It is a baseball development fact that catchers make good coaches.
They are the coordinators behind the plate, they call the plays for the defense, they run the game for the pitcher. Backstops are truly the beginning and the last line of defense in every game, plus they can also contribute on offense. There’s a tremendous amount of responsibility on the shoulders of a big league catcher. So from their first days in pro baseball, they must know the game inside and out.
The Nationals coaching staffs - up and down the organization and in the front office - possess a ton of big league catching experience to help the younger backstops make it up through each level.
How much experience?
Try at least 4,620 major league games.
That is nearly 29 full seasons of big league playing experience, not to mention the dozens and dozens of years of coaching expertise on top of that.
Bob Boone, vice president and senior advisor to the general manager Mike Rizzo, leads the way with 2,225 games played in the majors. Boone earned an impressive seven Gold Gloves. Nationals bullpen coach Henry Blanco played in 914 games and catching coordinator Michael Barrett in 885 games. Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies manager Randy Knorr played in 239 games. The list goes on and on with the Nationals.
Barrett said this realization hit him when he looked around the room one day.
“I just look at it from my standpoint on the development side that we are sold out on helping our catchers get better,” said Barrett. “I feel hands-down that we have the best organization for a catcher. I think it was last year, and in an office room of catchers was Bob Boone, Henry Blanco, Randy Knorr, first base coach Bobby Henley (35 major league games), Dominican Summer League manager Sandy Martinez (198 major league games), quality control coordinator Matt LeCroy (124 major league games), short-season Single-A Auburn manager Patrick Anderson (137 games in the independent Frontier League), myself and a handful of other coaches. I am sitting there and I am counting up the number of games that have been caught by a catcher in that room. And just Bob Boone alone, how could you not want to be a catcher in this organization?”
Barrett said that influx of talent, playing experience and coaching knowledge is invaluable to catching prospects. Nats prospects can feed off of so many former players to help them with anything they want to know about the art of being a big league receiver.
“Although we are all different in some ways or some aspects, at the end of the day, we believe in the same common core principals behind the plate that make you successful,” Barrett said. “It doesn’t mean they all have to catch the same way, but you have to catch the ball, you know? It’s a mentality. It’s how you approach each day, it’s how you work, it’s how you prepare. It’s all those things that you do that are important. And then you get the opportunity to be exposed to maybe five or six guys telling you the same thing in a different way? This organization is the best organization for a catcher.”
Barrett breaks down how these catching coaches in the Nats system all communicate and work together for a common goal. Every tidbit of information helps. If Barrett sees something in a catcher at any level he wants to tweak, he knows where to start.
“It’s no different with how we work at the major league level,” Barrett said. “Blanco is the head of coaching for the major league team, if there is something I see from one of the guys, I will go to him and just talk to him first. We have a chain of command. Bob (Boone) is the guy that oversees both sides. I focus more on what I see level to level and what each level requires of that catcher and what the prerequisites are, the goals for him to meet, to be able to advance to the next level.
“What we try to do as an organization is getting these guys to buy in to what the organization needs them to do to get better. It takes a total team effort, right? We spare no expense on the catchers as an organization with all the great catching guys that we have.”
Even though the preseason was cut short, Barrett gave us an idea of what it was like on the ground level as the Nats prepared their catchers for the season in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“We do group sessions with the whole catching corps working together at the same time,” Barrett said. “More of our individual work on the side will be more in detail, breaking things down to how that player needs to hear it or practice it or see it.
“I break it down from level to level and make sure the catchers are doing what they are supposed to be doing throughout the season.”
Barrett gave us more of a taste of how some of the prospects looked as camp was underway this spring training. Here is a rundown of the three 2019 draft picks:
Andrew Pratt is a 23-year-old 10th-rounder from Lubbock Christian.
“He is a 6-foot-4 frame guy with the ability to put the ball out of the park and does some nice things behind the plate,” Barrett said. “He made some great improvements this offseason. He came in looking great.”
Mason Doolittle is a 21-year-old who was selected in the 18th round out of Palm Beach Community College.
“He’s tall, good frame. He’s got a plus arm,” Barrett said. “He’s a guy that got a lot of potential at the plate to be an offensive guy.”
Allan Berrios is a 22-year-old out of Western Oklahoma State taken in the 22nd round.
“Berrios is a really good athlete, he can hit,” Barrett said. “He’s got a lot of fluidity behind the plate. He is mentally tough. I like that about him.
“I felt we got three solid catching prospects that are different in makeup, size, personalities, everything,” Barrett said. “I get excited about that kind of stuff.”
Barrett said even with all that catching experience on the sidelines, sometimes the best coach you have is right next to you on the bench putting on the same equipment that you do.
“You learn from watching what other guys do,” Barrett said. “One of their greatest catching coaches they are going to have are the guys they are going to be catching alongside.”