Perhaps you don’t yet know the name Tom Hackimer, but you should. The right-handed side-armer has been electric out of the bullpen between two levels of A ball over the past two years, pitching to an 8-4 record with a 1.95 ERA and 97 K’s in 87.2 IP. The Floral Park native hopes to continue to rise through the minor league ranks in the Twins system as he readies himself for the 2018 season. He was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his schedule between training to talk with me about his experiences so far.
Charging The Mound: I know you came up as a shortstop in high school, when did you make the transition to pitcher?
Tom Hackimer: Pretty much, I ended my high school career as a shortstop and immediately started my college career as a pitcher?
CTM: How did that transition come about?
TH: More or less, the story that I’ve been told is that the head coach at St. John’s, Ed Blankmeyer, had seen me throwing across the diamond at a camp when I was in high school and said “this kid’s got kind of long arms and a lanky frame – he’d probably be a good side-arm pitcher.” My hitting coach at the time had overheard it, and eventually they ended up offering me an opportunity to go to St. John’s to walk-on, and be converted into be a side-arm pitcher.
CTM: Had you ever pitched at any other level before?
TH: I had pitched in little league in, like, Cooperstown tournaments, but I hadn’t really pitched since I’d gone to high school at all.
CTM: That’s crazy! So you went to St. John’s as a walk-on, but had any other school recruited you as a shortstop?
TH: No, my hitting coach was good friends with the coach at NYIT (New York Institute of Technology), and I probably could’ve been on the team there at least as a shortstop, but I don’t really know. I didn’t really have any offers.
CTM: Was there any level of discomfort changing positions?
TH: I honestly welcomed it! I will always miss playing shortstop; I would consider my defensive prowess the strongest portion of my game…but I could not hit to save my life, and it was just frustrating at that point. So I knew that the switch to the mound was coming if I wanted to continue to play…The lucky thing for me is that I always had a pretty good arm overall. I guess I just always liked throwing, so I did it a lot – I liked to long toss, stuff like that. I always had a good arm across the field. I’d always kind of like to throw it across the field as hard as I could…my first baseman didn’t like it [laughs].
CTM: You grew up in Floral Park, NY, were you a Mets or Yankees fan as a kid?
TH: It’s a really weird dynamic in my house. My dad was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, and he is for some strange reason a Boston Red Sox fan, so you can try to figure that one out on your own; I still can’t after 23 years of being his son, it’s a mystery to me as much as anyone else. My brother, who is about nine years older than me, is a Mets fan, whereas I was always a Yankees fan. So we had a really weird dynamic there.
CTM: I ask that because in the 2015 Draft, you were selected in the Fifteenth Round by the Mets. What came into the decision not to sign with them?
TH: Trust me, it had nothing to do with my allegiance [laughs]. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure in the fall of my junior year because I was recovering from knee surgery, and prior to that I had been a non-prospect because I didn’t really throw very hard. I came back throwing harder, and suddenly that put me on people’s radars, but it was too late to get enough eyes on me to make a big decision. Like, I ended up going in the Fourth Round in 2016 (to the Minnesota Twins). Any decision like that…a lot of people have to crosscheck and consider before that trigger is pulled. I didn’t think that I had gotten enough exposure to say “alright, this is the best I’m going to get.” I didn’t think they had offered enough money to get me to leave school, as I wanted to finish my senior year and finish my degree or at least get closer to it…I ironically ended up not actually doing it. Really, the whole vibe of the situation sort of put me off. It worked out for the best overall, I’d say.
CTM: Was your brother a little bummed out that you didn’t sign with the Mets?
TH: Everyone was actually a little convinced that I was going to, but at the last minute I decided against it, but everyone was supportive and thought that I was making the right decision.
CTM: Can you explain what it was like when you found out that you were drafted by the Twins?
