Saturday, December 10, 2005

Complete Game (Part III)

You may have heard from other scouts that the catcher is the hardest position to scout. I feel I have a leg up on my counterparts considering I was a pitcher for my entire career. I know what I want to see in a catcher and I know how to spot it. 31 years in the game doesn't hurt either. When others are simply looking at POP times and batting prowess, I dig much deeper. Of the 30 catchers I need to put on my wish list, Mac Thomas will be one of them. And now that the Hot Stove is over, I see why our GM wanted me to focus on catchers.

I've already told you that he has a small frame for a MLB catcher. A Paul Lo Duca of sorts. But what I like about Mac is that his uniform is always dirty after a workout or game. He goes for extra bases. He even steals. This kid has "hustle" and "Grit" written all over him. But he's had to work for all his tools. Some God-given talent of course, but he's a work in progress, always has been and will always be. Very different from Jackson Savard. And I'm here to tell you that's not a bad thing!

He has powerful legs giving him a strong base. His quickness is impressive and wreaks of countless hours of drills and practice. I love that he tries to gun down a runner taking liberties at first or even third. But he has the arm strength, accuracy, and more importantly, the confidence to do so. His flexibility is also worth mentioning. Part of his pre-workout/game routine almost looks like a yoga class. He recognizes the value of moving laterally on loose hips and being able to pounce and react naturally and fluidly without looking uncomfortable. I asked Jackson whether he was worried about players stealing second on Mac. He laughed. "Players don't want to steal on Mac. Makes my life easier. I don't have to keep throwing to first."

Despite all of that, the most impressive aspect to Mac is between the ears. He is a proactive catcher. He sets the tone for the game. He drives the game where he needs it to go. And when things get off track, he's very good at anticipating the opposition's next move and getting things back on track. Very rarely does a pitcher ask for another signal. Very rarely does he look over to the coach looking for guidance on what to do next. He's a freaking general out there. And his pitchers come out smelling like a rose. And that's fine with him. Very unselfish. He's the first player out of the dugout to congratulate a teammate who just hit a home run and he's the first player in the dugout to console a pitcher who was yanked for hanging one up in the zone resulting in a three-run shot. Players look for his lead. His enthusiasm is infectious. These are the things I look for. Some may call them little things. I call them vital.

Watching Mac take batting practice, I heard a voice from behind me. It was a young voice. One that I had heard before. Couldn't quite place it. I turned to see who it was. It was this kid in a wheelchair. Outside of his big nose, he was a good looking kid probably in his early twenties. Black curly hair, really built in his upper body, but very thin legs. Probably due to atrophy or something else I speculated.

"Mac Thomas, huh?" he asked, as he wheeled himself up to the fence. I couldn't help but hear the sound of clay grinding on the sidewalk against his wheels.

"Sure is," I replied, not really wanting to talk to anyone, much less a kid in a wheelchair.

"Pretty decent hitter. Above average POP times," said the kid, trying to make small talk with me.

I responded without looking at him, "Playing catcher is more than just POP times kid."

"Of course," he quickly retorted, " Mac has one of the lowest passed ball statistics in his conference. Not to mention that his bat provides a nice .450 on-base-percentage. Racks up the walks too. If I had a nickel for every time . . ."

"Look it kid, playing catcher is much more than statistics," I interrupted, wishing that he would get the hint and wheel himself away. But he didn't.

"Uh huh. Statistics are one thing. But performance scouting is another."

I turned to look at him after hearing those dreaded two words. He quickly gazed out at Mac taking BP not wanting to make eye contact with me. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I asked.

"Remember that list of catchers I sent you the beginning of November?"

"Who the hell are you?"

"Seth Goldbaum."

"Get away from me kid. I don't need your help." I tried to walk away but the kid turned his wheelchair and rolled himself after me.

"That's not what I hear. Logan Cooper wants you to hire me. He said you would be calling me to set something up."

"You've got a listening problem kid. I don't need your help, especially someone . . ." I barely caught my next words before they rattled off my tongue but the damage had already been done. My demeanor and tone gave away my piss-poor attitude. The kid's face contorted with a furious rage.

"F . . . you. You piece of S . . . You sucked as a player and you're washed up as a scout. I'm trying to help you but you don't see what's happening around you. Baseball is changing."

And then he said something that really caught my attention. "You'll be fired before the high school season starts. I'm the only one that can save your job."

Needless to say, after this showcase in Tallahassee finishes up today I'm on my way back to central Georgia to see what the hell he knows that I don't.


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