By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Tampa Bay Rays drafted four catchers in 2015, but Brett Sullivan wasn’t one of them.
The current Charlotte Stone Crabs backstop was originally drafted as a second baseman.
“I think it was the best thing for me and my career,” Sullivan said of making the position change. “They asked me, I was all for it, and then we went 100 percent all-in on it.”
What makes it even more bizarre is that Sullivan never even played second base when he was at the University of Pacific.
“We knew he’d be a good left-handed bat, he had some arm strength and he was tough, so all of that said to us was that maybe he could catch,” manager Michael Johns said. “Is he going to be a big league second baseman? Maybe. But if we can get a catcher out of him then we really have something.
“That’s something that we, as an industry and an organization, have to think creatively. We have to earmark guys, if they’re not going to make it at that position, what position will they make it as?”
He made the switch to catcher last season when he was with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, where he played in 64 games behind the plate. In his short time as a catcher, he’s already earned a pair of all-star nods, including one this season, where he’ll represent the Stone Crabs on Saturday at the Florida State League all-star game in Lakeland.
Catcher is likely the most difficult position to learn.
There’s a lot more to it than just receiving a ball from a pitcher. He needs to learn how to read both his pitchers’ tendencies and those of the opposing hitters.
“He understands how good his game-calling is, and he has good communication with the pitchers,” Johns said. “His focus level for nine innings has gotten so much better. He’s really come a long way.”
The California native isn’t just fielding at a high level, his left-handed bat makes him one of the best hitting catchers in the league. This, despite the fact Sullivan was not one of the Stone Crabs’ catchers on the MLB Pipeline top-30 list of prospects.
“I don’t look at a lot of the prospect things,” Johns said. “There’s some validity to it, but it’s not something we really dwell on. Obviously, the biggest thing was going to be: can he catch? We ask him to do a lot. When you do that sometimes it takes away from the hitting, and he hasn’t done that so far. He’s swung the bat well all year.”
This May was a particularly good month for Sullivan, where he hit .323 with eight extra-base hits, 12 RBI and 13 runs scored.
“I think it was just getting comfortable with the pitchers and how they’re throwing,” Sullivan said of his hot second month. “Once I got a couple of hits I was feeling good. The team was swinging the bat great, and I think it was contagious.”