A strong throwing arm and the ability to receive and block a ball are important tools for catchers to have or develop. Those skills are secondary, however, when playing baseball’s most demanding defensive position, according to Chicago Cubs catching coach Mike Borzello.
“Can you trust your catcher to handle a pitching staff? [That] by me is the No. 1 most important thing about this position by far,” Borzello said at the Joe Maddon Coaches the Coaches Clinic in December.
Borzello told the college, high school and youth baseball and softball coaches at the clinic that they must ask themselves that question.
Whether the catcher is translating game plans and scouting reports into calling the game himself or relaying pitches called by a coach, he is charged with working with the pitchers and helping them perform at their best.
“There is so much to the position: how to receive, how to set-up, how to block,” Borzello said. “I could spend hours talking about that alone. … But as far as the cerebral part of the game, that’s the most difficult, even on the major league level.”
With advanced analytics adding even more information to scouting reports, catchers who hope to play on a higher level have to be more prepared than ever to approach the game as a mental challenge.
“The evolution of this position, even from when I played, is beyond understanding,” said Borzello, who had played the position some in high school before becoming a full-time catcher while playing in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system from 1991 to 1994. “What a catcher is asked to do at the major league level in today’s game is, by far, more than it ever was before.”
Borzello recommends coaches keep that in mind when selecting catchers. Similarly, players should keep the big picture in mind when thinking about what positions to pursue.
“It is a very difficult position, cerebrally difficult, more than physically,” Borzello said. “There are so many physically gifted catchers that you see every day, but are those guys that you can trust on a championship team?”
During the game, the catcher works much more directly with the pitching staff than any coach can.
“Can they handle the moment? Can they think? Can they know how to handle each pitcher differently,” Borzello said. “Some guys you have to kick. Some guys you have to put your arm around. They have to play that role, not only on a daily basis, but on an inning-by-inning basis based on which pitcher is in the game.
“You have to be able to do that. And you have to gain the trust from the manager that that area is covered, that ‘he’s the second manager for me.’ That’s why so many managers are former catchers.”