When he fills out his lineup card to start the game, ASU baseball coach Tim Esmay will have two excellent catchers from which to choose.
Last year Esmay had the benefit of pencilling Max Rossiter into the lineup just about every day. Rossiter played in 54 games last year, and with his departure, it will be up to junior Nate Causey and sophomore RJ Ybarra to fill those innings.
“I like having a two-catcher system, especially early in the year,” Esmay said. “You’re always a foul-tip away, you’re always something away from getting hurt and so we like to make sure that we have those guys prepared to play.”
Causey was injured all of last year and had Tommy John surgery at the end of the year. Esmay said Causey’s recovery is going at a “miraculous” pace and pegged him at 80 percent healed.
Because of the injury, Esmay said he doesn’t expect Causey to catch early in the year, but still expects him to get at-bats from first base or the designated hitter position.
Causey said he likes Esmay’s two-catcher system between him and Ybarra.
“It gives you a break because catching’s a grind,” Causey said. “We clearly have enough good catchers to go around.”
Last year Causey batted .274, and with 29 walks, second on the team, he posted an on-base percentage of .407. He walked more times than he struck out and hit five home runs.
Ybarra hit .313 and slugged .509, third on the team. Twelve of his 35 hits went for extra bases, along with five home runs.
Ybarra said his offseason was spent improving his defense behind the plate, specifically blocking the ball, controlling the pitching staff and throwing out attempted base-stealers.
“A big thing is flipping the game,” Ybarra said. “If I’m 0-4 hitting, it doesn’t really matter, because the most important thing in the game is me catching and how I’m going to control that.”
Ybarra said a big part of his job is controlling the pitching staff. He said he was excited to catch sophomore left-hander Ryan Kellogg as well as fellow sophomore southpaw Brett Lilek, who is returning from an injury last year. He said it’s not hard to control a staff headed by those two.
“There’s not really much you have to do for (Kellogg). Just put the glove up, and he’s going to go out and compete for you; Lilek is the same way,” Ybarra said. “It’s pretty easy back there. It’s just the young guys when they get a little wild, a little whacked out, that’s the ones you want to help.”
Causey agreed that it’s easier to catch guys like Kellogg.
“You don’t ever really get a chance to relax as a catcher, but when he’s throwing, you have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to go and where he’s going to throw all his stuff,” Causey said. “He’s got good pitches and good command.”
Either way Esmay goes, whether its Ybarra, Causey or either of his freshman catchers, Zach Cerbo or Brian Serven, ASU’s pitchers are in good shape with their team’s catching depth.
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