SARASOTA, Fla. - He’s a professional baseball player, but where he is from, he’s not well known by sports fans. In his second year in the Orioles organization, 26-year-old catcher Martin Cervenka is from Prague, Czech Republic.
He’s an interesting guy that speaks four languages, is sound defensively, and is trying to emerge from a crowded catching competition in camp and pull off a big upset by making the opening day roster. He’s probably a long shot, but Cervenka just being in this camp is impressive as the Orioles got him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. That means San Francisco didn’t even protect him on a minor league roster in December 2017. After he spent seven seasons in the Cleveland organization, the Giants signed Cervenka to a minor league deal in November 2017. A few weeks later they let him go and the Orioles added him.
Then the 26-year-old right-handed hitter had a solid season at Double-A Bowie last summer. In 97 games, he hit .258/.317/.457 with 22 doubles and he posted career-highs with 15 homers and 60 RBIs. In July, he was both the Orioles and the Eastern League Player of the Month when he batted .364/.436/.758 with seven homers and 25 RBIs.
So how does a guy from the Czech Republic even begin to follow baseball?
“So my dad got me into the sport when I was young,” Cervenka explained. “He’s the reason I play. But obviously, I like to play. MLB does tryouts all over (with development camps in) Europe and they picked me and I went to a camp in Italy back in 2008. It’s a month-long camp, kind of like spring training. And there are scouts there. That is how the Indians found me and they signed me out of there.
“My dad played softball and baseball when he was young, starting at like 12 or 13. Softball is bigger back home. My brother was born and later I was born and we just always played baseball together.”
But in his home country, baseball has a small following, and Cervenka said he is not known by sports fans.
“They don’t know. People just don’t follow baseball as much,” he said. “It’s not a big sport back home. Soccer and ice hockey are No. 1. People who play baseball know who I am, but outside of that, they don’t know.”
That doesn’t really matter, because he caught the eye of the Orioles brass, which added him and here he is in camp along with the other catchers, including Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns, Carlos Pérez, Andrew Susac and Cael Brockmeyer. Visa issues have kept Jesús Sucre from camp to this point. But the catchers are bonding and trying to help each other.
“It has been fun so far,” said Cervenka, who originally signed with Cleveland in January 2009. “I talk to Austin Wynns a lot and Cael. We hit together. We obviously have some guys with big league experience, so I’m looking to learn from them and get better.”
Cervenka had a solid 2018 in the Eastern League. Showing some pop with the bat to produce a .774 OPS and he threw out 34.4 percent of those trying to steal with pop times that could dip below 1.9 seconds.
What made 2018 good for him?
“I just think overall my development, offensively and defensively as well,” he said. “The coaches at Double-A - Gary Kendall, Keith Bodie, Kennie Steenstra and Pat Leyland - they all helped me out. It was just a good year overall, developing and getting better with my game.”
After several seasons with the Indians, Cervenka spent just a few weeks with the Giants and then was an Oriole.
“It was exciting (to come to the O’s). I was with the Indians for about seven years,” he said. “It was exciting getting to know this organization and seeing how it works somewhere else. I can’t say anything bad about the Indians, I enjoyed my time over there. It’s a good organization that is having success in the big leagues. But coming over here was good for me. Seeing how things work somewhere else. For me, it was nice to get to know the coaches and get some different opinions on how to get better, get a different perspective from other people.”
Harvey brought the heat: Should we be encouraged by right-hander Hunter Harvey’s velocity yesterday in Fort Myers or disappointed in the results? Probably the first one, since we shouldn’t put too much stock into a one-inning appearance and his first one of the spring, at that. But seeing Harvey touch 97 and 98 mph on the Hammonds Stadium radar gun was indeed encouraging and coming off his impressive live batting practice session last week, it’s another good sign. Yes, he gave up a two-run homer and some hard-hit balls, but this kid just needs a full healthy season to get a chance to show what he can do. And why the club drafted him No. 22 overall in 2013.
Live coverage today: Join me later today at 1 p.m. for live play-by-play coverage of today’s Orioles-Tampa Bay game from Sarasota. Tune in via Orioles.com and the MLB At Bat app.