Cutler Gets His Shot in Angels Camp
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Crazy. Confident. Commanding. Cockeyed. Cojones. Just a little bit cocky. Put together, those characteristics combine to constitute the commensurate catcher, and they just so happen to be the best way to describe one Charlie Cutler.
He doesn’t only want to make the big league roster out of camp (to hell with the No. 97 on his back); he wants to win a ring.
“Seriously, as insane as it sounds, I want a World Series ring,” he says. “That’s what I want. That would obviously mean playing in the major leagues, and being on the team that ends up winning it.”
A ring with the Angels would mean a lot to Cutler, not only as a validation of his time toiling in the minors -- hitting .310 in seven years for three separate organizations – but because he takes pride in one of the franchise’s older designations.
“I’m a true California guy. Obviously, I’m a California native. I would wear that CA with pride, obviously,” Cutler says, hearkening back to when the team was the California Angels. “I’d actually prefer that logo. It’s just a cool opportunity. I’ve always been in the Midwest or on the East Coast, so it’s good to be closer to home, for sure.”
Cutler will wink at you as soon as look your way, and the first time I met him, as a freshman who had yet to play a single inning for California, he shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Charlie Cutler. You’ll be writing a lot about me.”
Crazy? Check. Confident? Check. Just cocky enough? Check. Californian? Check. But there’s one more thing that describes Cutler, and it’s the reason the Angels signed him: Consistency.
Cutler – in big league camp for the first time in five years – has hit .310 over seven minor league seasons with three different organizations since being drafted out of Berkeley by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft. He’s been stuck at Double-A now for five seasons.
“I don’t really find – it is a grind, for sure, but I love playing baseball,” Cutler said of his years in the minors, riding buses to away games in one Podunk town or the next, playing in a park with a coaster out beyond the fence, playing in the cold and the wet and everything that’s not your typical baseball summer. “You know I’m not BS’ing that. I’m really grateful for all the opportunities that have been bestowed upon me. I don’t have an ounce of bitterness in my heart. I love playing baseball.
“I was a free agent for the first time, and I felt like I had the best opportunity here, with the Angels. The rest is history ... I don’t really want to go into the specifics, but based upon the kind of contract I got, and obviously the opportunity to show the big league staff what I can do, that’s pretty much why I made that decision.”
The newest Los Angeles Angels backstop has hit at least .296 each of the last four seasons, and has only hit under .274 once – when he split 2010 between Palm Beach (High-A) and Springfield (Double-A) and hit .260. Cutler has hit .300 or better in four of his seven minor league seasons, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved each of the last three years. He’s a pure contact hitter, and he doesn’t get himself out.
“That’s my game and I’ve got to stay true to myself,” says Cutler, who has 24 career home runs in 534 minor league games. “Would I like to hit more home runs? Of course, but I honestly don’t know how. What I do know how to do is hit for a high average and get on base and be a clutch hitter.”
In the first ever game for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic Qualifying Tournament in September of 2012, Cutler cracked a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning against South Africa to power Israel to a 7-3 win. Though Israel didn’t make it out of the qualifying round – losing to Spain in the championship game (their only loss of the tournament), it was still a big moment for Cutler, and one that got him Rule 5’d to the Cubs a year later.
Cutler, as he readily admits, is not a power hitter, but that’s not because he doesn’t have the strength. It’s how he developed in high school.
“Our home field was a public park in Golden Gate Park,” says the graduate of San Francisco (Calif.) Lowell. “Basically, it’s a huge expanse of grass that’s probably 600 feet to the end of it. There are two fields that are back-to-back, so the left fielder on one field would be back-to-back with the right fielder on the other. If you were able to get it onto that next field, it would land on the dirt, and then, it would really take off, and you’d get a home run, essentially. The outfielders could play 400 feet deep, if they wanted, so you weren’t going to hit it over their heads.”
That’s how Cutler has developed his short, compact, line-drive stroke that’s produced 85 doubles and 15 triples.
“A big field just has more room for hits to land, but I can’t really adjust to the field,” Cutler says, referring to the asymmetrical layout of Angels Stadium, with its imposing 19-foot wall stretching across right field. “I only know how to be me, but I’ve got to get the most out of myself that I can. I’m just going to stick with that.”
The one knock on Cutler – and it’s the one that’s perhaps kept him from advancing – is that scouts have seen his defense as a bit of a weak point. As confident and as self-assured as Cutler is, he knows his own faults, and he works to fix them.
“Honestly, it’s not even anything that’s physical,” said Cutler – an athletic, 6-foot, 200-pounder who played outfield in college, along with catching. “It’s just understanding every pitcher, inside and out, and understanding every situation, and being able to call a game and direct the defense, based upon every single moment within a game. It’s not even physical. It’s being capable of being that ultimate leader that can direct the staff and has the trust of everyone. That is something that can’t be quantified in statistics.”
