Vanderbilt's catcher advantage
June, 18, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
The day after Vanderbilt qualified for the College World Series, a longtime evaluator mentioned over the phone how he believes that the Detroit Tigers "got an absolute steal" with their 10th-round pick -- Vanderbilt catcher Curt Casali. And the evaluator's reasons are interesting.
"He's a smart guy, and he's been calling his own pitches," the evaluator said. "You don't see that a lot in college baseball these days, because the pitches are called from the bench. Casali has worked with a good pitching staff, with guys like [first-round pick Sonny] Gray."
Something so simple -- a catcher calling pitches on his own -- can be so meaningful, but that doesn't mean Casali earned that right easily. In 2010, pitches were called from the Vanderbilt bench, as they are with almost all major programs. But Casali and Andrew Giobbi, another Vanderbilt catcher who was drafted by the Mariners in 2010, began lobbying Commodores pitching coach Derek Johnson for a change in the structure of how this was done.
The catchers' reasoning was that by allowing them to call the pitches, the pace for the pitcher could be dramatically improved, because he wouldn't have to wait for the catcher to look to the bench and for Johnson to give a sign, and for the catcher to then relay that sign. Rather, Casali suggested, that process could be streamlined if the catchers called the pitches -- and he could use what he was seeing on the field in making his choices, by reading the swings of the hitters from pitch to pitch.
Johnson agreed. "We started doing it this year," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin wrote in an e-mail, "because of his knowledge of the game and the fact that he took an interactive role with all of the pitchers."
Before every game, Casali meets with Johnson and reviews film of the forthcoming opponent and goes over scouting reports, the way a quarterback does, and he keeps a journal in the dugout of the pitches he calls because he doesn't want to become predictable. "The pitchers have great trust in him," Corbin wrote. "He's smart, he's selfless, a huge locker room presence and never carries his offense into his defense. He's very, very mature -- like another coach on the field and in the locker room.
"And he's not intimidated by pitchers. He's not afraid to speak up to them, and he challenges them in a productive way. He's the best kid we have had -- an awesome kid."
Baseball is known as a slow-moving sport, Casali said, to the point that a pitch clock has been put in place. But the pace of the Vanderbilt pitchers has improved dramatically -- "to the point that we don't really notice it anymore," Casali said.
He will glance over to Johnson for some thoughts -- a reminder, perhaps, of something that could work in a specific situation. But for the most part, Casali is on his own, as he will be once he starts his professional career with the Tigers, after the College World Series.
But today, his focus will be on the University of North Carolina.
• On Dustin Ackley's first day in the majors, Michael Pineda was The Man for the Mariners. Ackley is going to play second base every day for Seattle, writes Geoff Baker.
Ackley's impact was immediate, writes Larry LaRue.
• The Twins are on a serious roll, and now they have Joe Mauer back; he delivered in his first at-bat. The Twins' fans quickly forgot the catcher's agonizing absence, writes Patrick Reusse. Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla continue to play well.
Mauer is still a favorite son, writes Tom Powers.
• It's hard to imagine that Frank McCourt's settlement will change Major League Baseball's attitude toward his ownership of the Dodgers, because no matter what happens, the Dodgers franchise would be weakened even more than it is now. If McCourt kept ownership of the team, he'd still be required to use tens of millions of dollars from his proposed TV contract to work out a settlement with Jamie McCourt. And if he had to sell the team, in the near future or down the road, the next Dodgers owner would be saddled with a long-term television contract that was initially structured to help McCourt with his need for cash, rather than the franchise.
There are several possible outcomes, writes Bill Shaikin. The deal heightens the possibility of a showdown.
• The Mets are facing a real quandary with shortstop Jose Reyes, and are well aware of the pitfalls that surround them. Reyes is having one of the greatest seasons for any leadoff hitter in the history of the majors, and with each passing day, he is ratcheting up his earning power as a potential free agent. If the Mets pay him what they need to pay him to keep him, there is a reasonable chance that he would be an ineffective player at the back end of his contract.
(Although the idea of Reyes as a brittle player is more myth than reality: He's on pace to participate in 155 games this year, which would be the fifth season in the last seven in which he's played in 153 or more games; he played 133 games in one of the other two seasons in which he didn't play in 153 games.)
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesThe Mets are facing a tricky situation when it comes to retaining Jose Reyes.
If the Mets trade him, they know they probably wouldn't get as much in return as they would like. In fact, executives with two other teams said this week that they couldn't imagine being able to give the Mets what they would require to move an MVP-caliber shortstop who just turned 28. If the Mets allow Reyes to go into free agency, his asking price might go even higher than the Mets expect -- and the Mets understand that it's possible the Yankees could jump into the bidding for Reyes, knowing that he would be comfortable playing in New York and that they need a suitable replacement for future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.
In short: if the Mets fail to sign him, they'll be criticized. If the Mets sign him, they'll probably still be criticized somewhere down the road.
