By JOE MCFARLAND
They have a unique vantage point during a baseball game. Catchers are the only defensive players looking towards the outfield, hoping the pitch they call for ends up in their glove and not in the bleachers.
With a flurry of finger movements, they set every situation into motion. Catchers have to know their pitchers, know the batters at the plate and know the significance of every given moment. They have to be students of the game, and for Calgary’s Jordan Procyshen, class is always in.
The 24-year-old gets to be a teacher for a short time, as a catching instructor for the Okotoks Dawgs Academy’s catching clinic on January 5th & 6th.
“The biggest thing I want the kids to take away is just have a love of the game and become a better student,” Procyshen told Alberta Dugout Stories this week. “Obviously I want to give them all the tools and they will be provided all the tools to become better catchers, but that’s going to take time.”
Time is what Procyshen is giving himself. When he first started in baseball, he wanted to play in the middle infield or pitch. But when he arrived at open tryouts in Okotoks as a 13-year-old, he was asked if he had a catcher’s mitt and, before he knew it, he was thrown into the mix there.
“If I wanted to play for the Dawgs, I knew I had to become a catcher … so I put everything I had into it,” Procyshen said.
“The toughest part was just how much the position demanded,” the 5’10”, 185-pound backstop continued. “Your body is sore because you’re squatting all day, you have to be able to block, you have to be able to throw, you have to be able to catch, you have to learn every single pitcher.”
He admits that blocking was the last piece of the puzzle needing to be plugged in. But he kept progressing, to the point that he became the 14th round selection of the Boston Red Sox in the 2014 MLB Draft.
Procyshen is coming off a year that saw both highs and lows. Last year started with an invite to the main Red Sox camp at spring training and he stuck around for a while.
“I felt like a big leaguer,” the Northern Kentucky alum said. “Definitely gives you that taste and you want to be up there even more.”
He got his first taste of AA ball with the Portland Sea Dogs, hitting .200 with 4 home runs and 21 RBIs in 68 games. He feels it’s important not to focus too much on his numbers at the plate.
“I don’t want to say it was a bad year, but it was definitely a learning experience,” Procyshen admitted, adding that he’s already looking forward to the coming season.
He knows patience will be a virtue, so he wants to keep progressing while keeping his expectations in check. Procyshen has seen players have “off years,” and get promoted, and he has also seen others have monster campaigns and not get called up to the big leagues.
“My biggest goal this year is to stay as consistent as possible and take things as they come,” Procyshen said. “If you have a bad day, understand that, you know what, it happens and that’s baseball.
“If you have a really good day, enjoy it while it’s happening but understand how you feel on those really bad days as well,” he continued. “I just want to be someone that my teammates can rely on.”
Procyshen isn’t content on trying to improve any one facet of the game. He’s looking at the big picture.
“If I want to have a job in baseball, I’m going to have to be able to catch, throw, block and be able to handle a pitching staff,” he said. “I think I do pretty well obviously, but I always need to get better.”
Offensively, Procyshen wants to become more reliable, which is something he believes will come with experience. It’s an interesting problem that catchers have: they may seemingly have the advantage in the mental chess game that’s played – with all of their access to pitching strategies – yet many struggle with hitting. But the former Dawgs prospect has some insight on that.
“During spring training, we’ll lose swings and during the season we won’t get as many swings (during batting practice and if platooning games) because our number one priority is taking care of the pitchers,” Procyshen responded. “That’s just something you have to understand from day one is you might only get ten to fifteen swings today, not a hundred like everybody else.”
“Because you have to go catch bullpens, you have to talk to your pitchers, you have to understand where they’re at and what their stuff is doing …. For a catcher, if you can be a consistent hitter, we’re not expecting a lot out of you but be a tough out and do your job.”
“The day you stop getting better is the day you find yourself without a job,” Procyshen proclaimed, going back to his idea that he will need to continue to be a student of the game, learning every step of the way.