During the last couple days of spring training I got called in to meetings with the Indians management. Needless to say, you are always nervous when that happens. I knew the Indians were big on me, so what could it be about? Well, Tito (Terry Francona, the manager of the big league club), saw something in me. He felt that I had the body and actions of a catcher. And while all in the room felt I could be a really good infielder, they felt I had the chance to become an All-Star catcher. And, with my versatility in positions that I could play in the field, I would be able to get to the "Show" faster.
Needless to say, this caught me off guard. I would have to start over in a new fielding position I haven't played since Little League and two games in high school. But, I really respect what Tito has to say. Come on...the guy is a great manager and has something I would love to have with the Indians: a World Series ring. After taking a couple of days to talk it over with my agent and with my parents, I decided to go for it.
Instead of heading out of camp to start the season at AA Akron, I was off to Carolina again to DH for a couple of weeks and to catch bullpen. After those two weeks, I headed back to Goodyear, Arizona, our spring training home, for ten days of extended spring training.
3.5 weeks in to what would normally be my regular season, I headed to Cleveland for 2 days. It was amazing. I hung with the big league team and worked on my catching with Sandy Alomar (a great catcher with the Tribe in the 90s) and with Kevin Cash, the Indians bullpen coach. We worked on my stance, I got a bunch of catching tips, and, equally as important, it further validated that the Indians were behind me.
For those two days at Progressive Field, I would show up and head to the clubhouse. The guys were all very cool and I got to share a locker with Carlos Santana. I started my day working out at the stadium (amazing workout room with a bunch of machines to use), then I did bullpen work (even catching Kluber's bullpen session) and, lastly, hit in the cage.
My whirlwind tour finally was ready to settle down as I headed to Lynchburg to meet up with my Carolina teammates, who were on the road....and to play my first official game as catcher the very next day. It felt good, but I have to admit I was pretty nervous.
Moving from the field to behind the plate comes with some obvious big differences that take getting used to. First, you can see the whole field. No one is staring at my back, except for the ump and fans. Second, as a catcher you have to be constantly thinking. I have to know the hitters, what pitches my guy should throw, and I have to act as the field general. I'm essentially the manager on the field. Way different than playing second base where you wait to react.
In preparation for games, I still arrive at the same time as I would have when playing the infield, but now I head straight to the pitching coach to discuss how to approach the game. He and I go over each opposing hitter, deciding what our pitcher is going to throw. Strategy and scenarios are constantly running through my mind during the game.
As part of my improvement process, I've been watching video of some of the catchers I look up to (besides my guys with the Indians). I've watched Pudge, Victor Martinez and Bengie Moligna, and others. A big part of my focus is how they throw to second base. All seem to approach the position in different ways, but it's good for me to be able to see these different approaches to help try out new techniques as I figure out what will work best for me.
To my fellow wanna-be catchers out there, here are some tips that have been shared with me and that I have learned that have helped me improve as a catcher:
- be big with your stance and show a big target to your pitcher.
- be vocal.
- be thinking ahead constantly.
- always be in a position to block the ball.
- never take a pitch off--one pitch can easily change the game.
Even my workouts have changed. I have to take it easier on my legs. Now, it's more running and less leg squats.
Well, more to come soon. Thanks for taking the time and for allowing me to share my adventure.
(This post is sponsored by Phoenix Bats, who is a premier wood bats manufacturer and supports Tony Wolters. Thanks to Tony for giving us the chance for this inside view of what it's like working towards the Big Leagues!)