This past week, I had an opportunity to sit down with the Palm Beach Cardinals’ super utility player, Mason Katz. Drafted as a second baseman in the fourth round in 2013, Katz has been asked to play all over the field recently, and has thrived while doing it. In order to satisfy my own curiosity and hopefully offer you, the reader, some entertainment, I asked him about everything from what it was like to be drafted to how hard it is to play all over the field. Here’s what he had to say.
(This interview has been edited for style and readability.)
Chris Greene: You were drafted in the fourth round in 2013 from LSU. When you learned you were chosen, what was that like?
Mason Katz: It was a crazy experience, because we were about to play in the Super Regionals against Oklahoma to go to the College World Series. It was the day of the first game, so we were getting ready for BP, and I was so focused on the game. Going through the draft process was pretty crazy, I was super excited. But I took a couple minutes, talked to my family, and then pushed it aside and focused on winning and trying to go to the World Series.
CG: How did you feel about being drafted by the Cardinals?
MK: Awesome. Best organization there is, and I watched them growing up.
CG: Were you a Cardinals fan when you were younger?
MK: Well, actually I grew up a Cubs fan, but I watched a lot of the Cardinals, clearly, and I just knew how good of an organization they were. And the year before, one of my very good friends James Ramsey was drafted - of course now he’s traded, but we had talked, and when I got drafted by them he was one of the first people to call me and we were really excited to be in the same organization again.
CG: You are living the dream, getting to play baseball professionally. What is it like waking up every day knowing that you get to go to a ballpark instead of an office?
MK: It’s pretty amazing, knowing that my work is my dream. It’s not really work. I get to play a kids’ game for a job. I grew up wanting to do this, and being able to fulfill that dream - you know everybody sets their goals and dreams pretty high growing up; everybody wants to a professional athlete or something - being able to live that out and try to work to make it to the Big Leagues is really a dream come true.
CG: What’s your everyday life like?
MK: I wake up, kind of hang out with the guys that I live with; chill, watch some TV or something, and then come here and go through my routine of getting ready, doing my exercises and things to try to make sure, well now that I’m back to try to stay healthy, and then go do my hitting drills and everything I go through every day, take BP, and then put my headphones in, zone out, and get ready for the game.
CG: A couple of times a year there’s some talk about young players and minor league players aren’t being paid fairly. What are your thoughts on that?
MK: You know, it’s difficult. We don’t make as much money as everybody seems to think we make.
CG: Do you have a job in the offseason?
MK: I do. I do a lot of hitting lessons, and then I’ll work for my Dad at his gym every once in a while, and kind of whatever I can do to make sure I have enough money to where I’m not struggling too bad at all. It’s not easy. I guess everybody thinks ‘professional athlete,’ they think we make a ton of money, and unless you’re in the big leagues, that’s not the case. It’s somewhat of a struggle.
Especially out here in Florida where rent is pretty high, and things like that, we don’t make a ton of money. So we try to game plan and figure out a budget for what we spend our money on, and there’s not many luxuries. Most of us try to save our money so that on an off day we can go play golf or something like that, and so that it’s not like, ‘I can’t play golf today, because I don’t have any money!’
CG: Still worth it?
CG: Before returning to Palm Beach this past week, you were on the DL for a couple of months with a lower back injury. What was that like for you?
MK: It was hard, man.
CG: Have you ever been injured for a significant period of time before?
MK: No. I never have. The only time I’ve really been injured was after my freshman year of college in the summer, I’d gotten hurt and I didn’t play summer ball, but honestly I was focused on school ball, and that was a totally different thing.
This being my job, and being hurt, it was difficult. I was trying as hard as I could to find ways to get healthy quick. The first time, right when I got hurt, I tried to rush it. I’d never been injured so I didn’t know how to deal with it. I tried to rush it like, ‘I can play through it, I can get through it,’ and that was a horrible mistake and that kind of set me back a little bit.
