By: Brian Frank
LJ Talley has been putting up big numbers for the Herd this season. The 25-year-old left-handed hitting infielder has been impressive all summer – and has been red-hot lately, slashing .462/.517/.808 with two home runs, three doubles, and 13 RBIs in his last seven games. One of those home runs came off future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, who was making a rehab start for the Syracuse Mets.
Talley began finding greater success when he came to the realization that no matter the level of competition, he's still playing the same game he grew up loving.
“I think last year is kind of when I really figured out that baseball is baseball,” Talley said in an interview with The Herd Chronicles. “It’s the same everywhere you go, just people get a little bit better. We play big leaguers here all the time, but it’s no different – it’s still baseball. You’ve just got to go out there and play. It’s knowing that you belong and just staying confident.”
Talley has a .809 OPS this season. Photo Credit; Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Talley, who’s real first name is Jason, has gone by the moniker LJ since he was a child growing up in Folkston, Georgia.
“I’m a junior and my dad’s name is Jason,” he said. “I just went by little Jason my whole life. It’s just LJ – no periods. It’s just what I went by my whole life.”
After graduating from Charlton County High School, where he starred on the baseball team as both a shortstop and pitcher, Talley attended the University of Georgia.
“Coming from a small town and never being in an environment like that – it’ll get to you at first,” he said of playing in the Southeastern Conference. “But you get used to it. Just being at a school like that and going to places that are the best environments in college baseball – like Texas A&M and LSU. It definitely prepares you for bigger crowds that you’re going to face in the future.”
“When I got there, we weren’t very good,” he said when asked what his personal highlight was during his time at Georgia. “We had two straight losing seasons but then we became a national seed my last two years. So, it’s more of a team thing, but - as a team - making Georgia baseball relevant again. It was really fun to go from being not so good to being one of the best teams in college baseball.”
Talley even spent some time playing for the Savannah Bananas. The Bananas have become a viral sensation the last few years due to their uniquely entertaining Banana Ball, dance routines, and other Globetrotteresque antics.
“They were a big deal, but it really wasn’t as crazy as it is now,” Talley chuckled. “We did some stuff. There was summer ball and then it became the Banana Ball that they do now. We played and the pitchers usually did all the antics. But we did do music videos and stuff like that. It was pretty cool. I think they did away with summer ball and now it’s just the Banana Ball.”
Talley was selected by the Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft.
“I knew I wanted to continue playing so I didn’t really care who it was by,” he said of being drafted. “I didn’t know much about pro ball to begin with. I think it’s kind of a mystery to everybody what pro ball really is.”
After being drafted, Talley reported to the Lansing Lugnuts, the Blue Jays Midwest League affiliate at the time. He said playing every day and consistently facing better pitchers were his biggest adjustments moving from college to the minor leagues.
“In college you play four times a week and you might face a mid-week team where the pitcher’s not so good and then you’ve got a weekend series against an SEC team and – you might face two good pitchers a week,” he said. “But in pro ball you’re facing a good pitcher every day. Also, switching to wood bats. That was a big adjustment.”
Talley has played first base, second base, and third base this season. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Talley returned to his home in Georgia when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 minor-league baseball season. The time off allowed him to finish the classes he needed to graduate from the University of Georgia.
“I just worked out,” he said of how he spent his summer in 2020. “A family friend has a kid that played baseball, so I’d always go to the cage with him and hit or field and do whatever we had to do. I kind of just did whatever I could. Then in the fall, I went back to school and got my degree. I took four classes and then one online to finish up at the beginning of last year.”
He spent most of the 2021 season at Double-A New Hampshire, where he slashed .247/.322/.389 in 80 games with the Fisher Cats. He then began this season playing for Buffalo. Despite owning a lofty .310 batting average, he was sent back down to Double-A twenty-one games into the season.
“I was only supposed to come up here for a little bit to begin with and then I was doing well so I was able to stay,” he explained. “But it just got overcrowded up here so I had to go to New Hampshire. Then I started struggling a little bit, so kind of just gaining that confidence back. Maybe it took a little mental toll on me.”
He was able to find confidence in the fact that he’d been successful during his time at Triple-A.
“Doing well here and just knowing that baseball is just baseball,” he said. “Knowing that no matter how far you go up, it’s always the same game. You know you can play, but like people say, the mental side is big in baseball.”
He returned to Buffalo in late June and has been one of the Bisons leading hitters since that time. He noted that he’s made some adjustments to his swing this season.
“I kind of raised my hands higher - starting higher and not moving my hands as much,” he explained. “Just not trying to do too much, trying to keep it more simple and that seemed to work.”
Talley's sweet swing. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Even with all his success this season, Talley is still focused on improving and taking his game to the next level.
“I’m always trying to be more consistent no matter what I do – hitting, defense, learning multiple positions, playing third, second, first, or if they need me to play the outfield. Just learning all the different positions and staying consistent is the hardest thing. That’s what will get you to the big leagues is being consistent.”
He’s certainly displayed consistency while being a centerpiece of the Bisons lineup. He’s currently slashing .297/.356/.453 with seven home runs, 40 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases in 77 games for Buffalo.
Talley sees many reasons for his breakout success this season – but in the end, it all boils down to his newfound mantra.
“It goes back to confidence and having a routine in the cage and studying pitchers, making sure you know the scouting report on them,” he said of his success this season. “With the resources we have, you can pretty much watch every pitcher that we play. You can watch them versus left-handed hitters, see what he tries to do, how he tries to get you out. I guess just becoming more of a student of the game – and once again just knowing that baseball is baseball.”