Rookie Catchers Receive Special Instruction -- Hiatt Schools Everett Catchers In `Giants' Way
Jack Hiatt figures that no professional baseball organization can have enough good catchers. That's why Hiatt has been working the past few weeks with the five catchers the San Francisco Giants drafted and sent to their rookie league Everett team to begin their careers.
``It's a position of danger,'' Hiatt said. ``Catchers get injured from foul balls or a hard slide at the plate. We once had four injured in one day. That's why the need for catching in pro ball in so great.''
Hiatt has ample credentials to assess and develop catchers, players he and San Francisco team management hope will quickly climb up the ladder to success.
Although a pitcher in high school, Hiatt was converted into a catcher when he was signed in 1961 by the California Angels. Hiatt spent three years developing in his new position before he was acquired by San Francisco.
He was with the Giants the next seven years as a catcher-first baseman. Hiatt also had stints with the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, and again with the Angels.
The past three years Hiatt has been back with the Giants as assistant player development director and catching director. In addition to scouting, Hiatt's specialty is to develop San Francisco's corps of minor-league catchers.
``Each catcher has his own style,'' Hiatt said. ``But there's things that I and the (San Francisco) organization demand. We try to teach the `Giants style of play.' All my catchers try to do the same thing in the same manner.
``Styles vary with each major league organization. We have our style for handling everything from pop ups to plays at the plate. There's a proper way to tag runners out, to block the ball (to avoid passed balls), to frame balls for strikes that are borderline pitches.
``We want every young man we've signed to show us what they can do.''
Hiatt said he rarely will try to change the arm stroke or throwing style of the rookie and catching prospects in the organization. He added that their quickness of movement is much more important than the specific throwing style.
``Some guys are quicker learning both the physical and mental aspects than others. It's a tough learning process. They won't learn it all in a season or a year.''
Besides, working on style behind the plate, Hiatt teaches San Francisco's terminology for catchers. He has been working with a combination of college and high school-aged signees by the Giants.
Because of their greater experience, Hiatt said college-level players generally have a better understanding of baseball and the key role catchers play. ``But it depends on what level of competition they've played as to what they know.''
One player, whom Hiatt feels has the background and the ingredients to advance professionally, is Eric Christopherson. The 21-year-old San Diego State product was a first-round draft pick and was the starting catcher Monday night for the Everett Giants.
``We want him to be exposed to this level of play and see how quickly he can move up,'' Hiatt said. ``He's an outstanding young catcher. He has soft hands, excellent quickness, and a great arm.''
Unlike the background of Hiatt and many others who are converted to catching in college or when they move into a professional organization, Christopherson came to the Giants with 10 years of experience behind the plate.
``This young man is fairly polished,'' Hiatt said. ``That's his strength. He has excellent gamesmanship. He has the knowledge of what it takes.''
Hiatt sees the potential for Christopherson to follow the trail which Mike Grahovac took with Everett, maybe even at a faster rate.
Grahovac, another California collegiate product, played in 46 games for Everett last year. He struggled at times, particularly as a hitter (.168 average), as he made the adjustment from the aluminum bats used in college to professional wood bats.
Grahovac returned to Everett for further seasoning earlier this month. But last Friday Giants management announced that Grahovac will move up to San Francisco's Class A Midwest League team in Clinton, Iowa.
Clinton competes in the Midwest League. Hiatt said Grahovac's advancement is something he and others with the San Francisco club expected.
It's also a move the San Francisco officials would love to see for catchers now with Everett. As Hiatt knows, a major-league team can never have enough good catching.
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