It was hard, but it was an awakening experience kind of. Really, sitting out this time, and wanting to get back so bad, it makes you appreciate like, ‘I’ve really missed baseball.’ When you play 140 games a year, it gets long, but sitting out some time, it was, ‘I can’t wait to play again.’
CG: Was it hard not being able to help your team out on the field?
MK: Absolutely, I’d be sitting at home and these guys would come home from their games and tell me what they were doing, tell me that they lost by one, and I’d be like, ‘I could have driven in that run,’ and you just never know.
CG: What did you do to keep yourself occupied and keep from going crazy while you were recovering?
MK: Well, one of my very good friends lives in Fort Lauderdale, so I’d go down, it’s 40 minutes, so I’d drive down there whenever I could and hang out with him, kind of keep me away after my rehab. I’d get done with rehab before noon, just about every day, so I’d see him pretty often.
CG: To change topics a little bit, we recently passed the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, and a teammate of yours was traded. What was it like to lose a teammate like Rob Kaminsky?
MK: Crazy. It was crazy.
CG: Were you prepared for it?
MK: No. We didn’t expect it. We kind of saw his name pop up on some rumors and we would text him, be like, ‘Hey, don’t know if you can say anything, but have you heard anything about this?’ and he didn’t really know much. Losing a guy, you know, Rob’s a good player, but an even better person, so losing a teammate like that, it’s tough, but you’re happy for him, because you know that he’s going to be put in a good place, and he’s going to have a chance to move. He’ll be in the big leagues in no time. He’s going to be a great player for a long time.
CG: Was it kind of a reality check for you? A reminder that baseball is a business at its core?
MK: Absolutely. You sit here and become friends with all the guys you play with, and then just in a blink of an eye you can be on a new team where you know nobody. Two hundred different guys in a new organization and you don’t know a single person. It is kind of a reality check, but you just make the best of it. I know Rob and whatever team he goes with, he’s going to pitch extremely well and move up and he’ll become friends with all of those guys in the Indians organization now.
CG: You mentioned Rob Kaminsky’s good pitching this year, but he hasn’t been the only good pitcher for Palm Beach this year. Have you been impressed with Palm Beach’s pitching overall this year?
MK: Yeah. Our pitching staff has been amazing. They’ve held us in all year. Our lineup has been up and down, you know, struggle here and there, out of nowhere we’ll come out of it a little bit, but for the most part we wouldn’t even be in the position we’re in without our pitching staff at all.
The first half didn’t go as well as we wanted, but this second half, our pitching staff has still done a great job and kept us in games and allowed us to be in first as of now. We expect them to carry us still. Pitching is the way you win in the game of baseball and they’ve done a fantastic job all year long.
CG: Have you ever seen a pitching staff as good as the Cardinals’ has been so far this year?
MK: I don’t know. I don’t think so. We had some pretty good pitching staffs in college when I was there. We had (Kevin) Gausman and Aaron Nola in the same rotation, which was fun to watch, but in pro ball this is as good as it gets.
CG: Before you got hurt, you were having a pretty good season offensively. What’s it been like playing in the Florida State League? It’s renowned for stealing offense. As a power hitter, have you felt that effect?
MK: Yeah, it’s difficult. Last year when I got called up here, I had a pretty good half season when I was here, and then this year starting in April here and playing - before getting hurt - as long as I could. It is not a hitter friendly league, especially playing at home, you know, this park is --
CG: Do you ever feel like you can’t get them out of here?
MK: Absolutely. I’ve hit some balls that I’m like, ‘Alright.’ I’m looking towards the Marlins’ complex to see if I’m going to hit their building and the left fielder catches it at the warning track and I’m like, ‘Am I just not strong anymore, or is it the conditions?’ So it’s difficult, but that’s the game.
If we make it to the big leagues, and that’s everybody’s goal, there are going to be some situations and places where it’s not going to be a hitter-friendly atmosphere and they’re not going to take any excuses up there. You’ve got to find ways to win. So it sucks when you’re down here, but it’s going to be good for you in the long run.
