By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — T.J. Chism was a 32nd round draft pick of the New York Mets back in 2009 out of La Salle University.  If his career continues on its current track, he could prove to be quite the steal.

The 23-year-old left-hander – and Sun Valley High School in Aston, PA product – is currently the closer for the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats.  He recently pitched in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and he is tied for the league lead in saves with 13.

This is Chism’s fourth season in pro baseball and he says he is happy with how he has moved through the Mets’ system.

“I am.  It’s been a slow process for me,” Chism tells KYW Newsradio.  “You see other guys around you that get moved pretty quickly, but it is out of your hands.  I think they’ve done a good job so far, I’ve gotten to work with former Cy Young Award winner (Savannah pitching coach) Frank Viola for two years now.  I don’t care if you are right-handed or left-handed, just the experience that he brings to the table is going to help you.  And him being left-handed is certainly an advantage for me.”

Listen to Matt Leon’s interview with TJ Chism:

In addition to his impressive save total here in 2012, Chism has also crafted a 2.84 ERA with 26 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 31 2/3 innings of work.  He says that control is a big reason for his success and an area he has come a long way since turning pro.

“In high school, college, I was a wild pitcher.  So being able to get my command a little bit – and not just with the fastball, but with the change-up and slider – has been huge for me.  To be able to throw all three pitches for strikes in any count, it changes the game a little bit, it slows it down for you and it’s a lot easier to pitch when you are ahead in the count then when you are behind.  That’s been my biggest advantage so far and my biggest improvement.”

Chism did not record a save in his first two seasons in pro ball.  Then last season with low Single-A Brooklyn, he notched six while logging a 1.14 ERA and that late inning success led to him holding down the 9th inning gig in Savannah this season.  And if it is up to him, Chism will ride late inning success as far as it takes him.

“I think that’s the best opportunity I have to make it to the big leagues and it is something that I like to do.  So it’s a little bit easier when you enjoy pitching late in games — there’s guys that don’t like to do it.  But even in high school I liked pitching in the back end of games and in college, too.  I was always more productive when I came into a game as a reliever late in the games than when I started.  So it’s been a lot of fun so far, and I hope that’s something I can do.  I can definitely see myself as a (former Phillies reliever) J.C. Romero a couple years ago, when he would come in for a batter or two in the 8th inning almost every night.  I like to pitch a lot and coming in in the 8th and 9th innings, allows me to do that.  I can pitch back-to-back nights, sometimes three nights out of four games, so it’s fun.  I like to do it.”

Chism has a career 2.16 ERA in four seasons of pro baseball.  He has allowed just three home runs in 112 1/3 innings of work.

Savannah hosts the Charleston RiverDogs Thursday night.  The Sand Gnats will visit the Phillies Single-A affiliate in the SAL, Lakewood, in the middle of July.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.

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