of college, actually before we went to college that season. A couple of my buddies and I went to a lake house and it was dark and it had been raining all day. We were just walking down to the dock and I guess you couldn’t see very well, and I was barefoot. I walked too close for comfort, I guess, and it bit me twice. Next time I guess I’ll have some boots on or something.
BW: Is there anything that you’d like to wrap it up with, maybe let Twins fans know what you’re all about? Obviously you’re new to the organization, so maybe you want to let the fans know what you’re about or what you’d like to portray about your image?
CJ: I just want to have fun. My first go-round through the minor leagues, and even in the big leagues, you put so much work into baseball. Everything kind of revolves around baseball. Since then, I’ve gotten married and have a kid now, so I’m just trying to have a bit more fun and you know, keep it that way. I know it’s a business, and this is kind of how we support our families and stuff like that, but it’s still baseball and we’re going to try have a good time with it no matter the outcome and enjoy the ride.
BW: Are you a social media guy at all?
CJ: No. Not really. (Laughs)
BW: There was a bit of a start-up campaign to “Free Chuck James” from Rochester. Did any of that ever get back to you, or did you hear about it?
CJ: No, I didn’t hear anything about none of it. (Laughs)
BW: Any thoughts about that? People starting a grassroots campaign to get you freed from Rochester, what do you think of that?
CJ : Well if it worked, I appreciate it. But, like I said, I just took it a day at a time, threw the ball, and shook a lot of hands of a lot of other guys that got a chance to come up, and just waited for my turn.