CG: In 2013 you were a second baseman, in 2014 you picked up a little first base on the side, and this year you’re playing all over the diamond, and the only positions you haven’t played are pitcher and shortstop. What’s the deal with that?
MK: My whole life I’ve pretty much played just about everywhere. In high school I played all nine positions at some point, and in college I played left, center, right, first, second, third --
CG: So this is not a new experience for you.
MK: No. I’ve always been told this is what I am, and then something goes on and it’s like, ‘Hey, can you do this?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I have in the past.’ So I do that. And then, ‘Can you do this?’ So I just moved around.
They asked if I’d ever caught, I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was recruited to college as a catcher, never caught in a game in college, but worked on that. And then outfield, I played outfield a lot in college, so started to do that, and it transpired to where I was just going to be a utility guy, and as long as I’m hitting, I’ll find a place on the field somewhere. And I enjoy it. It’s fun. I get to practice something different every single day.
CG: What’s it like being able to play everywhere on the field? From game to game, is it hard to change positions, or is it pretty easy once you learn how to do it?
MK: It’s not too difficult. In the beginning, it’s difficult as you’re trying to learn a new position, but since I’ve pretty much done it my whole life. It’s kind of just taking my time in batting practice before the game to take a few extra steps to get my footwork down, or get my sights on the angles of the ball and that’s about it. I’ve done it long enough where it just kind of takes a couple of balls to get where I’m like, ‘Now I remember, this is it.’
We usually do in BP - there are three groups - where we hit one round and play defense for two. So I usually play the position I’m playing that day in the first group of defense, and in the second group where I play defense I pick a different position every day. So every day I’m working on something else, all my positions. So if I play a position the next day, I’ve worked on it sometime in the past week.
CG: You said that you were recruited as a catcher by LSU, but you didn’t play there at all in college. Was it hard getting back into it a couple of years later?
MK: It was a little bit, but not too difficult. I caught bullpens a lot in college just because we needed some help here and there, but that was more in the beginning. Then in the offseason, after I was drafted, I lived with two guys that are pitchers in pro ball now. And I live back at LSU, so tons of guys that have been drafted out of there go back and live there in the offseason and we all train together at school. We didn’t have many catchers down there, so I would catch people just to help them out, so it was kind of there.
When they told me I was going to work on that, it was just a little bit more in depth, looking at the actual footwork and the movements and things like that, not just catching bullpens for help, but actually doing it for a job.
CG: Do you like it?
MK: I love catching. It’s great. I love being able to call my own game, kind of control the way things go, being able to have as much control over the pitches as I possibly can, but they have their own minds.
CG: Is it fun with this pitching staff?
MK: Yeah, it’s pretty easy. Once they kind of get a feel for you, they trust you, so it’s fun. You get on the same page with them, and once you get on the same page with these guys and start calling what they want in certain situations, you can roll. Not many teams score runs off these guys.
CG: Did you get to catch Alex Reyes?
MK: I did.
CG: What’s it like catching a hundred mile per hour fastball?
MK: That was different. I hadn’t caught one of those since in my freshman year of college, just in a scrimmage, I caught Anthony Ranaudo. And he was throwing hard back then, really hard, and that was new for me, I was 18 years old trying to catch this kid. Then growing up, I caught a prospect for the Pirates, Jameson Taillon. I played on a showcase team with him when I was a junior or senior in high school, but other than that, six years later catching a young kid throwing a hundred miles an hour - I mean, he’s the hardest throwing starter in all of baseball, I think - that was different. It really was. It was crazy. It was fun, but it was difficult. I literally had to lock in every single pitch, because if I took half of a pitch off, that ball was zooming right by my head.
CG: Thank you so much for taking the time with me, and I wish you the best of luck.
MK: Absolutely, any time.
Follow Chris Greene on Twitter @PBCBeat.
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