The catching position in baseball is arguably the toughest in the sport. Besides calling a great game, monitoring the base paths, and making plate appearances of your own, you have to manage the pitching staff. Whether it’s in game situations or just helping relievers warm up, the ability to understand each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses is an underrated skill in baseball.
Managing a pitching staff was no problem for Michael De La Cruz in 2014, as the 21-year old Dominican Republic native appeared in 43 games behind the plate for the Vancouver Canadians. Besides leading his team in games at his position, the young prospect also led all Canadians catchers with 32 assists, one double play, and an 8.63 RF/G.
Humbled by the season he had in Vancouver, De La Cruz admits a lot of his success in 2014 was due to the incredible pitching staff the Canadians had to offer and their ability to work with him as a team.
“Thank God I had great communication with all of my teammates,” said De La Cruz. “The pitchers and I agreed on everything that needed to be done to be successful. Our season in Vancouver was great, thanks to the guys on the team.”
“My game behind the plate is to help as much as possible,” he added. “I try to get the pitchers to work fast and be as smart as possible. I feel I did a very good job at doing that last season.”
Consistently working on getting better at his position, De La Cruz understands he needs to improve at throwing out base runners. Only catching 10 runners in 46 attempts, the young catcher has worked hard at this skill during the off-season and hopes that it shows throughout his 2015 season.
“I understand throwing out base runners is an important aspect for catchers,” said De La Cruz. “That’s an area I’m working really hard on. It’s not easy, but I really pride myself on my defense. I always give my best every day and I’m always striving to get better.”
De La Cruz is still doing well at the position as a whole, as he didn’t start playing it full time until he reached the Gulf Coast League at the tail end of the 2013 season. Spending a lot of time at the corner infield and outfield positions in the Dominican Summer League, the Toronto Blue Jays organization felt focusing on catching was the best fit for De La Cruz’s bat when he first arrived in Florida.
That logic has worked out well for De La Cruz as he doesn’t have a lot of power in his bat, but he can grind out hits and draw walks at a decent rate. Registering 33 hits, which included six doubles, a triple, a home run, and 21 RBIs in 142 Northwest League at-bats, De La Cruz maintained a respectable .232/.323/.310 slash line. De La Cruz’s 19 walks were good enough for fifth best on the team. Maintaining a 7.47 BB/AB ratio in 2014, it’s safe to say the catcher was very disciplined at the plate, which is a great sign moving forward.
Even though De La Cruz had a decent season both at the plate and behind it, the thing that really stands out to him about his 2014 campaign was the opportunity to play in the Northwest League. Enjoying everything Vancouver had to offer him from June to September, the young catcher describes the experience in glowing terms.
“I loved playing in Vancouver. It’s a great city to play baseball in. Thank God I was given the opportunity to play there,” stated De La Cruz. “It was my first time in the city and it was an incredible experience. Dave Pano and Jeff Ware were great coaches to play for. Playing in Vancouver was by far my greatest baseball moment to date.”
Focused on getting better at catching, De La Cruz worked hard this off-season to get better both offensively and defensively. After spending the winter in the Dominican Republic, the young catcher is ready to report to spring training with one focus: a promotion to one of the Blue Jays’ full-season affiliates.
“I was focused on my daily routine this past off-season,” explained De La Cruz. “I have an exercise routine I use to stay in shape. I also lift weights. Both have worked well for me in the past, so I stuck with it this off-season as I’m hoping for a promotion this spring.”
Be sure to follow Michael De La Cruz in 2015 as he continues to manage a pitching staff effectively for one of the Toronto Blue Jays minor league clubs.