Most minor league players are thrilled to be invited to the Arizona Fall League. The League is often filled with prospects and has graduated many players to the Major Leagues.
O’s minor league catcher Caleb Joseph is there now with the Scottsdale Scorpions. As a taxi squad player, he only gets into two games a week. But that hasn’t stopped him from reaping big benefits of playing in the AFL.
Joseph has taken the time when he is not playing to work on his game and make big improvements on both offense and defense. Earlier this week, he talked about some his adjustments he has made at bat.
On defense, he has used his time in Arizona to put into practice some adjustments the O’s have talked to him about, working there with Scottsdale manager Randy Knorr, a former catcher who saw Joseph play in the minors this season.
“I knew the manager, Randy Knorr was a big catching guy because we had played his team, Harrisburg this year. He had watched me defensively all year and he knew what I needed to get better at.
“He can provide a different perspective, not by any means (O’s catching instructor) Donny Werner hadn’t got me on the right track. Just a different perspective.
“I’m very excited about spring training, I’m very excited about the coming season. This has just been a huge breath of fresh air for me personally.”
Joseph has worked on changing his footwork, widening his base, to improve his throwing and blocking balls in the dirt.
“Probably a year and a half ago, Donny Werner kind of stressed to me that he thought it would be a good idea to widen out (his feet) behind the plate. I have kind of a narrow base with runners on and that was limiting the length of my lateral movement and I wasn’t blocking and getting to as many balls as I wanted to. The first thing Randy said when I got here is ‘have you ever thought about widening out.’
“I tried it for a few days with Donny in the bullpen this year (at Bowie), but my hips and my body hurt too much. During the season, the last thing you want to do is put yourself in that situation.
“But I focused on it down here the first few days and it has helped tremendously with my blocking skills. Four or five days into it, my body just kind of got use to it and I’m there naturally.
“It has also helped with my throws down to second. It shortened up my stride, which had been getting longer and longer. When your stride gets longer, your arm drags through the zone making you less accurate to second base. Now I catch it, spin and go and I feel my throws have increased velocity and accuracy.”
Joseph had to get comfortable with this adjustment and that came quicker than even he thought it would.
“The best example of this is Buster Posey. When he gets into what we call the secondary position, he is covering almost from batters box to batters box with his feet. Now I’m not quite there yet, but he is that huge target and can block pitches anywhere and is very mobile. Just wide enough that he has great mobility to each side and that increases his blocking potential.”
As he said, Werner had urged him to do this before and he felt his time in Arizona would provide an opportunity during pre-game work on days he didn’t play, to put this into practice. His says it has improved his throwing.
“It immediately helped. I had a tendency to stride so long that my left foot, my lead foot, would hit the plate and slide on the plate. That makes the ball go every way you don’t want.
“Now it’s more of a spin than stride that gains a lot of ground. I use to need a huge blast of energy to get the ball going. I can do this quicker and more easy with my arm and the ball is jumping out. Sometimes in baseball, you know, less is more.
“It felt completely natural the very first game. We had five days before our first game and actually seven days for me. After the practices I would grab Randy and we would go to the back field and do drills. It was a bit uncomfortable for maybe the first inning or two, then my hips settled in. Now, I don’t even think about it.”
Joseph admits he knew he should make some changes to his game before, both on offense and defense, but until he didn’t perform nearly as well as he felt he should have this year at Double-A, he just didn’t make those changes.
“I don’t know I would have done this if I didn’t struggle last year,” he said.
Later today: I’ll post some Joseph quotes about falling out of Baseball America’s Orioles’ top ten prospects list and his take on possibly playing some other positions in the future.