But the circumstances seem to be nudging the Mets into a corner where they will have to make a concerted effort to sign the shortstop -- with hazards all around them. It has helped immensely that Reyes has shown the new regime how hard he works, what a good teammate he is and how much he loves to play.
Reyes could be changing agents soon, writes Sean Brennan, and if he does hire Scott Boras, this would mean there is virtually no chance he would sign before testing free agency.
Reyes can't be traded, writes Kevin Kernan.
Moves, deals and decisions1. Teams are beginning to accelerate talks with the Padres in discussions for possible Heath Bell trades; multiple sides are preparing an exchange of names for the All-Star closer, who figures to be among the first big names dealt this summer.
2. Chris Coghlan was shipped to the minors to work on his swing, but the Marlins still lost.
3. The Rangers agreed to terms with a couple of draft picks.
4. A Reds minor leaguer was suspended.
Dings and dents
1. On the same day the Indians got Travis Hafner back from the disabled list, Matt LaPorta got hurt.
2. Hong-Chih Kuo says he's ready to pitch.
3. Jeremy Guthrie got some good news.
4. Tanner Scheppers has come off the disabled list.
5. David Freese is ready for a rehab assignment.
6. A Rockies catcher suffered a broken thumb.
7. On the same day that Jed Lowrie went on the disabled list, Carl Crawford strained a hamstring.
1. Daniel Hudson beat his old team; the Diamondbacks aren't going away any time soon. This is a team playing with a whole lot of confidence right now.
2. Peter Bourjos led the way for the Angels.
3. You can't stop the Nationals, you can only hope to contain them: They've won seven straight.
4. Graham Godfrey shut down the Giants. Tim Lincecum pitched better, in defeat. From ESPN Stats & Info: The loss of Buster Posey may be hurting more than just the Giants offense. In his six starts this year with a catcher other than Posey, Lincecum has a 6.75 ERA (26 ER in 34.2 IP). In the nine starts in which Posey was behind the plate, Lincecum's ERA was 1.55 (11 ER in 63.2 IP).
5. Watched a lot of the Rangers' win Friday, and they played some serious defense, as Ray Glier writes. From ESPN Stats & Info, how Colby Lewis won:
A. He had a devastating slider: threw 32 of them, tied for the most in his past 33 starts. Of his 10 strikeouts, seven came on sliders, and all of those were swinging. Threw 22 of those sliders outside the strike zone, and the Braves chased nine of them (accounting for 5 K). Freddie Freeman's home run was the only slider to be put in play.
B. All those sliders led to a total of 68 pitches that were down in the zone or below it, easily the most since Lewis' return from Japan before the 2010 season. Atlanta hitters missed with a full third of their swings, and nine out of 10 on pitches below the zone.
C. He kept it down and away from righties, who went 0-for-9 against him.
D. Braves were 0-for-6 with men on base, and had only three AB's with runners in scoring position. Of the eight Atlanta PA's with runners on base (a walk and an HBP added in), six happened with two outs.
6. For the Cardinals, the losing continues, as Rick Hummel writes.
7. The Royals opened the I-70 series with a victory.
8. The Reds had some good stuff happen, but still lost.
9. Rick Porcello had a really bad day.
10. It feels like the Rockies are beginning to stir -- and it's not a coincidence that it's at a time when Carlos Gonzalez is hitting again.
11. John Lackey was really good, and the Red Sox rolled.
12. The Mets' resilience has its limits, as Andrew Keh writes.
13. The Yankees were shut down by Doug Davis.
14. Brett Myers had a great outing for the Astros. How he won, from ESPN Stats & Info:
A. He was efficient. Myers only needed to throw 98 pitches in the complete game and his pitches/plate appearance average of 3.06 is his best mark since last July 4. Myers retired the Dodgers on 11 pitches in the second and third innings combined.
B. He won with his breaking ball. Myers threw 23 curveballs and got seven outs with the pitch, including four strikeouts.
C. Brett Myers' complete game Friday was the Astros' first of the season. That leaves the Cubs and Padres as the only two MLB teams without one this season.
The Patience Index
The Impatience Index
• Ryan Zimmerman is altering his throwing mechanics, as Adam Kilgore writes. The transition does not look easy for him, at all.
• Josh Tomlin may not have overpowering stuff, but he is a mule.
Longest streak of 5+ innings pitched to start a career, since 1920:
Daisuke Matsuzaka -- 28 (2007)
Josh Tomlin -- 26 (2010-11)*
Steve Rogers -- 24 (1973-74)
Runelvys Hernandez -- 21 (2002-03)
Chris Nabholz -- 21 (1990-91)
* = Active streak
• Jose Bautista unlocked the secret to his swing, as Vinay Menon writes.
• The Diamondbacks had a fireworks mishap.
• Rickey Henderson is teaching a new generation how to steal bases, as Steve Kroner writes.
• Jim Leyland says he did a bad job for the Rockies.
Off to Chicago early this morning, for "Sunday Night Baseball."
And today will be better than yesterday.