Conduit ‘Cat’

I had a great conversation yesterday with a former major league pitcher. He has played alongside some of the greatest pitchers of the last generation: Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine. And he has been a pitching coach in the Red Sox organization, working with big leaguers like Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Justin Masterson. Now that former pitcher is helping young Padres prospects to refine their game.

Mike Cather is the minor league pitching coordinator for the San Diego Padres. As he enters his second season traveling around from Fort Wayne to Lake Elsinore, California, to San Antonio, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, he has to familiarize himself with a bevy of faces and pitches and personalities and languages, all in order to try and help the farm system be as efficient as possible when it comes to pitching.

Cather, who goes simply by ‘Cat’, told me yesterday that his job comes down to one thing as the pitching coordinator:

“Coordinating,” he joked as we sat in the visitors dugout in South Bend.

More seriously, he said, “Making sure that the guys’ workloads are prepared, pitching coaches understand what we’re trying to work with each individual. I visit each of the affiliates, basically one per week, five or six days seeing all the starters and releivers, writing reports back to the front office. I put in suggestions on player movement if we have to fill a spot at another level. The majority of the time it’s just keeping everybody on track trying to maintain the organization’s philosophy and making sure that everybody stays healthy.”

He serves as the conduit, the relay, the pipeline–whichever phrase you’d like to use–between Director of Player Development Randy Smith and the front office, which eventually wants to see its minor leaguers turn in to major leaguers. One of the biggest jumps in the farm system from 2012 to 2013 came for Matt Stites, who dominated Midwest League hitters and was named Baseball America’s Low-A Reliever of the Year. Stites followed in the steps of 2011 TinCaps pitcher Keyvius Sampson, going from Low-A Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio.

“Going into the season I think he had 11 walks in 100 innings or something ridiculous. He put himself in that position,” Cather told me. “I think a good comparison between him and (Johnny) Barbato. Barb, obviously, is a little bit younger than him and we felt like a one-step progression is probably a little bit better for him. We’re probably going to stretch him out and see if starting potential is there at the second half of the season. With Stites, the way he’s throwing the ball and he has thrown the ball over his entire pro career, he’s put himself in a situation where he could be moving quickly towards his ultimate goal and we see him as a short, one to two inning guy at the major league level and he might not be far off.”

Cather also mentioned the progression that TinCaps starter Joe Ross has made from last year to this year. With Ross, though, it was more in regard to his demeanor and composure than his pitching (which was already very good, by the way).

“I think the first bullpen that Joe threw in the spring, everybody just looked at each other and said ,’Wow! That is different.’ I think that when these guys go home and get a chance to, I call it “marinate”, you know, marinate on all the information they received. Especially the young guys coming out of high school, having a full season or at least being involved in a full season of experience, these guys get a chance so sit back and take a look at what they’re doing and maybe an approach of how they go about (their work). Maybe it was his brother (Padres pitcher Tyson Ross) coming into the organization, but the maturity level jumped up three years. The way he carries himself has far exceeded anything I expected. You know, high school kids are a little bit different. This kid’s super intelligent, great baseball sense. I feel like he now has a foundation to really build from in the communication that happens between coaches and players. The avenue is wide open and that’s really the biggest thing we can hope for with these guys is that you have a lane to be able to have discussions and work through things. For me, it was him coming back with the maturity of somebody well beyond his years.”

The younger Ross has gotten off to a great start: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 12K. He was also named the first Pitcher of the Week in the Midwest League for 2013. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

I, too, noticed what Cather mentioned about Ross’ level of maturity. If I were to meet him today, having no idea who he was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you he’s 19. I would guess somewhere in his 20′s. And that’s not just Ross in this clubhouse either. It’s a very mature group. You have four starting pitchers who are 19 years old, but you wouldn’t guess it from talking to them. That’s something that speaks well to the quality of person the Padres are drafting, let alone that those four teenagers (Ross, Weickel, Fried and Eflin) were all taken within the first 55 picks of the draft.

Cather has the difficult task of tailoring his message in unique ways to players throughout the organization, and in multiple languages, too. To hear him talk about his teaching mechanisms and getting help from translators, take a listen to today’s podcast below.

PODCAST

Hear my full conversation with Padres Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mike Cather:

MIDWEST LEAGUE FOOD REVIEW

In the second installment of what will be a multi-part series here on the blog, I will review food items from around the ballparks of the Midwest League. The first was West Michigan’s “Baco”, a taco with a bacon shell. Since I have no credentials for food reviewing (I can ruin grilled chicken on a George Foreman grill. Let’s be serious, folks), all reviews are arbitrary and come without set categories.

Today, I take a look at the “Silver Hawk” burger from South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium. The team has put in a new burger stand behind home plate. As my hunger grew yesterday prior to the 1:05 first pitch, I decided to go all in on a burger.

My first item of note here is with the photo that’s displayed on the menu board.

Never, ever put lettuce on the bottom.

Never, ever put lettuce on the bottom.

I don’t understand people who do the whole “lettuce and tomato on the bottom” thing for burgers or sandwiches. Here is how a sandwich or burger should be constructed, from top to bottom:

Bread/Bun (with or without condiment)

Lettuce

Tomato

Cheese

Meat (Cold Cuts or Burger)

Bread/Bun

That’s it. There is no other way to do it.

Since the advertised picture never tells the true story of what your food will look like, here’s what it comes out as:

IMG_20130417_122219_588

This did look pretty good. Here was my major concern, though–the guy that made the burger did it all with his hands. His bare hands. I would’ve preferred that he wear gloves, considering the bacon went from the frying pan, to his hands and then onto the burger. But, I had already paid my $7.50, so I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to eat it.

The flavor was good, although I didn’t taste much in the way of onion straws. The burger was a little hot, but rather too hot than too cold, so I can’t take points away for that.

Overall, I’ll give the burger a 7.5 on the flavor scale, but subtract two points for the guy not wearing gloves while he made it.

Silver Hawk Burger: 5.5/10.

MUSICAL GUEST

Flux Pavilion…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

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