The Seattle Mariners had a very good year as an organization in 2021, with every single team in the organization having a winning season. One reason for that is their coaches and their organizational structures and philosophies. I spoke with Justin Novak who was the AAA Tacoma Rainiers bullpen catcher last year, who was also the Mariners interpreter in 2019 for Yusei Kikuchi. Justin Novak also played college baseball at the University of Virginia.
Curtis Christianson: “The first question I have is what led to the start of your career with the Mariners?”
Justin Novak: “I started with the Mariners as an interpreter for a Japanese player, Yusei Kikuchi in 2019. Within that job, they let me have the freedom to catch bullpens or help out pregame with the infielders. They just gave me the flexibility to help out in whatever way I could.” He spent 2020 in Arizona helping out injured players rehab and get ready to come back.
Curtis Christianson: “And then in 2021 you were the bullpen catcher in Tacoma?”
Justin Novak: “Yeah, I signed a player coach (contract), it was a player coach position in Tacoma, but yeah bullpen catcher.”
CC: “As the bullpen catcher, what was your role besides catching bullpens and warming guys up during games?
JN: “Whatever they needed me to do to make things run smooth. Front toss in the cage, batting practice in the cage, catch bullpens, hit fungos, whatever paperwork needed to be done, anything that they needed me to do to make things run smooth.”
CC: “So what were some of the guys that you were the most connected with and worked the most with?”
JN: “I wouldn’t put one, (but) probably the relief pitchers just because I am in the bullpen the whole game and to interact with them the whole time. But I got the opportunity to work with everyone on the team.”
CC: “What do you think led to Cal Raleigh getting off to a really hot start in Tacoma?”
JN: “Oh I just think he’s a really good player, has a lot of talent, puts in the work, and he’s just a stud. So it wasn’t really surprising to see him tear it up.”
CC: What were some of the differences between Jarred Kelenic in his first and second stint in Tacoma.
JN: “I just think as the season progressed, he got to see the level of play. Honestly I think he played very well the first time, and equally as well the second time in my eyes. He just needed to hone in on a couple things, and I think he did do that, and then he kind of took off in the last month for the Mariners, so I think he did a really good job of what he needed to do.”
CC: What do you think some of the strengths of Taylor Trammell are?
JN: “He’s an awesome player, an awesome person as well. He goes out and gives it his all every single times he’s on the field, he’s a great teammate, he has a lot of talent. As he plays more he’s going to get more comfortable and get better.”
Justin Novak was a part of a great staff in Tacoma last year, he is one of the most positive people to be around, and it was really good for the clubhouse and the atmosphere around the team. He is a hard worker and was great for the organization.