With pitchers and catchers preparing to report to Sarasota this week, The Sun has taken the opportunity to report on THE catcher. Dan Connolly writes of Matt Wieters in the article ‘He’s the guy’: A lot rests on Wieter’s young shoulders, “The organization’s ‘Golden Boy’ has graduated to ‘The Man’ behind the plate.”
Connolly’s article on the Orioles’ home-grown backstop got me to wondering what was written about other Baltimore catching prospects as they prepared to transition into a full-time starting role for the Birds.
The O’s have had a tendency to acquire rather than develop major league catchers for some time now. Although he was drafted by the Tigers and later acquired by the Birds in the 1988 Fred Lynn trade, Chris Hoiles was groomed in the Orioles’ minor league system before taking over as the team’s top catcher in 1991. So the Tractor qualifies for my purposes.
There weren’t any Chris Hoiles Facts in the early ’90s (although “Tractor Facts” does have a certain ring to it), so we turn instead to conventional beat reporters like Richard Justice, who on March 1, 1991, wrote the Washington Post article “Door’s Wide Open for Melvin, Hoiles; Orioles Catchers Take Shot at Filling Hole Left by Tettleton’s Exit.”
Here’s a sample of what was being said about Hoiles:
While Jim Palmer, Jeff Ballard, Ben McDonald and others have gotten much of the early attention, no Oriole is being watched more closely than catcher Chris Hoiles.
Hoiles is a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday, has spent 2 1/2 seasons in Class AAA and is coming off a .348 season with Rochester.
His defensive skills have increased dramatically in the last 12 months, but what impresses the Orioles is that he has put up big numbers with his bat at every level of the minors — including last season when he hit 18 home runs and drove in 56 runs in just 247 at-bats.
“You look at what he has done, and your first reaction is that he only needs a chance,” Robinson said. “I just felt that if Mickey were still here, Chris wouldn’t get the chance he deserved. He came up last season and I just wasn’t able to get him into the lineup. He played so little that he couldn’t get any rhythm. It wouldn’t be fair to do that again.”
Hoiles, meanwhile, seemed eager to embrace the opportunity.
Hoiles agrees the next few weeks will be the most important of his career. He was like dozens of other young players a year ago, when the labor dispute caused a shortened spring training that forced teams to make a lot of roster decisions before coming to Florida. For Hoiles, this time around is his big chance.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “This is the kind of chance everyone has to have to make it. I really do feel I’ve paid my dues and that there’s no point in going back to AAA again.”
He was recalled three times last season, but played regularly only at the end. He was hitting .394 with the Red Wings when he was recalled June 3, but after playing 10 times in a month, was sent back when outfielder Phil Bradley came off the disabled list.
He was back down for a month, came back and played in eight more games for the Orioles and then was sent down again. He came back again in September, played in five games and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
“It was tough to play that way,” he said, “but I understood the situation. I was just happy to be up there getting a taste of it.”
After appearing in just 29 games during the 1989 and 1990 seasons, Hoiles played in 107 games in 1991. He batted .243 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI. He caught 26 would-be base thieves and allowed 49 stolen bases. That equates to a 35 percent caught-stealing percentage, which was one of the better marks during Hoiles’ career.