The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Marlins' Battle for Emergency Catcher's Role Heats Up

Although the Marlins will start potential All-Star Paul LoDuca behind the plate this season, one of the team’s bigger question marks heading into camp is who LoDuca’s backup will be.

Mike Redmond is gone. Ramon Castro is gone as well. Matt Treanor is still on the roster and could make the club, but… well, he’s still Matt Treanor. Josh Willingham, who at 26 is too old to be considered a prospect anymore, could also catch. In fact, he’s widely regarded as a catcher, even though he was converted to catcher – after playing the infield throughout his career – on his path up through the minors.

Still, the Marlins are only going to carry two catchers this year, which raises the issue of who the third – or emergency – catcher will be. You know – the guy that gets used once or twice per year in an extra inning game or after the starter comes out due to injury and you somehow pinch hit for the second catcher. You know - those types of weird circumstances.

Today’s Herald provided a brief look into the matter. Juan Pierre acquired a catcher’s mitt during the offseason to make playing catch with buddy Dontrelle Willis. The notion that Pierre could be brought into catch is somewhat laughable, given his durability and value to the team in the outfield, particularly with his speed. But it’s amusing nonetheless.

What really caught my eye though was the snippet at the end of the article that referenced the fact that Dontrelle was a catcher (in addition to pitching, of course) in high school. The thought of Willis catching in a major league game made me laugh out loud. It would, of course, never happen. Willis will probably be used rarely as a pinch-hitter this year, although he’s more than qualified for the role, because of his recklessness on the base paths (who remembers Willis sliding head first into home plate last season? Sure, that’s great enthusiasm and effort, but no team wants to lose a starting pitcher from the rotation because he jammed a finger – or worse - sliding into the plate).

But it’s still pretty entertaining to think about. Being left-handed myself and having caught in high school as well (granted, it was only for part of one game and in an emergency sort of a situation), I can’t imagine using Willis or any other left-hander behind the plate at the major league level. To the best of my knowledge, former White Sox utility man Mike Squires was the last lefty to go behind the plate in the majors (and the longtime umpire in my high school game said that I was the first lefty that he’d ever seen). As an aside, I’m a little bit terrified of/for myself that I remembered that about Squires. I was able to verify that he did catch here. The scary part is that it happened in 1980. I was two at the time.

It’s a very rare thing to do and a lot of it is because of the potential throwing difficulties a left-handed thrower faces with right-handed hitters in the batter’s box.

Aside from all of that, even if Willis was a righty, his unorthodox motion behind the plate would be interesting to say the least. Imagining Willis uncorking a throw down to second in an attempt to nab a potential base-stealer was probably the image that made me laugh out loud at the thought of him catching. Yes, I know Willis would use a different throwing motion if he was catching. But it’s spring training and there’s time for frivolous thoughts such as these.


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