An interview with our Player of the Year, Griffin Andreychuk

2015 PoY cardIt’s been a pretty good month for Griffin Andreychuk.

Consistently in the lineup for the Victoria HarbourCats as their starting second baseman, he established himself as the most productive hitter in the college summer-ball West Coast League, finishing the season with a league-high .385 batting average. His 34 runs, 40 hits (5 of them home runs) and 25 RBI helping the HarbourCats get to within two games of the WCL playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Sadly, Andreychuk was ineligible to be awarded the WCL batting title because of his late arrival. A late exam schedule at Seattle University didn’t allow him to begin his season until June 19th, and he fell 40 at-bats shy of the league minimum. The title went to the Kelowna Falcon’s outstanding shortstop Hunter Villanueva, an NCAA Div II Junior from Fresno Pacific with a .378 average.

Despite the missing at-bats, for his efforts Andreychuk was named a co-winner of the WCL’s player of the week August 3rd, and was then awarded the HarbourCats “Player of the Year” honour in a pre-game ceremony August 5th. He’ll add those accolades to a resume that already contains his Western Athletic Conference All-Academic Honors for 2015, which he received earlier this summer.

And just when it couldn’t get any better, we here at the HarbourCats Blog are pleased to announce our selection for Player of the Year is also, 2B Griffin Andreychuk!

What impressed us most with his performance this year was his solid play at second (only 2 errors in 30 games played), and his consistent approach to hitting game after game that became a catalyst for the HarbourCats second-half run. Andreychuk ended the season on a 13 game hit streak, reaching safely in all but four games on the season. And despite not being eligible for the WCL batting title, he led all Victoria hitters, ending at a franchise-best average average (tied with last year’s Blog Player of the Year, Hunter Mercado-Hood).

IMG_2130I spoke with Griffin this week, expecting him to be relaxing by the pool on a beach somewhere, enjoying his time off before returning to Seattle University to start his junior year in September. I found him nowhere near the pool – he was back home in Nanaimo getting in an early workout at a local gym before hitting the batting cage.

I asked him if he was disappointed about not making the required number of at-bats to be given the title, and he’s not dwelling on it. “That’s the way it rolls. It’s hard to say what would happen in those 30-40 at bats. You could get hurt, go in to a slump. That’s baseball“

Speaking about the season with him, we talked about the difficulties of arriving late, and how a couple early games didn’t help his case. “I didn’t have the greatest of games to start the season, and didn’t hit well the first couple of times out”. Add to that an established platoon system already running at second base, and Griffin had to fight to get back into the lineup. “He [Coach Graig Merrit] put me back in there a couple times, and when we were platooning we were down to 8-16. Once I got back in there and starting hitting and contributing, and everyone started hitting, we went something like 21-8”. Indeed they did, and over that winning period, Andreychuk started 17 of those wins, and hit .418.

IMG_2133In last year’s first season in Victoria, Andreychuk was good – but he wasn’t this good. He hit a mediocre .271 with limited power and minimal impact, driving in 14 runs while scoring 25 more in 41 games. What was different in 2015? Another year of focus under his belt, and another year of hard work he’s seeing pay off. “It’s being patient and a lot of hard work over the year [in Seattle]. It’s really about your approach to the game and picking the right pitches to hit, taking your shots when you have a hitters count, and knowing when to back off. It’s having a smart approach at the plate that really helps. That’s what I’ve been working on with the coaches at school and it’s paid off”.

Power is a new addition to Griffins game as well, he banged out 5 home runs over the summer in Victoria to go with 4 more he hit for Seattle in the spring. Prior to that, he had only hit one. “I had never really been able to hit for power my whole life and I’ve been working on getting the backspin on the ball and getting them over the fence”. It’s a tribute to his work ethic that he’s been able to add this piece to his game.

