New look behind the plate

CATCHERS: Sophomore Ty Ross streamlines his body and feeds off motivation heading into the new season.

When his freshman season ended last May, LSU catcher Ty Ross didn’t need anybody else to offer an assessment of his opening foray into college baseball.

 

He did plenty of soul-searching all on his own.

 

“I knew I was a lot better than I played last season,” the Tigers’ sophomore said about a rookie season when he batted only .233 and drove in 20 runs. “Defensively I was OK, but not as good as I know I can be. And I know I can swing the bat a lot better than I did.”

 

It wasn’t so much disappointment for Ross as surprise at how much he struggled most of last season, especially with the bat.

 

Behind the plate, the Naples, Fla., native was solid for the most part in 46 starts. He evolved as a receiver, developed a solid relationship with a pitching staff – many of whom were in their freshman seasons like him – and showed the kind of gritty toughness a catcher must have.

 

The offense never quite caught up, though. Ross showed occasional glimpses, including a .455 series against Florida on the opening weekend of SEC play. But he never showed much power and seemed to lose bat speed late in the season – just getting the ball out of the infield or into the gaps was a struggle.

 

In the painful and abrupt aftermath of a 36-20 season, LSU coach Paul Mainieri minced no words and said Ross would have his work cut out if he wanted to hang onto the starting job behind the plate.

Jordy Snikeris

 

Besides the return of senior backup Jordy Snikeris, the Tigers also brought in two freshmen who earned all-state honors: Tyler Moore and Evan Powell.

 

The message to Ross: Get to work.

 

“I knew when we finished last season I was going to have to start from scratch,” Ross said. “That was good for me. It was just going to push me more and has helped me a lot. We have a great catching staff and we all push each other.”

 

It was more than a fight for his job that spurred Ross, though.

 

He also reinvented himself physically, dropping 30 pounds and streamlining a stocky body frame that served him well as a catcher.

 

Now at about 207 pounds, Ross isn’t as bulky or clunky with his movements and he said the weight loss has paid off in a lot of ways.

 

“It was something I had to do,” Ross said. “I cleaned up my diet and got a lot of running in. Whenever you can lighten up and be more fit and agile, it helps you with every aspect of the game.

 

“The biggest things I’ve noticed is that I don’t fatigue as quickly and I’ve been more consistent at the plate and I’m squaring up balls better. I’m seeing it better – recognizing pitches a little bit easier – and I’m making good hard contact.”

 

The scaled-down frame has also paid off behind the plate. Besides not wearing down as easily, Ross said he feels more nimble and quicker to pitches out of the strike zone.

 

His main goal is to be quicker and more accurate on throws to second base.

 

“I need to be better and more accurate with my throws,” Ross said. “I’ve always had a quick release, but I can be better. And sometimes, it’s not as much about being quick as it is about being on target.”

 

Mainieri has taken stock of Ross’ commitment to improve and doesn’t hesitate now to peg the sophomore as the starter behind the plate.

 

“He’s come a long way and shown me he’s willing to work hard and keep getting better,” Mainieri said. “I really think he’s got a chance to be a solid hitter for us before he leaves here.”

 

With a first-year pitching coach in Alan Dunn, there’s also a possibility Ross could call games or part of them from behind the plate instead of relying on the dugout.

 

That seems to be intriguing to Ross and his young pitching cohorts.

 

“I’m very comfortable calling pitches if the coaches want me to do that,” Ross said. “I’ve done it since I was 13. I know our pitchers’ strengths and when which pitches would work best.”

 

Added weekend starter Kurt McCune, “We have a lot of confidence in Ty behind the plate and if the coaches ask him to call pitches for us, I think we’d do very well with that.”

 

Tyler Moore

Ross figures to garner most starts behind the dish, with Snikeris likely serving as a late-inning replacement and the immediate backup if there is an injury. But Moore will also get some looks at catcher after a sterling prep career at Dunham High.

 

Powell and senior utility man Grant Dozar are also available to catch.

 

“We have some different options behind the plate and that’s a good situation to have,” Mainieri said.


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