There are few ultimate leaders like Cutler’s manager in big league camp – legendary catcher Mike Scioscia.
“He has worked with us a good amount, obviously, and when he sees something, he’s going to let you know about it,” Cutler says. “More than anything, he just has a presence, and every great catcher has that presence, where you’re just the unquestioned leader when you’re on the field, and so he definitely has that. That’s something that I have, and that I need to continue to demonstrate, in order to be the player that I want to be at the major league level.”
When the Angels signed Cutler to a minor league free agent deal on Nov. 24, they knew that they were getting a professional hitter. That’s why he’s got this shot. What the staff is rapidly finding out, though, is that Cutler is a sponge when it comes to learning. That’s what happens when you go to the No. 1 public school in the nation, even if only for three years.
“You have to use that ability to be a studier and be someone that’s prepared. You have to use that to your advantage,” says Cutler, who says that bullpen coach Steve Soliz has been his most consistent teacher throughout camp
“Honestly, I’m with – probably more than anybody, as far as the major league staff – I’m with the bullpen coach, Soly, and I just end up spending the most time with him. He does our early work, and he spends a lot of time around us, so I’ve gotten to know him the best, out of all the major league staff,” says Cutler. “He is just obsessive about the signs and the different plays we run. It really makes it easy, because it’s something that we go over, every day, just so, when we are in games, it’s all just going to be second nature, so it’s not even something you have to think about.”
Cutler has seen no fewer than seven of his former teammates from Cal play in the big leagues since he was drafted in 2008. Two of his former batterymates – National League All-Star Tyson Ross and former first-round pick Brandon Morrow -- are just 40 minutes away in Peoria, Ariz., in camp with the San Diego Padres. One of his former teammates – Boston Red Sox outfielder Allen Craig -- was a hero in the World Series for the Cardinals. Two of his former teammates -- Josh Satin and Brennan Boesch -- are in camp with the Cincinnati Reds. Mark Canha is looking like a lock to make the Oakland Athletics out of camp.
Cutler, though, doesn’t begrudge his former mates a thing.
“Josh and I are friends, I do talk to Tyson here and there. People kind of go their separate directions, to some degree, but you definitely do have your core group of guys that you keep in touch with, throughout the years,” says Cutler, who played with Satin on Team Israel.
Cutler – who lives in his hometown of San Francisco during the offseason -- trains at Cal during the offseason, so he runs into plenty of former teammates, as well as other former Bears, like Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien, who’s been tearing up the Cactus League.
“Oh, man. I mean, I saw Canha, I saw Tyson, I saw Kobernus, I saw Satin, I saw all those guys specifically this offseason, at the Cal Pro Day,” Cutler says. “I saw Marcus a few times. A lot of us work out at Cal in the offseason, here and there, so I saw a lot of the Cal guys that still work out there.”
Cutler hasn’t had as easy a path to the big leagues as some of his former mates, despite his numbers. In the three previous organizations he’s been a part of – St. Louis, the Pittsburgh Pirates and last season, the Chicago Cubs – he’s been behind younger catchers on the upside of their careers in Yadier Molina, Russell Martin and Welington Castillo.
“I mean, I would agree, that it is frustrating, but it’s all part of the journey, and it’s made me the player that I am today, as well as the person that I am today” Cutler says. “I really try to not look at it as a negative thing, and take it as a positive. I just know, when I do have my shot in the major leagues, that I will be ready for it.”
Yes, the Angels traded Hank Conger this offseason to the Houston Astros – opening a cozy spot for Cutler – but there’s still the matter of nine-year big league veteran backstop Chris Iannetta -- who played 108 games last season – and former Los Angeles Dodgers backup catcher Drew Butera, who’s in his first year with the Halos after playing in 61 games for the Dodgers in 2014.
“First of all, Chris, he is That Guy,” says Cutler. “He is the undisputed, No. 1 guy on this team, at the moment, and watching the way he goes about his business is, honestly, really impressive, because he’s one of the hardest workers, and he doesn’t need to be. That’s really been impressive to watch. I’m just trying to keep tunnel vision, and trying to focus on my own stuff and let the cards fall where they will, because so much of that is out of my control.”
Just being in Major League camp has opened doors for Cutler, doors he hopes lead to something bigger.
“Those first five days, when it’s just pitchers and catchers, there weren’t very many of us here, so I’m getting to know everybody, slowly but surely, and just trying to do my best every day,” Cutler says. “If you’re on the back fields, you’re not playing in front of the people that you need to impress. At the end of the day, I can only be me, but I need to be the best me that I can be, and that, I can control, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
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