The summer ball experience is a good one for developing players like Andreychuk – it allows for a complete focus on baseball without the pressures of school life. “Summer ball is a different mentality. It’s more laid back and you can just go out and play baseball where at school you’ve got other stresses going on like schoolwork, tests, flights. Here [in Victoria] you can just work out at the gym, hit the field, and play baseball”. Being in Victoria adds an additional dimension for Andreychuk as well – being able to see his family and friends. Does that add to the pressure, or make it easier? “It helps me honestly. Family is most important and I have my family close. When you get to see them more than some of the other guys… there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal once in a while”.

Being a second-year HarbourCat, Griffin shared an interesting comparison on the two teams – specifically on the change of coaches and coaching styles. “The whole mentality of the team was quite a bit different this year. Last year’s team was so laid back, and there wasn’t so much stressed on winning and performance, or finding out what we could do better. Is was more just going out and playing baseball and playing your game. This year with Graig [Merritt] there was a mentality of winning and finding out things you can learn from every game. Every game we did a little bit of yelling about what we did wrong – but it was a good yelling, everybody needs a little kick in the pants once in a while. It was quite a bit different, but it was good”.

IMG_2342Summer ball is also a place for friendships to be forged, and life-long acquaintances to be made. “The last two years I’ve met some great guys and made some good friends, and I keep in touch with all of them. We gelled pretty well this year, and it got really fun near the end when we started winning”.

And as summer is supposed to do, it creates memories to last a lifetime. It’s no different for ball players, and a couple stand out in Griffin’s mind that he’ll hold onto. “In the last game I played in Bend, I hit an opposite-field home run, I’d never done that before in my life so that was pretty cool, and in the last game of the season, Graig made me manager for the day and I got to coach third base, that was fun”.

Despite the individual success and his role in the team’s comeback on the season, he wasn’t able to meet all of his personal goals for the year. “A goal I set out for myself was to make the WCL All-Star game. I think if the game was later I could have made it”. That’s most likely true – if the All-Star team had been picked even a week later than it was, it would have been difficult to overlook the season Andreychuk was building. It wasn’t all about that one game of course, “I just wanted to have a good season, and work on a couple of things my coaches had told me to focus on and just get better overall”.

Just chillin' at second...

Just chillin’ at second…

With his mission undeniably accomplished this summer, Griffin is looking to this coming college year as a pivotal one in his baseball career. As a junior at Seattle U, he recognizes his role will change significantly “There’s more excitement this year. Guys are going to look up to me and buy in to what us older guys have to say. They’ll need to jump on board, and we’re going to work them hard and put a winning season on the table”. Unknown to many, Andreychuk is a shortstop in college, not a second baseman. “At School, with shortstop you have to manage the field. Positioning, helping guys out. I like it, I like managing the game from there. Second base is a lot easier I’ll tell you that right now”.

Maybe a move to short would be in the cards next year – if we are lucky enough to see Griffin return for a third year with the HarbourCats. “As of right now, if I play summer ball I’m coming back. Anything can happen though – my main goal right now is to get drafted, and if I do I likely won’t be back – like what happened with Gabe Clark”. The draft is something Andreychuk is working towards, but it doesn’t change his focus. “I just need to play baseball, and have a good year like I did this summer – put up some numbers that people can’t say no to. I’m not the tallest guy or the strongest guy, but hopefully they can see through that and give me a shot”.

IMG_1844With a big year behind him, Griffin’s baseball career seems to be on the rise. He’s shown that he can not only complete in a league littered with highly touted NCAA Div I players, but excel and lead that league  – and that’s a strong addition to any player’s resume. His effort, enthusiasm, and professional approach to the game along with his career aspirations should put him on the radar of MLB teams come June. While we would love to have him return to spend a third year at Royal Athletic Park, something tells me that’s a bit of a long shot. We wish him a healthy and prosperous year down south, and all the success he deserves in the draft.

Oh and on the move to short if he finds himself in a HarbourCats jersey in 2016? “Maybe for a couple games, but I’m fine chillin’ at second base”… After all, a guy needs a bit of a summer holiday right?

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About Brian

Avid baseball blogger since June 2012. Blogger, photographer, and graphics designer for both the defunct Victoria Seals Baseball Blog, and the first edition of the Victoria HarbourCats blog.
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