TH: It was very exciting! Around Draft time, you’re dealing with a lot of phone calls from different teams asking where I saw myself going or what I was expecting to get monetarily, which I don’t know how to answer so those are stressful questions! So leading up to it, Ed Blankmeyer, my coach from St. John’s, called me and said “hey, if a team were to take you for such and such money in the Fourth Round and start you in Low-A, would you take that?” and I was like “yeah, probably” and he goes “okay!” and he hung up the phone and I was really confused. Then, I get a call from the Twins scout from my area and said “hey, Blank just told us that you would take this” and I though that Ed had been talking hypothetically! So I got off the phone with him and then my agent called me and he was like “you said you would take that?!” He was really angry because you’re not supposed to ever say “yes” to anything because that’s their job. I told him that I didn’t know it was an actual offer! So my agent sorted that out with the head of scouting for the Twins. [My agent] called me again and said “it might be you here in the Fourth Round” and so I open up my laptop and I’m streaming the Draft and I see the pick come up and it says “with the 123rd pick, the Minnesota Twins select Tom Hackimer” and I screamed to everybody and then ran outside and called everyone that I had to.
CTM: Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like if you signed with the Mets?
TH: Funnily enough, I realized that this year I would’ve played with Tim Tebow! But I had thought about it and I think it would’ve been different, and definitely a little bit slower than the route I’ve had with the Twins.
CTM: What goes into your side-arm delivery?
TH: I’ve had five years to refine it now…to me, it’s not much different than a normal delivery, aside from how the ball moves a little differently. It runs back arm-side, mostly, that’s most of my movement. My slider goes across the other way, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my change-up to drop a little bit, and I finally got that. With those three I should be good. After that it’s just figuring out how your different pitches work off of each other in terms of fooling a batter.
CTM: Well you had good strikeout numbers this year over two levels in A ball (71 K’s in 61.1 IP, 10.4 K/9) so I don’t think you’re really have trouble fooling batters.
TH: No, but it’s always fun to figure out more ways to do it!
CTM: What’s life like as a minor leaguer? Do you get an apartment with a teammate? Do you get a daily stipend, or anything like that?
TH: I’ve been really fortunate in the situations we’ve had so far. I was in Cedar Rapids from when I was drafted until the end of 2016 and then for the first two months of this past season, and there we have a host family system. So it’s really great, I was living with a really wonderful family out in Iowa. They didn’t charge us anything, and I had one roommate and we basically had the whole basement, which was like a two bedroom apartment, to ourselves. That was really nice! Then I went up to High A and the Twins basically have a dorm on the spring training complex, where the High A team plays out of. It’s free, it’s across the street from the field, and it’s really convenient.
CTM: You had the honor of being invited to pitch in the Arizona Fall League last year, where you pitched to a 2.31 ERA. How did it feel to receive that honor, and to perform as well as you did there?
TH: It was really, really exciting when I found out that I was going. It was something that I was hoping would happen, but I wasn’t really sure I’d get to do. But it was something I was really looking forward to. Overall, I threw pretty well and I was really happy with that because I figured that bodes well for me going forward. There’s always a little mystery right after you get moved up, or like right after I went to Arizona, I would get little nagging thoughts like “what if this is the line for me and these hitters are better than me? And they can just hit me even though I’m doing everything I need to do?” So it’s always sort of comforting to get in there, get the first out and everything sort of settles down.
CTM: What goals have you set for yourself going into the 2018 season?
TH: Honestly, I feel like I just got out of the 2017 season [laughs] so I haven’t given it too much thought. I really just wanted to take the time in the offseason to hammer down my change-up, being able to use it and locate it. So now I want to be able to go into the season with that and having all three pitches working off of each other.
CTM: I have one last question for you: How did it feel to get verified on Twitter?
TH: Uh, it was pretty cool (laughs) But then you look around and realize that pretty much every minor league baseball player has it. Not that that cheapens it or anything but, you know, at the end of the day I’m still the same as anyone else.
CTM: Well I really appreciate you taking out the time in your schedule to talk with me today, so thank you.
TH: Yeah, of course!
Tom reports to Fort Myers for Spring Training on February 12th. Once Spring Training is over, he will find out where he is reporting for the 2018 season. Until then, you can check him out on Twitter: @HackAttackimer or find his MiLB profile here, as well as his career stats on Baseball Reference. I’d like to thank him again for taking the time to talk with me. Here’s to hoping that big things are in the near future for him!
By: Chris Perkowski