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In the Cougars' Den: Catching depth a plus for Cougars

Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 11:02 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Kane County Cougars pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng (19) throws a bunted ball to first as Kane County Cougars catcher Will Remillard (20) looks on during their home opener Tuesday night against the Fort Wayne Tim Caps at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.

GENEVA – A Mayan calendar probably will be on the premises should the Cougars resort to an emergency catcher this season.

While Will Remillard and Ben Carhart split the bulk of the duty, infielder Jordan Hankins starts behind the plate about once a week. Then there’s Cael Brockmeyer, who’s nearing the end of his stint on the disabled list and itching to join the rotation.

None of these backstops are perfect, of course, and that’s the idea behind this unique setup. Remillard missed last season with a back injury, for one, while Carhart converted from the infield during the offseason.

“I mean, I’ve made mistakes, pitchers have made mistakes, everybody has made mistakes,” Remillard said. “But we’re learning from them, and we’re still winning games.”

The Cougars entered Friday’s game at Dayton on an eight-game winning streak while largely flying in the face of that old baseball adage about being consistent up the middle.

Manager Mark Johnson, a former Major League catcher who began his career with the White Sox, has helped steel the growth process along with hands-on pitching coach David Rosario.

Johnson, just 38, played in the bigs as recently as 2008 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Those guys, they’re just there for you,” Remillard said. “When you make a mistake, they pull you aside and they let you know what to do differently and maybe what to do next time, and you learn from that.”

Carhart played in 112 games with Advanced-A Daytona last season, hitting .247 while shuttling between first and third base.

That experience and an eager demeanor – “Ben’s a baseball rat,” Johnson said – eased the Cubs organization’s decision to see where Carhart stood at a new position.

For Carhart, as with any young catcher, understanding that mistakes are prevalent at this level is imperative.

“He blocks well, throws well, receives really well,” Johnson said. “So it’s more of just the mental. Pitch calling and when to take mound visits and things like that.”

The finer points of catching are an easy clubhouse conversation topic when so many players have at least a working knowledge of the position.

“We talk about things. We’re friends. We talk about how to help each other out a little bit. Just let things happen,” said Brockmeyer, the highest-drafted of the full-time catchers as a 16th-round pick in 2013.

Hankins, an 11th-round selection last summer, played second base during the early stages of his collegiate career at Austin Peay before shifting to third. The Cubs drafted him as a catcher, so he figures to see more time there as a season progresses.

“Still working at it,” Hankins said. “You don’t want to get away from it.”

On this club, that would be pretty difficult.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

Who's hot

Highly-touted right-handers Jen-Ho Tseng and Paul Blackburn helped the Cougars sweep a pair of seven-inning games at Bowling Green on Tuesday. The pair struck out 12 in a combined 11 1/3 shutout innings.

Who's not

Outfielder Trey Martin, limited to just 11 games last season with a shoulder injury, is batting .195 in 11 games in 2014.

Star watch

Beloit comes to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark for a three-game series beginning Monday, and touts a handful of highly-regarded pitching prospects. Entering the season, Baseball America ranked righties Dylan Covey (eighth) Bobby Wahl (ninth), Kyle Finnegan (16th) and Ronald Herrera (17th) among the parent Oakland A's top 30 prospects.

Noteworthy

Infielders Danny Canela and Logan Hankins and right-hander Zack Godley reunited with former USA Baseball Collegiate National Team teammate Adam Plutko last weekend. Plutko, a UCLA product, is a righty for Lake County. … Five games in next week's seven-game homestand with Beloit and Wisconsin begin between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Cougars play just two 11 a.m. weekday matinees next month (May 7 and 27). … Yordano Ventura, a Cougars righty when the club was aligned with Kansas City in 2011, earned his first Major League victory Tuesday, allowing two runs – one earned – in seven innings for the Royals at Houston. ... The first 1,500 fans attending April 26 and 27 games against Wisconsin will receive a magnet 2014 season schedule. First pitch for both games is 1 p.m. ... Tseng (b. Oct. 3, 1994) remains the youngest Cougar. Shortstop Carlos Penalver (b. May 17, 1994) and righty Duane Underwood (b. July 20, 1994) both turn 20 sooner.

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