Third baseman Vinnie Catricala was the Mariners' minor league player of the year last season, tearing up Class A and AA pitching. He says he's working on his defense now.
PEORIA, Ariz. — For a self-described “perfectionist,” Mariners third-base prospect Vinnie Catricala sure has let a couple of key items lapse.
The first concerns his birthplace, listed as Maui on a number of baseball-related websites even though he was born and raised in Sacramento, Calif. Catricala says the general manager of the Mariners’ rookie-level team in Pulaski, Va., was preparing player bios and knew Catricala had gone to the University of Hawaii.
When he couldn’t locate Catricala that day, he simply put Maui down as the player’s birthplace.
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“The only place he knew in Hawaii was Maui, so he used it,” Catricala said. “And it’s stuck for the last three years. I don’t really go on those sites to look at stats or anything, but people tell me it’s still there. I don’t really care enough to change it.”
But the other lapsed item Catricala thinks is a much bigger deal concerns his defense at third base. It’s the lone blemish for a ballplayer who has taken the minor leagues by storm since being drafted in 10th-round obscurity by Seattle in 2009.
Catricala tore up Class A and AA last season with the kind of bat the Mariners only dream of seeing at the major-league level.
They’d love to have Catricala, 23, put on a major-league uniform within the next two years and fill a glaring long-term need at third base. Problem is, Catricala made 14 errors in just 54 games at third last season, leading to talk he might have to be converted to an outfield spot.
“It’s weird, it got away from me in college,” said Catricala, who opted to play at Hawaii rather than go pro after the Indians picked him in the 50th round in 2006. “When I was in high school, my defense was what I was known for. Now, in college, my bat was what I was known for. I think I’m getting closer to putting them both together consistently.”
Catricala makes no excuses for his fielding.
“I got lazy,” he admitted. “I played on the FieldTurf and got good hops every single time. Like I said, I got lazy, lackadaisical. I was in college, thought I knew it all. So it’s taken a while to get back to the fundamentals.”
There was an issue with his shoulder throughout last year, which wasn’t rectified until Catricala embarked on an offseason rehabilitation and strengthening program. He said the soreness did impact some of his throws to first base, though his bat clearly wasn’t affected.
That bat has made it impossible for Catricala to fly under anyone’s radar any longer.
He hit .347 with a .420 on-base percentage and a .632 slugging percentage in 62 games for AA Jackson. Those were even better numbers than he had posted earlier in the year for Class A High Desert in its offense-inflating ballpark.
Catricala was named the Mariners’ minor-league player of the year. And Seattle — for all its struggles in the early draft rounds the past decade — look to have gotten extremely lucky with this late pick.
Funny thing is, Catricala had pretty good numbers in college before the draft.
He says his approach hasn’t changed at all. “I just had to learn how to hit with a wooden bat,” he said. “Once I did that, everything was the same.”
Catricala figures the fact he didn’t play in a big-time conference like the Pac-10 or Southeastern worked against him. Mariners officials say playing in Hawaii — where scouts don’t get over to see players as often — likely kept him relatively unknown.
The Mariners had a Pac-10 scout who did see Catricala and wrote glowing reviews. When he was still around in Round 10, they grabbed him.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Catricala will see outfield time this spring, but the team hasn’t given up on him playing third. The Mariners have a number of potential third basemen of the future — Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi, Francisco Martinez and Carlos Triunfel among them — but none has put it all together in terms of offensive power or defensive prowess.
“We’re going to see him a lot at third base in regards to the reps that he’s taken,” Wedge said of Catricala. “We want to get a good look at him there. We’ll take a good look at him in the outfield as well. We like the way he swings the bat. We like his size.
“He has a presence about him that I think you have to like in any young player. It’s his first camp with us, so we’re not going to fast-forward anything. But we’re going to take a good look at him.”
And Catricala plans to give them a good look.
He dropped 5 pounds this winter and now sits around 222 on his 6-foot-2 frame. But he says he has maintained his strength even while adding speed, and plans to do what it takes to cut down on mistakes — wherever he plays.
“I’m a huge perfectionist,” he said. “They say I’m too hard on myself. People growing up told me I’m too hard on myself. People tell me that Albert Pujols doesn’t even hit every ball perfect off a tee, but I try to do that.”
In school, he would get upset with himself if he didn’t get straight A’s. It was the same with his classes at Hawaii, where he studied speech communications in hopes of a future career in broadcasting.
“I try to be the best I can at whatever I do,” he said.
Right now, the Mariners just need him to be somewhat competent at third base, or whatever position he winds up playing. If he keeps putting up offense like this, it’s only a matter of time before the Mariners find a way to get his bat in their lineup.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ready for majors?
Vinnie Catricala was the Mariners’ minor-league player of the year in 2011, hitting .349 with 25 home runs and 106 RBI in 133 games at Class A and AA. Catricala, a 23-year-old third baseman, has hit .300 at each of his minor-league stops.
2011/High Desert (A)/71/282/.351/.421/.574/.996/14/61